Kalaw to Inle Lake

Lake Inle Kalaw

Dinner in a mountain village sounds great - until you have to climb the hill. Leaving the path to let the buffalo and its owner pass. Kalaw's path winds through the countryside. First we visited Inle Lake, then we went to Kalaw.

Kalaw to Inle Lake Trek: Get a first-hand account

"Approximately one hour," says our leader, navigation and escort for the last three nights, Aung Myu Htoo. He blurs it with a half-strung grin this year as he knows that his gummy timescales have become a little gag for our seven-man group that runs from Kalaw to the Inle Lake station in Shan State, northern Burma (Myanmar), with 12Go Asia.

Being in the service of co-founder Mr Robin of Golden Lily Trekking for only six month, Aung Myu Htoo's passion for both the environments we roam and the Anglophone is promising. He was a member of the federal military before working with Robin.

" There are at least five three-day treks winding between Kalaw and Inle Lake, but the one we are embarking on is 61 kilometers - 21 kilometers on our first tour, 23 on our second tour and 17 on our third. As Robin was mentioning the 61 kilometers and the seven to eight hour a days, I have to say that I didn't give much care, but five kilometers inside, the 61 kilometers have consolidated in my head, well, a hell of a long way.

You will hike along a mountain range, the slopes of which are speckled with teabushes that are cultivated here and there by peasants. On the way we head towards a mountain town, where we take a rest for dinner and on the last leg we come across local people who pack orange fists. Whilst the Kalaw Inle trek was developed by one of Robin's rivals, 72-year-old Sam of Sam's, Robin has been doing his own trails in the area for more than 20 years.

Although we were advised to go on touring with Robin, we had actually seen Sam's traveling newsstand on the Kalaw highway and, after we found the advice a little superficial, went to Robin's for a second thought and didn't look any further. This is Robin of Golden Lily Hiking. Robin also followed in his father's tracks on Burma's run-down streets and when they were selling the store, Robin ran for 30 years and had a float of about 18 lorries.

Robin's Guest House, called Golden Lily, is one of only two "real" guest houses in Kalaw. In any case, the actual main temptation is to trek. "This is a false name because this is Kalaw and not Nepal. From time to time you can vow to cut a toes, capture a spider web and maybe get into the swamp, but the reward, be it the landscape, the easy country lifestyle or, well, just the enjoyment of retreating from the group and listen to the sounds of flocks of birds and remote villages borne by the breeze, more than compensates.

The British helped a very bouncing and slowly winding railway line from Thazi in the western part to Shwenyaung (for Nyaung Shwe and Inle Lake) in the eastern part. We' re standing aside to let a trains pass - a few nights later I take the same trains that take a lot of the same landscape that I left a few nights before.

Dinner in a mountain hamlet is great - until you have to reach the top of the mountain. We take a rest in the afternoons to see a witch doctor show his thumb-sized homemade anti-malarials ( "they smell like dirt") before he pushes through bright rape to our bed for the nights in a rural host family.

Hitchhiking. I am the only one in the group who has been to Burma before and some of the others who have been to other South East Asia have found that hiking in Burma "feels like Thailand 20 years ago". Up to a point that's the truth - we go out of Kalaw and to the jetty at Inle Lake.

The towns we are visiting are much more prosperous than their Lao or Thailand equivalents. They are" minorities ", be it Pa-oh, Palaung or Taungyoe, but they form the population of Shan state in a way that the Akha, Hmong and Lisa do not have in Thailand - they are first of all burgesses - and this shows it.

If I ask Robin what happened during his walks, logging is one of the first things that emerged, thanks to the slant and burning of farming to grow dried paddy, and a decrease in "authenticity" as the number of visitors has gradually grown. In the middle of the 1990' s he led individual travelers through the area and the natives were obviously frightened and kids ran into the villages as foreigners.

It'?ll take her three to make a purse, five to make a shawl. Robin says only five Kalaw Territory towns are allowed to accept aliens, and the whole area is still formally called an area with safety problems - you need an official entry visa.

It is significant that of the whole hike only the first few lessons of the first morning include a stroll near a local wood. This area is a sanctuary that includes Kalaw's potable waters, but like our experiences in North Laos, the main emphasis of our developments seems to be on the cultivation of agricultural plants rather than on agricultural tourism.

Like the host family of the Villages last evening, the bedrooms are genuine - i.e. wood flooring, a mattresses made of wood and a very thin one. During the high seasons of November we travelled and maybe I saw 40 aliens during the three day period. During the rainy period, the trek scenery is almost empty thanks to the rains, which take away all the joys of a forest outing.

Whilst Kalaw rates can differ significantly (we charged about US$50 for the two nights three-day hike, Sam's was about a third cheaper), they usually have the same offer - seven lunches and the ferry from the south tip of Inle Lake to Nyaung Shwe, the touristic city on the northern side of Inle Lake.

You' ll need to buy your own bottled mineral tap running on your own (you can buy it on the way) and cover the entrance fees ($10). 60% of what you are paying for Golden Lily Trekking, according to Rob, goes either to your community or directly to trekking-related expenditures such as meals, drinks and guided tours. There are different homes in different towns and generally the homeowners clear the rooms, but in all cases they are charged for a full day of trouble.

lnle lake. On the last part of the walk we usually take a gravel path, except in the last few hour we walk back from the street to In Dein at the south end of Lake Inle. Everyone is a little weary of the sludge and rains of the morning before, and as soon as we can see the lake in the far away, it will be more about just getting there than taking in the surroundings.

Wellcome to Inle! This area is dotted with gift booths that sell "I LOVE Inle Lake" t-shirts, key rings, woodcarvings and so on. It shakes and while we are driving an hours later on a speed boat over the wonderful Inle Lake, I can't help but believe that we have put the best part of the journey behind us.

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