I have avoided a trip to Inle Lake for more than a year, believing that it’s too touristy, polluted by all the floating gardens and just not authentic enough. I gave up my resistance when I needed to escape the craziness of Yangon and headed to Kalaw & Nyaungshwe for a long weekend. To my surprise, I’ve head one of the most enjoyable times in Myanmar and the credit goes to the local people and their hospitality.
For a breakdown of my cost for this trip, please scroll down. I was money-conscious, but not overly prudent.
Kalaw & surrounding
There are buses connecting Yangon & Taunggyi, the capital of Shan state, with stops in Kalaw, Shwenyaung & Nyaungshwe (Inle Lake). I arrived at 4:30 am to Kalaw with Joyous Journey (JJ) Express bus company and headed for my first bowl of Shan noodles (Shan Kaw Sue), the famous delicious meal in Shan state. Every little stall would serve them differently and the best would be at places where there is a big turnaround of people. I found such place at the market in Kalaw, where I had a second bowl of Shan noodles, this time with cooked Tofu (Tofu Nwe). Even though I slept poorly on the bus, I was full of energy and decided to go hiking, following a trail on Maps.me as recommended by my friend.
After hiking for 1.5 hours, following signs that did not correspond to the distance, I arrived at a viewpoint at Nok cafe. At 9 am, I was too early, so got served only green tea and decided to continue in a loop to return to Kalaw. I had 4 hours to catch a train to Shwenyaung. After getting lost a few times and crossing private houses as Maps.me was suggesting to me, I run out of battery on my phone (and thus Maps.me were useless) and got lost. Luckily, friendly locals offered to drive me back to Kalaw and explained that the road had been destroyed by the recent rainy season, so I would not be able to walk back to Kalaw unless I took the road I came by. With my motto: I am not turning back, I happily accepted the bike ride and ended up in Cafe Kalaw for a cup of local organic coffee.
I joined a number of tourists for a train ride to Shwenyaung, and after arriving, took a pick-up truck to go to Nyaungshwe. Usually, there are local buses running between these towns, but only in the morning. A group of French people considered 2000 Kyat too much and tried to arrange another way of transport, but given that motorbikes are forbidden in taking foreigners and the local buses were no longer available, they jumped on the pick-up truck with me. It won’t cease to surprise me how much it bothers people to pay a fair price, trying to get a discount without realising that this business is someone’s livelihood. I chatted with locals while the tourists realised that they have to give in.
Nyaungshwe & Inle Lake
Arriving at Song of Travel hostel, I had been greeted by a super-friendly staff and went out for dinner with a friend. We booked a lake tour for the next morning and enjoyed Burmese salads at one of the local restaurants. Starting early in the morning, 5:30 am, we met our guide and sailed off to catch the sunrise. Unsurprisingly, shortly after the rainy season ended, there were clouds that prevented us from seeing the sun came out, so we just ate our breakfast time on the lake and watched boats with other tourists and local ‘fishermen’ posing for pictures pass by.
Our guide took us to see traditional handicrafts on the lake, although I was doubtful about how many of these were actually still creating products as some of them were clearly set up for tourists.
One of the most photogenic experience is the famous Indein Pagoda. To beat the tourist flows, we arrived there early and wandered around the bamboo forest and the stupas for an hour. Although not all the boats go there (as it depends on the price for the tour), we were surprised by a number of people who came by the time when we were leaving. It was a reminder that we still were at one of the most touristy places in Myanmar, so we quickly set off to sail on the lake again and got lost in its beauty.
I spent the rest of my days at Inle lake cycling around to the Red Mountain Estate Winery, which is great for an evening glass of wine (come around 4 pm as they close at 6 pm and bring a strong repellent, the mosquitos are devilish) and to the nearby villages. Morning market at Maing Thauk was definitely worth waking up again at 5 am and cycling there in the cool weather before the sun started to shine. I appreciated it especially when I was coming back and saw people struggling to cycle under the heat of the 10 am sun. After a bowl of Shan noodles (my 4th during the weekend), I came back to Nyaung Shwe and did nothing much until I had to leave for my bus taking me back to Yangon.
How much did I spend
(10 – 13 of Nov, prices are in Myanmar Kyat)