Myanmar, an unlikely walking heaven
Walkopedia favourite: Hill tribe trek, Kalaw to Inle
Photo Essay: Bagan
Relaxing: Inle Lake
En Passant: Off to the fields
Nature as Art
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Myanmar as an unlikely walking heaven

Across Glen Muick, Lochnagar cliffs appearing far off
Shan plateau

Myanmar (Burma, until recently), is big and very varied: from the snowy Himalayan north, where it borders on China and India, three great river systems run southward and form a landscape of hot, dusty but fertile plains between mountain ranges. To the east, the Shan Plateau is home to a multitude of tribes: the country’s ethnic diversity, while one of its glories, is at the heart of some of its troubles and inherent instability. In the west and south, bordering on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, are a long, pristine coastline and hundreds of islands just waiting to be wrecked by tourism; and plains and river deltas.

Myanmar has a long if Byzantine history of competing powers and successive, sometime glorious but often short-lived kingdoms. Its plains and hills are littered with religious and historical marvels, from the temples, stupas and other monuments of Bagan and Mrauk U to old capitals such as Ava, to the pilgrimage oddities of Mout Popa and Mount Kyaiktiyo.

Despite their depressing recent history of stupid, wasteful socialist and then military rule and at times vicious oppression, as well as warfare with dissident tribes in the east, the locals are (to foreigners, at least) sweet and charming and incredibly unspoilt. The hill tribes of the east and north live tough but still remarkably unchanged lives, with huge diversity from village to village, let alone between valleys.

South along Loch Muick
Overgrown stupa compound, Bagan

To go or not: until recently, there were major issues with visiting Myanmar, as a result of the money and affirmation that the regime receives – with counter-arguments to the effect that money to the desperately poor locals and foreign contact is more important. These were well put in the 2009 Lonely Planet. But, with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the dabate has for the time being changed; she cautiously welcomes visitors coming to Myanmar.

Myanmar isn’t (as at 2013) an easy country to get to or travel in, although much is changing, and quickly: modern cars and lorries are now to be seen and flights are increasing, although the road system remains appalling.

Mt Popa

Syphoning petrol

Myanmar has some of the world’s best walks and treks, with a huge variety of scenery and tribal ways of lifeto be encountered.
  • Excellent mountain hiking and trekking trails in the Himalayan north around Putao: in particular to Burma's highest peak: the snow-capped Hkakabo Razi (5881m) and the more accessible Phon Kan Razi at 3,635m.
  • Fascinating tribal trekking in the hills and mountains of much of the country, particularly on the Shan plateau in the east, offers wonderfully varied day and multi-day walks and hikes, walking from village to village among many different ethnic groups around Kalaw, Pindaya and Inle Lake; and Hsipaw and Nanshan, Kengtung and elsewhere.
  • The historic and unmissably atmospheric temples, stupas and monuments of Bagan, Mrauk U etc.,
  • The weird but wonderful Mt Popa and the crowded but nonetheless atmospheric sacred cliff-top rock of Mount Kyaiktiyo.

The best time for hiking in most of Myanmar is November to early March. Once on the trails, lodging is mostly in local homes, with camping in remoter areas.

Best heather ever...
Inle Lake

By the lodge, east shore
Shovelling shit, Shan plateau

More information on walking in Myanmar


Walkopedia favourite: Hill Tribe Trek, Kalaw to Lake Inle

From the clifftop path
Off to festival along high ridge

Trek through tribal hill country from the colonial era hill station of Kalaw to famously lovely and atmospheric Inle Lake.

This is interesting landscape, at the western end of the Shan plateau: rolling hills and terraced valleys separated by rough sandstone ridge. The hills were once thickly forested, but the army apparently felled most of them in the 1970s. Parts are now burnt and kept thin, but they are still at times delightful. Despite the depredations, there is rich vegetation and animal life.

You will get properly up into the tribal highlands, crossing ridges, passing through (and staying in) tribal villages with differing customs and ways of life: many of them orange-turbaned Pa-O, but also Taung Yo, Danu and Palaung. You will stay in the bamboo-walled upper floors of stilted villages houses, or in the atmospheric but popular Htetan monastery.

This is not difficult walking, but the days can be long. The cooler air is a welcome contrast to the heat of the lowlands, but nights can be positively cold.

Afternon light effects

Plateau edge

There are various routes to choose from, enabling you to walk for two or three days. Three days enables you to get further “out” and meander more slowly. (We headed south on day 1, turning east toward Inle Lake on days 2 and 3). Some routes are really quite heavily walked, and, even though we asked to “go remote”, there were two other groups in our village.

Unless you walk into Naungshwe, the town at the northern end of Lake Inle, you will need to take a boat (or other transport) from the lakeside or roadhead where you end your trek.

You will need to go with a guide, who can be hired locally.

Consider a walk in the Kalaw Area [link to Kalaw-Inle Area page) before you head off on this trek.

Kyauk Su, our night-stop

Morning light

Marbles, morning light

Cleaning food

School window

In the fields

From the clifftop path

Walkopedia rating: 90 – Top 100
More information on this walk


Photo essay: Bagan

Classic evening light

Ananda behind

Monster temple

Perfect pair

Selling handmade postcards

Mingala zedi

Very overgrown stupa

Is the one in the back the loveliest of the lot

The beauty and mystique of Bagan as at 2013. Long may it remain thus, but, if Angkor is a paradigm, that will be hard…

More information on walking in Bagan


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Relaxing: Inle Lake

Crannog in Loch Kinord

Perfectly sited pavilion on the summit plateau

Perfectly sited pavilion on the summit plateau

Perfectly sited pavilion on the summit plateau

This is where walkers go or a well-deserved relax and think�

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En passant: off to the fields, above Inle Lake

Crannog in Loch Kinord

Perfectly sited pavilion on the summit plateau

Read more about this walk

Nature as art

Crannog in Loch Kinord

Perfectly sited pavilion on the summit plateau

Red earth and eroded volcanic rock above Inle; vegetables at an Inle market.

Read more about this walk

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Best Myanmar Books

Myanmar (Burma) - Lonely Planet: overall pretty good, although lightish on trekking areas.
Myanmar, Burma in Style - Odyssey. More poetic that the LP, but short on practicalities. It does no harm to bring both.

Other books
The Glass Palace - Amitav Ghost � a great novel in all senses. And it leaves you with much deeper understanding of the country and its history.
The River of Lost Footsteps - Thant Myin-U - a brilliantly readable history
The Making of Modern Burma - Thant Myin-U
From the Land of the Green Ghosts - Pascal Khoo Thwe: fine autobiography of a young man caught up in the strife who manages to get out to Cambridge
Burmese Days - George Orwell. trenchant, observant, opinionated, as always. Makes uncomfortable reading for sensitive Brits.
The Laquer Lady - F. Tennyson Jesse: a wonderful novel (according to Mrs Walko) about a woman teaching in the Burmese court.
Golden Earth: Travels in Burma - Norman Lewis (can be hard to get)
The Piano Tuner - Daniel Mason - a truly badly written book, but somehow gripping (Mrs Walko won't even grant it this) and a success (they made a film of it, so someone thinks it must be good!)


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