fishermen on Inle Lake in Myanmar

By Ryan Chan. This guide to hiking to Inle Lake from Kalaw contains affiliate links to trusted partners!

Interested in trekking Kalaw to Inle Lake? Then you’re in the right place!

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a culturally rich country located in South East Asia.

Beyond the ancient city of Bagan, renowned for its immense archeological site filled with thousands of well-preserved pagodas and temples, the other most traveled area is Inle Lake.

However, instead of simply taking a bus straight there, you can discover the local villages and tribes through a 3-day trek.

This hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake brings you through the local tribes and their farmlands where you will sleep amongst the local homes.

Having done this Myanmar trek myself with my partner Nan, I wanted to share how we did it as well as the incredible experiences we had along the way.

Lace up your hiking boots, and let’s dive into our guide to hiking in Myanmar!

farmlands nearby Kalaw in Myanmar
The farmlands nearby Kalaw. Photo: Ryan Chan.

Why The Kalaw To Inle Lake Trek Is Special

Kalaw to Inle Lake is one of the most famous hikes in the Shan State region. If you’re interested in Burma trekking, it should definitely be on your list.

What makes it so unique is that you get to see the authentic Myanmar that most others do not see.

Since Myanmar is quite impoverished, there is little tourism infrastructure in this area.

Instead though, through community initiatives and cooperation with local farmers, you have the opportunity through this hike to visit these villages that would otherwise be impossible to visit.

For example, Bagan has become a central point of tourism so the opportunity to see the true local life there is significantly reduced.

Beyond the scenery and culture, you will also experience the true local cuisine. Myanmar is incredibly diverse in agriculture and grows some of the freshest fruits. These include avocados, dragon fruits, pears, watermelons, and much more – making the Kalaw Inle Lake trek not only a cultural adventure but also a culinary journey!

travelers eating dragon fruit while trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake
You’ll eat lots of dragon fruits on your Kalaw trekking to Inle Lake adventure. Photo: brendawood33 via Pixabay.

Where To Stay When Trekking Kalaw to Inle Lake

The trek starts from the town of Kalaw, located high up in the mountains of Central Myanmar.

Kalaw has many basic accommodations ranging from hotels to guesthouses. Everything here is within walking distance. Here are a couple of great options:

➡️ You can click here to view local Kalaw hotels and homestays.

Or you can view this Kalaw accommodation map:

Kalaw is a fairly small town and most of it can be walked.

Tour companies are also located here so you can easily go and visit them in person in order to choose which company to embark with.

In order to get to Kalaw, you can take a bus from Bagan which takes around 6-7 hours. If you are in Yangon, there are also buses that take you to Kalaw in around 5 hours. These bus tickets can be booked with your hotel or local travel agency once you arrive in town.

The accommodation for the rest of the Kalaw to Inle Lake trek will be arranged by your tour guide. You will be staying in local homes so you will not be able to book these lodgings yourself.

an Inle Lake trekking guide hiking through local Myanmar villages
Our Kalaw Inle trekking guide leading us through the local villages. Photo: Ryan Chan.

Kalaw To Inle Lake Trek Logistics

Now let’s go over some important things to know when you trek Kalaw to Inle Lake.

Best time to do the Kalaw to Inle Lake trek

The best time to do the Kalaw to Inle Lake trek is during their dry season, which runs from November to February. This is the time after their monsoon season of June to October so your chance of getting rained on is minimal.

After the month of February, the temperature can get quite hot and the air dusty which would not be ideal for hiking.

We went at the beginning of February and had perfect weather. We did notice though that the grass and landscapes were more dry as the temperatures were rising.

Kalaw to Inle Lake Trek length

The total trek is around 55-60 kilometers (34-37 miles) long depending on the route taken.

This Myanmar trek can be done as a 1, 2, or 3 day hike. We did the 3-day trek and had the chance to sleep 2 nights in a local village and visit Inle Lake.

If you do the 2-day hike, you will take car transport for 40 minutes to reach a further starting point before continuing on the trail to Inle Lake.

If you opt for the 1-day option, then you will be hiking from Kalaw to a village called Ywar Thit to see the Palaung Tribe. After spending lunch there, you will return to Kalaw and not go to Inle Lake.

It’s highly recommended to spend the full 3 days hiking Kalaw to Inle Lake. There is a lot to see and experience each day!

Trekking to Inle Lake difficulty

Although every day of the Kalaw to Inle Lake hike you will be walking a long distance of about 20 kilometers (12 miles), we would consider the trek easy to moderately difficult.

Most of the hike is fairly flat with some hills, and the path itself does not have too many obstacles.

You will also be taking several breaks and the highly nutritious meals will provide you with a lot of energy.

If you are fairly active and can walk around a city for an entire day, then this hike should not be too difficult for you.

group to people hiking through rolling hills on the way from Kalaw to Inle Lake in Myanmar
The terrain varied significantly across the Inle Lake trek. Photo: Ryan Chan.

How to choose a tour company for your trek

There are several tour companies that offer the Kalaw to Inle Lake hike. It is recommended to at least start communicating with them prior to your arrival so you can learn about what they offer and they can be aware that you may potentially join them.

Overall the pricing of each agency is not significantly different. The cost of a 3-day tour all-inclusive is around $60 USD per person, which is very affordable. If you are a larger group, then the price may go even lower.

To choose your tour company, I recommend first messaging them and seeing how much information they provide you. The ones that you have a good feeling about, go in person to meet with them. Preferably select a company with not too many people.

The agency we went with, Ko Min Trekking, was a maximum of 10 people; however, we joined their Kalaw trek to Inle Lake with another couple we met on the bus, and we asked if we could be our own group of 4.

The owner agreed and we felt this helped improve our experience. We had a lot more time with the guide and as a smaller group, felt we integrated better in the Myanmar villages.

sunrise over a Myanmar village near Kalaw
Beautiful sunrise from our village home accommodation along the Inle Lake trek. Photo: Ryan Chan.

Some tours also offer staying in a monastery. You can decide whether that is of interest to you.

Also, check the reviews of the company and ask what type of food is included. As you can see from our recap, the food we had was both delicious and plentiful.

Trekking Kalaw to Inle Lake cost

Each tour company will have their own rates but the prices do not vary significantly. With Ko Min Trekking, they charge $35 USD per person per day if you are a solo traveler with a guide.

However, if you are 2-4, the price drops to $20 USD per person, per day.

For 5-10 people, the price is $15 USD per person, per day.

We were a group of 4 so we paid $60 per person all-inclusive for the 3 days. This is an amazing value as it includes the Kalaw to Inle Lake trek guide, the food, and the lodging.

rustic homestay accommodation in Myanmar
This was our bed for the night. Photo: Ryan Chan.

Things to do in Kalaw

If you have a day or two in Kalaw, there are a couple of activities that we would recommend. The town is fairly small so most of it is accessible on foot.

One of the most memorable experiences we had was visiting a local bar called Hi Snacks & Drinks. That bar is located in a narrow space with a long U-shaped bar table.

This means you will be sitting close to and facing a lot of locals. There was also a local who took out his guitar and got everybody to sing along.

The owner was very kind to us and shared some of the food his wife had prepared for him. The drinks are also good and reasonably priced.

For some spiritual exploration, there are two monasteries in the city. The Thein Taung Monastery and the Shwe Oo Min Monastery. They are a short walk from the center of the town so you can take a quick look.

If you would like to start warming up for the Kalaw to Inle Lake hike, then you can trek up to the Kalaw City view. From there, you get a beautiful view of the entire town of Kalaw as well as the surrounding mountains.

Otherwise, just relax and unwind. Enjoy the mountain views and drink tea! You will be embarking on a tiring 3 days of hiking after!

Fisherman on Inle Lake
Fisherman on Inle Lake. Photo: venezande via Pixabay.

Where is Inle Lake?

Inle Lake is situated in the Shan State, which is in the eastern part of Myanmar. It is known for its stunning natural beauty, unique stilted villages, and the traditional leg-rowing fishermen who navigate the lake’s waters – a true highlight of the trek!

What is the altitude of Inle Lake?

In terms of the Inle Lake altitude, it sits at about 880 meters (2,900 feet) above sea level.

Inle Lake trekking map

For a visual of the hike, click here for a Kalaw to Inle Lake trekking map that showcases the route and villages along the way.

Keep in mind, if going with a trekking company you won’t necessarily need a map as your guide will handle getting the group safely from Kalaw to Inle Lake.

travelers hiking past terraces fields and rolling hills on the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake
Hiking from Kalaw to Inle Lake with our trekking group. Photo: Ryan Chan.

Trekking Kalaw To Inle Lake Day 1

The first day of trekking begins at your hotel in Kalaw. You will be picked up at 8:30 a.m. and begin hiking to the starting spot. Depending on the tour agency you go with, the starting locations and trail may vary.

With Ko Min Trekking, they have access to their own trail which is advertised as “off the beaten track”. We can happily report that during the entire 3-day trek, the only time we encountered another group was during the first afternoon after departing from Kalaw.

Ko Min trekking will bring you along their mapped route so if you book with a different agency, the villages and scenery may vary slightly.

The starting point of the first day is a very old train station. There you can see the railway tracks, the old mechanisms used to signal and direct the trails, as well as the overall structure of the station. After spending 15 minutes there, you depart into the forest.

cow grazing at sunset in a rural Myanmar village
Sunset on the hills with the local farm animals. Photo: Ryan Chan.

During your first day, you will hike a total of about 20 kilometers (12 miles) through six local villages.

The trail is mostly flat with some ups and downs so don’t worry too much about the long distance. You will have the opportunity to walk through many of the local villages and agriculture fields where they grow most of the fruits and vegetables of Myanmar.

We had several opportunities to interact and converse with the locals and learn about their lives there. Most locals do not speak English so we were very glad to have our guide as a translator.

After trekking through the forest portion, you will end up in an expanse of hilly agricultural lands.

The first stop will be at Myinmahti Village for lunch. This was our first highlight of the trek. Although the restaurant itself was more of a roadside mom-and-pop tent with a kitchen, the food was absolutely delightful.

They brought us plate after plate of fresh fruits as well as a bowl of noodles with stir-fried chicken and peanuts.

Our table was covered with plates of dragon fruit, fresh and perfectly ripe avocados, and oranges. Honestly, we have never had fruit as good as there!

table of fresh fruit including oranges, dragon fruit, and bananas
The incredible abundance of food and fresh fruits on the hike. Photo: Ryan Chan.

After making a short stop at a cave with shrines and pagodas, we proceeded through a few more villages towards our destination, Khonehla Village. There stood a thatched house where we would be spending the night.

Trekking here is a true cultural immersion, and your accommodations also reflect this. You sleep where the locals sleep, in the same type of bed and lodging.

There was a small mattress on the ground with a bug net covering it. The bathroom was located outside in a small shed. And by a bathroom, it’s more like a hole in the ground. To brush your teeth, you go to the local well to get fresh water.

outdoor well in a rural village in Myanmar
This was the well that we used for brushing our teeth. Photo: Ryan Chan.

There was also no electricity so the only thing to light our meal and path was our flashlights. We were truly in the countryside of Myanmar.

Trekking Kalaw To Inle Lake Day 2

Waking up early as the sunlight streamed through the bamboo slat walls, we were excited to enjoy another full breakfast.

With a tomato avocado salad, dragon fruits, bananas, watermelons, cucumbers, and grapes, this meal definitely did not disappoint.

table spread of fresh fruits and vegetables including bananas, dragon fruits, watermelons, avocados, and cucumbers in Myanmar
Another amazing and fresh breakfast. Photo: Ryan Chan.

On the second day, we hiked through another four villages for a total distance of 20 kilometers (12 miles). The scenery became more mountainous and dry and we got to go closer into the agricultural fields.

There we would frequently see the villagers plowing the land with their buffalos, old grandmothers tending to the gardens with a little baby tightly strapped to their backs, and several children playing about.

thousands of chili peppers in a pile
All the chilli peppers that they farm in the region. Photo: Ryan Chan.

At lunch, we stopped by one of the villages and all the villagers gathered to see us. We learned about their life and customs and even had the opportunity to try on their local wedding dress.

Since the town is quite poor, each villager contributes to the attire of the marriage. The headpiece comes from one person, the dress from another, the accessory from another, the shoes from another.

They pool all their resources together and share in order to host a wedding. It was heartwarming to be so openly welcomed into their home.

travelers visiting a local family in Myanmar while trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake
Local family sharing with us their local wedding outfit. Photo: Ryan Chan.

We ended our second day at Ngoat Village to sleep at a local’s home. After dark, we hiked slightly outside of the village to gaze at the endless sky of stars. There, without any light pollution, it was absolutely spectacular seeing the millions of twinkly stars.

Trekking Kalaw To Inle Lake Day 3

On your last day of the trek, you will need to hike a shorter distance of 17 kilometers (10.6 miles).

Along the way, you will have the chance to visit a local sugar cane farm and see how they process it.

It was incredible to see how as they cooked the sugar cane, and the amount of sweet smoke that rose into the air.

travelers visiting a sugar cane farm on the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake
Visiting a sugar cane farm on the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. Photo: Ryan Chan.

By lunch, you will arrive at Pwasargone Village, which is the final stop.

Here you will enjoy one final delicious meal before embarking on the one-hour boat ride into Inle Lake. There you will get to see the impressive floating villages of Myanmar.

Inle Lake is comprised of several communities that established their villages on top of the water. Their houses are built on stilts to raise them above the lake and all their transport is by means of canoes and boats along the narrow waterways.

Another characteristic of this area is how the fishermen steer their boats with one leg wrapped around one oar while their other arm throws the fishing net – which is incredible to be able to witness firsthand!

fishermen on small wooden boats on Inle Lake in Myanmar
Fishermen on Inle Lake. Photo: Peggy_Marco via Pixabay.

Kalaw To Inle Lake Trekking Tips

Now that you know what the Inle Lake trekking experience is like, let’s go over some important tips to keep in mind:

1. Book your Kalaw to Inle trek once you arrive in Kalaw. The agencies there have multiple guides and are always ready to create a new trekking tour group. Also, we met a few people along the bus ride to Kalaw and decided to join the tour together.

2. The pricing of the hike changes depending on how many people you are. At the time of our hike, 1 person costs $35 USD per person per day. If we are 2-4 people, then the price goes down to $20 USD per person per day. If you are 5-10 people, then it goes down to $15 USD per person per day.

As you can see, the price changes quite drastically as you add on more people so try to join in with at least one other couple.

3. We recommend going with a small group. When we went, it was only us two with another couple and we had a wonderful experience.

Since trekking and accommodation are so local, being in a larger group can detract from the cultural experience. We spoke with another group who were 12-15 people and it sounded like a disaster.

4. We highly recommend doing the full 3-day hike to Inle Lake. Staying the night at the local houses was one of the most immersive cultural experiences and allowed us to really see how life is there.

5. Realize that you will not have the usual accommodation comforts. This means that the bathroom, brushing your teeth, dinner table, and bed are likely different than what you are accustomed to. Keep an open mind and you will love the experience!

front of boat pointing to local homes on stilts on Inle Lake
Our boat navigating the waterways in Inle Lake. Photo: Ryan Chan.

What To Pack When Trekking Kalaw To Inle Lake Trek

1. Toilet paper. It will usually not be provided to you so bring some along or make sure to ask the trekking company if they provide it.

2. Headlamp. The Kalaw to Inle Lake hike brings you to the local villages where they mostly do not have electricity. For that reason, it is important to bring a headlamp and/or flashlight. There are times at night when you need to brush your teeth, go to the bathroom, or just find your room, so it is key to have a battery-powered light source.

3. Bug spray. You are in the farming fields so there are oftentimes mosquitoes. This is particularly true if you are walking around the village at night like we did to see the stars.

4. Rain jacket. Although it is the dry season, it is always better to be prepared.

5. Insulated jacket. You will be in the mountains and in the villages where there is no source of heat. I brought a North Face puffer jacket and actually used it quite often in the evenings.

6. Hiking shoes or hiking boots. Although the trail itself is not too challenging, you will be walking A LOT so make sure you have a comfortable pair of hiking shoes/boots. Also, make sure that you have broken them in already as you definitely do not want to get blisters along the way.

7. Trekking poles. Our tour company supplied them to us but we needed to ask them. Although not mandatory, having hiking poles helps to relieve pressure from your knees and back.

woman gazing out over temples in Bagan
Myanmar Bagan temples. Photo: Ryan Chan.

Myanmar Travel Insurance

Before visiting Myanmar, it’s important to get travel insurance. Of course, you never think something will go wrong, but it always can – especially when you’re being active.

One top provider recommendation is SafetyWing as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage — including coverage if you’re traveling for months as well as limited coverage in your home country.

Additionally, SafetyWing is budget-friendly and offers $250,000 worth of coverage with just one low overall deductible of $250.

Click here to price out travel insurance for your trip in just a few clicks.

Sunset over the hills of a local village near Kalaw, Myanmar
Sunset over the hills of a local village near Kalaw. Photo: Ryan Chan.

Final Thoughts On Trekking Kalaw to Inle Lake Trek

Our Kalaw to Inle Lake trek was one of the highlights of our trip to Myanmar. After having explored the innumerable pagodas and temples of Bagan, it was a very nice change to discover the local countryside.

Not only is this trek affordable, but you will also learn so much about Myanmar culture and get to experience their amazing food.

Getting to speak with the local tribes and even try on their unique wedding attire is something that we will always remember.

We hope that this Kalaw to Inle Lake trekking guide was helpful and that it may inspire you to embark on this hike one day!

Bonus Myanmar Travel Resources

Opening Ocean Doors Through Travel: Surf Tourism In Myanmar

The Plight Of Burmese Women Refugees (And How You Can Help)

Myanmar Travel: Local Finds In Urban Yangon

Meeting The Monks Of Myanmar

14 Best Spiritual Yoga Retreats To Strengthen Your Body, Mind & Soul

What tips would you add to this guide to trekking Kalaw to Inle Lake?

About The Author

Ryan & Nan are two curious travel storytellers and adventure photographers who started WaylessTravelers to share their passion for travel with the world. Having explored over 23 countries across the globe, they seek to share their passion for travel planning and photography to help others organize their next adventure. Ryan & Nan seek authentic culture, adventure, hiking, and venturing off-the-beaten paths to uncover the true marvels of the world. Click here to check out their Instagram!

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