Trek to Inle Lake


After temple touring in Bagan we headed to Kalaw, a small mountain town in Central Myanmar, to start our three-day trek to Inle Lake. This trek is a must-do for backpacker travelers in Myanmar, and since we had transformed into super tough and rugged backpackers over the past two months (see “modified backpacking” in Chile, 16 porters on Kili, and a very tearful summit) we signed up right away.





Dan had organized our trek with a local guide, Toe Toe, months ahead of time — her company was recommended in Lonely Planet and she had rave reviews on Trip Advisor, so we were excited that she had two spots on a trek that worked with our itinerary.

As planned, we showed up at Toe Toe’s Kalaw office the day before our trek, but the door was padlocked shut with a sign that said “Closed — come back at 12 or 4:30.” Not a good sign.

We were so devoted to the elusive Toe Toe that we waited in front of the office at noon and again at 4:30 PM, hoping this 5-star trip advisor guide had not forgotten about us.

She had. Or, as we later learned, Toe Toe’s trips leave when six trekkers show up ready to go, email ‘confirmation’ or not. Welcome to Burma!




As it approached 6 PM we realized we needed a Plan B. Our hotel recommended Sam’s Trekking, which was also Lonely Planet approved, so we walked over to Sam’s office hoping we could sign up for a last minute trek.



We were in luck! Sam has 22 guides and fit us in on a trip leaving the next morning. Each trekking group can have up to six trekkers, so we joined up with a group of four awesome travelers from Ireland, Estonia, and Germany.

The total cost of our trip for three days/two nights, plus all food and lodging included, plus a guide and dedicated cook — was a whopping $40 per person. Welcome to Burma!





The trek turned out to be our favorite Burmese experience. We hiked through remote villages and beautiful countryside. Our chef (below in the hat) made amazing traditional Burmese meals — the best food we ate in Asia, all cooked over a tiny little fire.





The first night we slept in a family’s home, on the floor with mats and blankets. No toilets, no running water — just a bucket for washing located next to the buffalo trail (see me below).

photo 2



The second night we slept in a similar setting, at a small one-room house that Sam’s trekking company rents out along the route.



Our 22-year-old guide Chau Xu (“Cho Sue”) was awesome, and insisted on holding every baby we passed along the way.



Our trekking family — Yasmin and Paul from Ireland, Kristiina from Estonia, and Alex from Germany — was the best. The long, hot hiking days passed by quickly as we all shared travel stories. And as always our list of must-see destinations grew by the minute.


By the end of the three day adventure we were completely exhausted — intense heat, blisters (I missed my Kili boots!), dust and more dust. We all had a newfound appreciation for showers and beds and agreed however primitive our next guesthouse was, we’d be grateful!




We finished the trek at the base of the mountains, on a small river leading into Inle Lake. After lunch and fresh coconuts we took a little boat down one of the hundreds of canals leading us into Inle Lake, passing floating gardens and villages along the way.





In the end, we were thankful that our plans had fallen apart and Toe Toe had stood us up. Our new guide and group could not have been better. Another travel fiasco turned blessing in disguise…and now, onto Inle Lake!







6 thoughts on “Trek to Inle Lake

  1. GOH Pei Yong

    Hi! The trekking journey definitely looks exciting! I am intending to do the same with my friends. Do you know how we can contact Sam’s Family Trekking Company to book in advance?

    1. Dan

      Hi there,

      We just showed up and it was no problem at all — they have a handful of guides on constant rotation. I’ve had trouble finding his contact info, as communications are pretty spotty there still, but you should be totally fine just showing up. Have fun! It’s a great experience.

  2. susiejeong

    Thank you for sharing all this info on your blog. I was just wondering how you got from Bagan to Kalaw? Did you take a bus? If so, where can I get this information?


    1. Dan

      Hi Susie,

      We flew from Bagan to Heho. I believe it was about a 45 minute cab to Kalaw from the Heho airport. Hope that helps!


  3. Christine Shim

    Hi! Thanks for all the info and awesome photos! I’m really interested in doing the trek with Sam’s Family Trekking Company. And I’m also having trouble finding contact info. Is it possible to arrive in the morning and leave that same morning? Or do you have to find a guide, spend a night in Kalaw, then leave the next morning. And if so, how late can we manage to arrive in Kalaw? I feel like I’m asking a million questions, but I’ve been googling this for a bit now and any info would be so so helpful.

    1. Dan

      Hi Christine, sorry for the delayed response here. Sam’s was great, and there is no contact info as far as I know. Email & phone in the country is spotty. That said, show up, and plan to leave the following morning. Perhaps you can get on a group that same day if you get there early, but I wouldn’t plan a tight itinerary around that happening. I’d plan on one night in Kalaw (and while a perfectly decent small town, you definitely don’t want/need more than one night). Hope that helps! -Dan


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