One of the perks of working in travel is the research to discover new areas and find out what to see and do there. For years, I have been fascinated by the 2 lakes beyond Inle Lake: Samkar Lake and Pekon Lake as these areas were certainly off limits for travellers until a few years ago. On my trips from Loikaw to Inle Lake, I have been passing these lakes by motor boat and I have been visiting Lisu tribe villages on treks from Loikaw to Pekon Lake but I never actually took enough time to go slowly and pass the area on foot. Hence, I was eager to take this opportunity in the middle of September, escape the Yangon weather, enjoy the sun and blue skies in Southern Shan state and come up with a new route.
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, somehow have time to think things over. Without constant influxes from your messengers, WhatsApp, internet or the world news, it’s just you and nature! It takes a day to get into the rhythm of waking up, having breakfast, walk for 2-3 hours, get surprised by a home cooked lunch, walk another 2-3 hours, have a sundowner, relax, enjoy dinner and go to bed early. Unlike hut to hut trekking in Switzerland or New Zealand, trekking in Myanmar is actually a bit more of a “holiday”: your food is prepared by the guide, your bed is made, and there is no need to carry your heavy luggage as it will be waiting for you at your next lodge. Trekking during the Myanmar green season is probably one of the most rewarding periods as the green fields are mesmerizing; do bring a raincoat for the odd shower you might get. Trekking from October onwards in Shan state means you need to 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 4 days, I walked about 70 km, each day about an average of 4-5 hours which was very enjoyable and easy to do for anybody with a normal fitness.
The scenery of the three lakes: Inle, Samkar, and Pekon Lake
During my trekking, I decided to alternate between the east bank of the lake and the west bank. Some parts were high in the mountains with beautiful views of the lake while others parts were passing through lakeside villages. The landscape was very diverse and ranged from plantations and paddy fields to pristine forest including protected community forest as well as bamboo forest, corn fields, and rocky parts of wild land. The route in Inle Lake area took me passing by several traditional Pa O villages, views of the floating gardens and the numerous boats zigzagging over the lake, and some fine forest.
The next day walking towards Samkar Lake lead me for a few hours through bamboo forests meeting with bamboo worm hunters. 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 been before. From there, the view on Samkar Lake is stunning as the surroundings of the lake seem somehow greener than Inle. Arriving from the backside to the Tar Kaung pagoda was truly spectacular and the lack of souvenir stalls was refreshing. Further onto Samkar Lake, the feel and atmosphere of the lake side villages is very much traditional and friendly. We arrived at the very special Phayartaung monastery (for a further understanding of this place, I suggest the following reading: Children of the revolution from Feroze Dada), had a good Shan meal and continue to walk to our end-destination: Pekon lake which is the biggest of the three lakes. Boats were used to traverse parts of each lake, those were very enjoyable rides as it gives you a good impression of life on the lake as well.
Where to stay & what to eat
For any trekking in Myanmar, I would certainly advise you to go with a good guide and if you really want to relax and enjoy the trip, make sure to book a trekking that includes good regional food (not just fried rice) and all transport to and from the start till the end (it’s not much fun finishing a trek and still having to walk on a tarred road towards your hotel). My trekking from Nyaung Shwe to Loikaw took 4 days with overnights at comfortable lodges with private bathroom and one local home stay at the beginning. I LOVE to try local food and often avoid meat and greasy curries so during this trip I ate the local Pa O vegetarian food which was very tasty.
Traditionally, the Pa O only eat meat on the day they come back from the 5-day rotating market. I had a lot 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 biodegradable 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 4 nights, then I would suggest to stay an extra day in Loikaw and visit the different tribes including the longneck women in the area.
Edwin Briels is MD of Khiri Travel Myanmar and has been working for over 15 years in travel in Myanmar and will share his experiences travelling in Myanmar in a monthly column.
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