The temples and cities of Myanmar are an incredible experience, but sometimes it’s the complete lack of development that makes an adventure life changing.
The rural farmland between Inle Lake and Kalaw is the perfect backcountry escape.
It’s also a great opportunity to have a unique experience with the local country folk.
I decided to do a three-day guided trek in reverse compared to most travelers, and I was very pleased with the result.
We often found ourselves amongst endless fields and rolling hills with no one else around for miles. It felt like freedom and adventure had finally met their perfect match.
Trekking Inle Lake to Kalaw Myanmar
The trek began in the high mountain tobacco farms surrounding Inle Lake. These farms produce the famous Burmese cigars wrapped in tobacco leaves. The locals love to smoke these high altitude delights, as you will soon see.
The view of Inle lake wasn’t the best view of the trek, but it wasn’t bad either. Once we got over the hills and away from the fishing village, a technicolor farmland unfolded like a homemade quilt.
It didn’t take long before we knew the biology behind every color, thanks to our guide. See if you can guess which plant belongs in each square of land.
These yellow flowers produce sesame seeds.
These peppers account for the spice in food for a vast number of areas throughout the country.
“The rice fields reflected the sun and bathed the world in gold. They can be seen like this in early November.”
The serenity of endless farmland left us humbled and awestruck, but the encounters with local farmers helped us to understand the unique lifestyle that created it.
The dirt roads that weave through the fields have extensive damage due to flooding in the wet season. They would be virtually impassable by any man-made machine. Luckily, Burmese farmers have employed a natural means of pulling crops over the obstacles.
We were interested in learning that crop picking is reserved almost exclusively for females. Males are needed more around the villages and for managing the carts once the crop has been picked.
This traditional burmese farm woman is tougher than any man I know. She is currently smoking the high mountain cigar I spoke about earlier and holding a curved blade called a sickle. It’s for cutting rice stalks…and nosey tourists.
Another cool aspect of Burmese farm culture is the way in which everything is communal. Villages fill water caskets and every farmer uses the same cups to hydrate.
We stayed with a host family in a different village every night. This gave us a unique opportunity to experience the high mountain culture.
The children of the village had never heard western music, so when I came in blasting tunes on my portable sound system, a dance party quickly ensued.
We spent the nights sleeping in large homes like this one. The floor was lined with creative weavings of recycled plastic. They were pretty to look at but were not super comfortable.
Here is a shot of our guide and his friends cooking us our dinner. As you can see, it was quite the process. When asked how he learned to make such amazing food, he responded, “my mother taught me when I was young.”
Our host mom treated us like we were part of the family.
Some of the most rewarding cultural experiences came from playing games with the locals. First, they taught me how to play their version of hackie sack. Then, I taught them a classic card game: Egyptian Rat Screw!
With every great experience, I feel the need to give back in some way. We decided to give our binoculars as a present to a local child. He was just as amazed as his parents…once they figured out how to use them.
The trek from Inle Lake to Kalaw opened our eyes and filled our hearts. It was the travel adventure that everyone searches for, and I will never forget it.
What is the most shocking thing you have learned about a distant culture?