Hiking from Kalaw to Inle Lake: How I picked a company

By far one of the best activities I did in the last 10 years of travelling was the popular 3-day hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake.

A full description and lots of pictures of the hike can be found here. But below I just want to share how I picked the company I went with as I found it quite hard to make a decision as there are so many companies that all seem to offer more or less the same and it was hard to find information online.

I spent a full afternoon, the day before we wanted to start the hike, going around Kalaw collecting information from pretty much all the companies in town that offer the 3-day hike. Most of them also offer a 2-day alternative if you are short on time. I was going to do the hike with my boyfriend and two of our friends that are also travelling long-term and as we are all backpacking on a budget, the price was very important for us. But equally important to us was a good group and the guide. We did not care too much about a specific route or be extra remote as to be honest, it’s all beautiful around there and yes there are other tourist but not as many as you will ever see in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos where you can do similar hikes. So even if you do a more popular route, you still wouldn’t see many tourists.

These are the questions I asked each company:

  • How much does it cost for 3 days and what’s the group size?
  • What’s included and what are extras that are not included?
  • Is it possible to do the tour privately and what will the cost be then?
  • Who will be the guide?
  • How many people are signed up so far for tomorrow?

 

View from the restaurant where we at lunch on day 1.

I already did some research online and had asked a friend who did the hike and Ever Smile Trekking was mentioned very often as a good option, together with Sam’s Trekking and Golden Lily so I started my research at their offices and then just walked around town and checked most of the other companies I saw that had signs up offering the hike. Some of them I didn’t bother to find out the full offer as their price was too high or their English too bad to understand. After checking one or two it seemed all offered exactly the same except the prices and group sizes were different.

Here is what I found and the pricing is from January 2017. Please note that this is my personal research and are my opinions. They are of course very personal and you might have completely different experiences when you visit the offices or choose a company. Also things probably have changed since my visit so I would definitely recommend going around yourself as well and visit a few companies to get a feel for them and pick one you feel comfortable with. At the end of the day, they all offer more or less the same and you all hike through the same region.

Ever Smile Trekking

A friendly girl welcomed me with perfect English and she clearly knew what she was talking about. In a few minutes she talked me through the deal without any bullshit of showing me reviews from people and trying to convince me that I should go with them. This is what I liked, as I just wanted to get facts.

  • Price: 40000 MMK pp.
  • Group size: max. 12 people.
  • Included: English speaking guide, 2 nights accommodation in a homestay, luggage transport from Kalaw to your accommodation in Inle Lake or if you haven’t booked anything to a random hotel in town, all meals but no snacks, 1,5 hour boat transport at the end of the hike from the south of Inle Lake to the main town Nyaungshwe on the northern shore of Inle Lake.
  • Not included: drinks, snacks and the entrance fee to Inle Lake 13500 MMK pp .
  • Private tour possible: Yes, 80000 MMK pp based on 4 people.
  • Guide: There were going to be 3 groups, 2 for the 3-day hike and 1 for the 2-day hike, and she didn’t know yet which group we would be in, but she would be one of the guides and the other guides would be similar to her she said. Young, enthusiastic and good English.
  • How many people signed up so far: 2 full groups, one half full. She said the groups would walk different routes and start slightly different times so we wouldn’t see each other most of the day until perhaps the village of the homestays.

Sam’s Trekking

There was nobody there that could answer my questions and they didn’t come across very organized and couldn’t tell me when someone would be there to answer my questions so I didn’t bother going back and therefor didn’t consider them anymore.

Golden Lily

Robin, the owner, welcomed me in good English and asked me to sit down. He immediately showed me handwritten reviews that he collected over the years of how great he is and that he has all those years of experience. Something that I was not interested in as I just wanted to know the facts and besides, someone who has done it for a long time already might has lost his enthusiasm so it actually put me off a little bit and I felt that he was really trying to push me to sign up as before he even gave me the price, he had already given me a sign-up form.

  • Price: 51000 MMK pp. Later I found out different people were quoted quite different prices for the same package with the same group size so not sure why that is, perhaps if you look rich you get asked a higher price?
  • Group size: max. 8 people. But he was slightly vague about this, he said he already had people signed up and could take 4 more making the group size 8.
  • Included: English speaking guide, 2 nights accommodation in a homestay, luggage transport from Kalaw to your accommodation in Inle Lake or if you haven’t booked anything to a random hotel in town, all meals but no snacks, 1,5 hour boat transport at the end of the hike from the south of Inle Lake to the main town Nyaungshwe on the northern shore of Inle Lake. Robin also told to me that he would take a route none of the other companies would do and he saw this as an included extra, so I mentioned it here.
  • Not included: drinks, snacks and the entrance fee to Inle Lake 13500 MMK pp .
  • Private tour possible: They were not sure about this or the price.
  • Guide: Himself, Robin.
  • How many people signed up so far: 4 people so far had signed up.

A1 Trekking

I had to wait a few minutes for a man to come and explain everything to me as he was on his lunch break. But I was offered a glass of water while I waited. The office looked professional and the man who explained everything spoke good English.

  • Price: 65000 MMK pp, however it depends on how many people are in the group in total. If there are less than 6 people, the price is higher. So if you are the first to sign up you might pay more than if you are the sixth to sign up.
  • Group size: max. 6 people.
  • Included: English speaking guide, 2 nights accommodation in a homestay, luggage transport from Kalaw to your accommodation in Inle Lake or if you haven’t booked anything to a random hotel in town, all meals but no snacks, 1,5 hour boat transport at the end of the hike from the south of Inle Lake to the main town Nyaungshwe on the northern shore of Inle Lake.
  • Not included: drinks, snacks and the entrance fee to Inle Lake 13500 MMK pp .
  • Private tour possible: Yes, but I didn’t note down the price as it was way too high for us.
  • Guide: English speaking (that’s all I got, he couldn’t specify more).
  • How many people signed up so far: 2 people so far had signed up.

Jungle King

The young man who welcomed me was very friendly and sat me down at his desk to explain everything to me. He looked a lot like Robin (from Golden Lily) and later I found out that they are actually working together and I probably spoke to his son. I felt much more comfortable talking to him though than to Robin as he seemed more honest and wasn’t as pushy trying to sell me the tour.

  • Price: 39000 MMK pp.
  • Group size: max. 8 people.
  • Included: English speaking guide, 1 night accommodation in a homestay and 1 night in a monastery or homestay (you can choose), luggage transport from Kalaw to your accommodation in Inle Lake or if you haven’t booked anything to a random hotel in town, all meals but no snacks, 1,5 hour boat transport at the end of the hike from the south of Inle Lake to the main town Nyaungshwe on the northern shore of Inle Lake.
  • Not included: drinks, snacks and the entrance fee to Inle Lake 13500 MMK pp .
  • Private tour possible: Yes, 50000 MMK pp based on 4 people.
  • Guide: Himself or another man with experience and English speaking.
  • How many people signed up so far: 2 people so far had signed up.

Alex Eagle

One really weird guy welcomed me there and it turned out he had signed up to the 3-day hike the next day but was so far the only one. He was trying to convince me to sign up with our party of 4 as then we all would pay less, 55 USD pp (75000 MMK) instead of 65 USD pp (88000 MMK). These prices were a lot more as all the other companies and I was trying to find out why but after asking all my questions, there was nothing different or extra than all the other companies except the certainty it would be us four in a group with one weirdo and an English speaking guide.

Pole Star

After I had to wait a little bit, a guy came and answered my questions, but he seemed to be annoyed that I was there.

  • Price: 13000 MMK pp per day + 2000 MMK per bag transported from Kalaw to Inle Lake.
  • Group size: no clear answer.
  • Included: English speaking guide, 2 nights accommodation in a homestay, all meals but no snacks, 1,5 hour boat transport at the end of the hike from the south of Inle Lake to the main town Nyaungshwe on the northern shore of Inle Lake.
  • Not included: bag transport, drinks, snacks and the entrance fee to Inle Lake 13500 MMK pp .
  • Private tour possible: Yes, 15000 MMK pp based on 4 people.
  • Guide: English speaking (that’s all I got, he couldn’t specify more).
  • How many people signed up so far: nobody, so therefore we had to pay the price for a private tour and it would not be possible to join a group.

Typical scene as walking through villages. 

Conclusion

After my round to most of the companies in town I met up with my friends (Harry, my boyfriend was out playing golf on the Kalaw golf course but had already said that he trust us to pick a company) and I ran them through all the companies and what they offer and my personal feelings with the company.

Although price was one of the most important factors for us, we also liked being in a bigger group with other likeminded people and have a fun guide. For some people a small group might be important but our reasoning was that if we are in a bigger group there will at least always be someone to talk to during the hiking and you get to know lots of people and it’s easier to go your own tempo as there will likely be other slow or fast people in the group. As most of the companies have quite small group sizes, our party of 4 would take up half or more of the group. Also most companies weren’t too specific about who the guide would be, which we didn’t like as you have to spend 3 days with that person. Eventually we picked Ever Smile Trekking.

As we went to their office at the beginning of the evening we found a few girls dancing around the office. They all turned out to be guides so they definitely liked to have fun! We signed up and the others were curious about the guide for the group we would be in and the girl said that now she had met all four of us, she wanted to make sure we would be in her group. Big cheer from all of us as we already loved her, she was so sweet and funny and her English just outstanding. Her name was Aki and the next 3 days we had the best times of our lives and definitely picked the right company!

I would highly Ever Smile Trekking but if you would like to be in a small group or in a group with not just people under 40 years old, you might want to pick one of the other companies described above. As we bumped in to most of the other groups while doing the trek, I did notice that their groups definitely had a higher average age than ours. I also had a very good feeling with A1 Trekking. They came across very professional and I think if their group size had been slightly bigger and their price a little lower, we would’ve gone with them.

One last thing, and normally I don’t really like to talk badly about companies or people but I will if they are not an honest person or company. Golden Lily is the only one I would not recommend. Robin the owner was really pushy in trying to sell the tour, quoted different people different prices for the same package/group size, said that he would take an unique route that none of the other companies take yet we bumped into him everyday as we didn’t actually have a fixed route as long as we got to the village of the homestay so our guide just asked what we felt like (difficult or not so difficult, forest or fields etc). And something else that I have not experienced but other people in the Ever Smile group told me is that they stayed in the Golden Lily guesthouse and were treated not very nicely by Robin in the staff when they advised they wouldn’t book the hike with him.

Whichever company you choose, you will definitely have an amazing and memorable experience! Have fun!

Ps: feel free to share your experience with any of these companies or feel free to ask me any question you might have in the comments below.

One thought on “Hiking from Kalaw to Inle Lake: How I picked a company

  1. Hoi Mir,
    ´Kieskeurig´ ver van huis ;-). Wel goed voor andere reizigers zo´n uitgebreide beschrijving van je ervaringen. Leuk!
    Nu snel deel 2 lezen…

    liefs Antonio en mama

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *