A Serene Walk by the Lakes of Shan State in Myanmar
One of the advantages of working in travel is research to discover new areas and to personally find out what to see and do there. This is one of these great discoveries.
For a long time, I had been fascinated by the two lakes beyond Inle Lake in the hills of southern Shan State in Myanmar. Both Samkar Lake and Pekon Lake had been off-limits for travelers until a few years ago.
On my many trips from Loikaw to Inle Lake, I used to wistfully pass along these charming lakes by motorboat with an unfulfilled longing inside me. I had seen many Lisu tribe villages on treks from Loikaw to Pekon Lake. But I had never taken enough time to go slowly and pass the area on foot – the best way to travel.
So in September 2019, I found myself eager to escape my desk and the overcast Yangon weather and head for the blue skies, sun and lapping waters of the Shan State. I wanted to see if the promise from afar was real.
What to bring & what to expect
A trekking holiday is always a good way to get out of the daily routine of city life, do some exercise, and think things over. A few days of uncluttered ambling along rural paths in Myanmar without the constant distraction of Messenger, WhatsApp or world news — what could be better!
Of course, it takes a day to get into the rhythm of waking up, having breakfast, walking for 2-3 hours, enjoying a home-cooked lunch, walking for another 2-3 hours, having a sundowner, freshening up, enjoying a local dinner and then off to bed early for a night of deep sleep. Then repeat.
Unlike chalet to chalet trekking in Switzerland or New Zealand, hiking in Myanmar is easier. Meals are prepared by your guide, your bed is made, and there is no need to carry heavy luggage. It is waiting for you at your next lodge.
Trekking during the Myanmar green season, May to October, is probably one of the most rewarding periods. The verdant fields are mesmerizing. However, it is wise to bring a waterproof jacket for the occasional shower. If you’re trekking from October onwards in Shan state you should bring a sweater for the cool evenings. Besides that, bring good walking shoes, a pair for flip-flops for the “après-trekking”, enough cotton t-shirts, shorts, a hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen.
During the four days, I walked about 70 km in total, each day for about 4-5 hours. It was enjoyable — and easy to do for anybody with normal fitness levels.
Beautiful and diverse scenery around the three lakes
During my walk, I decided to alternate between the east and west banks of the lakes. Some parts were high in the mountains with beautiful views of the water below. Others were easy sojourns through quiet lakeside villages. The landscape was very diverse. I walked among plantations and paddy fields, pristine pine woods, protected community forests, bamboo groves, cornfields, and rocky outcrops.
The route in Inle Lake saw me passing several traditional Pa O villages with views of floating lake gardens and the numerous boats zigzagging over the water. The next day, walking towards Samkar Lake, had me strolling at one with myself through bamboo forests meeting with bamboo grub collectors. We continued by boat through the channel connecting Inle Lake with Samkar Lake and walked uphill to a traditional Pa O village where few foreigners have set foot.
From there, the view of Samkar Lake is stunning. The surroundings of the lake seem somehow greener than Inle. Arriving at the rear of Tar Kaung pagoda was truly spectacular. Further, onto Samkar Lake, the appearance of the lakeside villages was very traditional, made with lots of wood, and the locals especially friendly.
One highlight was Phayartaung monastery. For a further understanding of its significance, visitors should read Children of the Revolution by Feroze Dada. It tells a recent true story of a foreign visitor to Shan State who was inspired by a freedom fighter and a monk to help hundreds of children living in the monastery.
After a good Shan meal of fresh Shan noodles, I walked on to our final destination, Pekon Lake, the largest of the three. This time I was on a boat enjoying a different perspective.
Where to stay & what to eat
For any trekking in Myanmar, I would certainly advise you to go with a good guide. If you really want to relax and enjoy the trip, make sure to book a hike that includes good regional food (not just fried rice) and all transport to and from the start until the end (it’s not much fun finishing a hike and having to walk on a tarred road towards your hotel).
The trek from Nyaung Shwe to Loikaw took four days with overnights at comfortable lodges with private bathroom and one local homestay along the way. I LOVE to try local food so I ate Pa O vegetarian food which was very satisfying. Traditionally, the Pa O only eat meat on the day they come back from the five-day rotating market. So I ate lots of salads, bamboo shoots (trust me, when they are fresh they are very different from the Yangon taste) and Shan noodles or rice.
Lunches were either home-cooked or prepared in natural boxes made of banana leaves. Staying at the Little Lodge in Samkar was one of the highlights as well as the luxury Loikaw Lodge at the end of the trip. If you have more than four nights, then I would suggest an extra day in Loikaw to visit the different tribes.
Contact Khiri Travel Myanmar at [email protected] to arrange a different experience for your next trip to Shan State in Myanmar.
By Edwin Briels, Managing Director at Khiri Travel Myanmar