As we walked through the colorful hills outside the small mountain town of Kalaw, a patchwork of chilis drying in the sun, bushels of green tea leaves, orange dirt lightly blowing and yellow mustard flowers swaying in the arid breeze, our guide Aki pointed out the pair of women walking towards us on the same beaten path, slightly bent over with age, but not enough to stop their light laughter form escaping towards us.

“They’re about 80 years old, maybe closer to 90, and they’re walking a couple miles to the lake to bathe. They do this every day, and then spend each night sharing rice whiskey and hand-rolled cigars with their neighbors. I think that’s why they’re still so beautiful- You can see their happiness.”

As we finally approached them, it was clear there was no other way to describe it. Like the children in the local school we had just passed, like the younger women still in the field behind us, like the men riding the ox-led cart, every face we passed held so many stories, so much life that had come from the land we were now walking through. Each village had a different origin story about where its people had come from, and was colored by their unique language and clothing. And then, behind it all, the backdrop that initially invited us in, an ever-changing landscape that continually surprised and impressed us with each new view.

 

Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake Myanmar Burma

 

When we decided to add Inle Lake to our Myanmar itinerary, we were recommended to ditch the typical night bus and instead do a three-day trek from the mountain town of Kalaw. Eversmile Trekking, a family-run business like every other around here, was also recommended, and we signed up without any further questions. We hadn’t so much as looked up photos before we decided to lace up our dirty Converse and ditch our big backpacks in exchange for these temporary, smaller ones.

 

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

 

So perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that what followed shocked us and left a print deeper than our other experiences thus far in Myanmar. From Bagan to Yangon to Mandalay, every corner of Myanmar had been filled with rich gems, entirely different in color and style, yet fascinating and worthwhile just the same. Yet this…this journey was something different. For the next three days, we walked through landscapes that competed with those of the best treks of the world, constantly looking to one another as if to say, Did you know it would be this good?. Our guide, 18-years-old yet wise-beyond-her-age Aki, colored the landscape even richer as she told us its stories, pulled us into every local ritual and experience possible, and opened up to us about everything Myanmar.

We had begun to lift the curtain on the previously-closed country when we first arrived, but Aki ripped that curtain off the rods, threw open the window and pulled us close to the edge as she explained everything before us (arranged marriage, civil wars, her experience of local Buddhists killing Muslims). By the time we arrived at Inle Lake, our previous understanding of Myanmar had been filled in, from a rough charcoal sketch to an overflowing portrait brimming with colors, imagery and stories. And finally we could leave the country, feeling that, as much as a foreigner could in two weeks in Myanmar, we now had an image in our mind of this place and what it looked like beyond the postcards of Bagan. We could finally feel it.

Because no words can capture it (or perhaps, none that I have), here is our photo journal of our trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar. Walk with us…

 

Day 1

 

Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Shan State, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Megan Spurrell Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Our Trekking Tour Guide: Aki from Eversmile Trekking. Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Train outside Kalaw, Myanmar (Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar)--- The Borderless Project

 

Local Train on our Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake with Eversmile Trekking Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Day 2

 

Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Local Kids near Kalaw, Myanmar (trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar with Eversmile Trekking) --- The Borderless Project

 

Pa'O Tribe Woman on our Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Local Snacks on our Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar -- The Borderless Project

 

Local Kids on our Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Local Girl near Kalaw, Myanmar (trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar with Eversmile Trekking) --- The Borderless Project

 

Local Kids on our Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Local Kids near Kalaw, Myanmar (trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar with Eversmile Trekking) --- The Borderless Project

 

Eversmile Trekking: Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Putting on "Thanaka": Traditional All-Natural Sun-Protection in Myanmar , on our trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake with Aki Eversmile Trekking--- The Borderless Project

 

Our Trekking Group: Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar with Eversmile Trekking --- The Borderless Project

 

Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar (Eversmile Trekking)--- The Borderless Project

 

Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar (Eversmile Trekking) --- The Borderless Project

 

Passing Traffic on our Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar (Eversmile Trekking) --- The Borderless Project

 

Day 3

 

Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar with Eversmile Trekking --- The Borderless Project

 

Beautiful Local Woman on our trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Local School near Inle Lake, Myanmar (Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake with Eversmile Trekking, Myanmar)--- The Borderless Project

 

Local Schoolkid Trying on Sunglasses for the First Time, Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Local Schoolkid Trying on Sunglasses for the First Time, Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

Local School Girls near Inle Lake, Myanmar (Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake with Eversmile Trekking, Myanmar)--- The Borderless Project

 

Local Schoolkid Trying on Sunglasses for the First Time, Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar Eversmile Trekking --- The Borderless Project

 

Local Women outside Inle Lake, Myanmar (Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake with Eversmile, Myanmar)--- The Borderless Project

 

Sailing on Inle Lake, Myanmar (Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake with Eversmile Trekking)--- The Borderless Project

 

Sailing on Inle Lake, Myanmar (Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake with Eversmile, Myanmar)--- The Borderless Project

 

Fisherman on Inle Lake, Myanmar (Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake with Eversmile Trekking)--- The Borderless Project

 

Fisherman on Inle Lake, Myanmar (Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake with Eversmile, Myanmar)--- The Borderless Project

 

Fisherman on Inle Lake, Myanmar (Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake with Eversmile, Myanmar)--- The Borderless Project

 

Sailing on Inle Lake, Myanmar (Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake with Eversmile, Myanmar)--- The Borderless Project

 

Three days, and forty-three miles later: Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Fulfilled, happy and very dusty, we finally arrived at Inle Lake. It had only been three days of walking, but it felt like we had traveled to the heart of rural Myanmar and back. Into the lives, landscapes, and many moments that will remain lost in translation, we embarked on our trek from Kalaw as strangers in a unknown land but arrived in Inle Lake feeling like a small family, having peeked just a bit longer into local life than people had told us would be possible. Of course, just a bit, just enough to compel us to return one day.


 

Thank you endlessly to our guide Aki from Eversmile Trekking! For those of you interested in doing this trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, you can contact Eversmile at [email protected]. We cannot recommend it highly enough! (FYI: This is not a sponsored post; Some things are just that worth sharing).

 

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