A walk in the Switzerland of Myanmar

Khin Yadanar Toe
The Kalaw-to-Inle Lake trek is blessed with the magnificent natural scenery. (Photo - EMG)

A trekking holiday came to mind about a year ago as I was reading an article about trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake written by a westerner. I didn’t have time to do that trek until last month. My friend and I decided to start our journey with a 24-hour train ride from Yangon to Kalaw that took us through the high mountains of Shan State.

The natural landscape was breathtaking, and the ride was smooth. However, as the train chugged along in Shan State, passengers from other carriages with babies and young children moved to our first-class carriage to find spots on the floor to sit or sleep. I had no choice but to squat on our seats and listen to crying babies all night. But I enjoyed tasting local delicacies on the train though.

Kalaw has a fair share of tour companies near the downtown and in the market area where we found a tour operator and booked our trek for the next day. With the arrangements done, we took a stroll through the downtown. Surprisingly, it was quite cool here for a midsummer evening. 

The Kalaw-Inle Lake trek has three options: 4-day 3-night; 3-day 2-night; and 2-day 1-night treks. With little time to spare, we opted for the last one, a 23-kilometre trek.

The trek is popular with foreigners. (Photo - EMG)

The sight of the lush green hills at the start of our trek reminded me of the windswept mountain grassland of Switzerland like a scene straight from “The Sound of Music”. On the train to Kalaw, we got to taste salmonberries for the first from a hawker (three basketfuls of the berries for Ks500 (US$0.50) as we had never seen them before. But on this trek, we were able to freely pluck the fruit from the bushes as we liked.  

Deep in the mountains, we saw beautiful wild flowers blooming in the fields that looked very surreal like a scene from a movie.

We stopped for lunch at Danu village and dinner at a villager’s home in Pa-O where we stayed for the night. Three or four groups of foreigners on the same trekking route were lodged at a monastic hall nearby.

A skilled Pa-O weaver works on her new piece of cloth. (Photo - EMG)

Our guide told us that it was his first time in his 12-year career to serve as a guide for local tourists. Most of the trekkers are westerners with a sprinkling of Asians, he said.

The next morning, we set out at 6am amid the magnificent natural scenery. Our guide supplied us with interesting facts about types of wild plants and their medicinal properties, the locals’ way of life and their sources of livelihood. We trekked through a mudbrick village and the guide told us how the villagers baked bricks. At times, we came across weird signs on hillsides warning: “Drive Slowly. Nats (Spirits) Ahead”.

It was a wonderful experience to walk in the rain on the second day. The best time for trekking is November, according to our guide. On this trip we did not get to see the sesame fields and other natural attractions as farmers were starting to plough their land for the next crop.

Our group arrived in Indein at 2.30pm for a 30-minute boat ride to Inle Lake where we waved goodbye to our guide. We continued our journey to Nyaung Shwe where we were supposed to catch a night bus back to Yangon. Since we couldn’t get a ticket, we had to spend the night there. The next morning we explored Nyaung Shwe on foot. One of the attractions here is the Red Mountain vineyard. 

All in all, our four-day trip in Shan State was a dream-come-through experience.