The complete guide to Kalaw
Most travellers know Kalaw as the starting point for treks to Inle Lake.
Few see it as a destination in itself, and that would be a mistake; its pleasant climate and gorgeous location make it the perfect place to recuperate for a couple of days.
WHAT TO DO
Nº 1 - HIKE TO SHWE OO MIN PAYA
This was our favourite day hike around Kalaw. It’s an unchallenging walk through forests, taking you past farms and through small villages, after which you will reach some caves. In true Myanmar style, these caves have been decked out with Led-lights, buddhas and mini-stupas. We followed directions as provided by our first accommodation, Thitaw II (see below) and it is likely that wherever you will stay will be able to provide you with the same.
Nº 2 - VISIT THE MARKET
There is a large market that visits Kalaw as part of a five-day rotation of nearby villages, however on most days there will be at least a small market of sorts to peruse.
Nº 3 - pagodas and buddhas
In the centre of Kalaw is Aung Chan Tha Zedi, a shiny stupa made up of glittering mosaics of mirrored glass. You really can't miss it.
Around a 30 minute walk south-east from the town you can also find bamboo Buddha Hnee Paya, on the way to the View Point.
Your accommodation will be able to show you all of these on a map - just ask!
Nº 4 -TREK TO INLE LAKE OR PINDAYA
After our three-day hike with Mr Bike around Hsipaw, we decided not to make the 3-day trek to Inle Lake. Fellow travellers who had completed both claimed the Hsipaw trek was more challenging and beautiful, and we felt that the sheet number of other hikers on the Inle Trek may take away from the experience. It’s a popular walk which many people enjoy doing, however, so you should decide for yourself whether it is worth it.
Alternatively, you can take the three-day hike to Pindaya, which is apparently a far quieter route with just as much natural beauty. You aren't short of tour agents in the town centre so take a walk between a few and see what their offering and check their reviews online.
WHERE TO EAT
Nº 1 - SEVEN SISTERS / THIRIGAYHA ($$)
This homely restaurant takes the form of a quaint, white-painted wooden building just outside of the centre of town. It serves all manner of Asian specialties and has a really cosy vibe.
A main meal and alcohol drink for two people will cost around K12,000 / $9.
Nº 2 - PYAE PYAE SHAN NOODLE ($)
Just next door from Thirigayha, this café-style joint serves Shan specialties such as the traditional noodle soup for cheap prices. It won’t knock your socks off, but it makes for a filling lunch.
A bowl of noodle soup costs around K1500 / $1.
Nº 3 - new simple life ($$)
This tiny restaurant is a pleasant walk away from the centre of town. It’s run by a cheerful Burmese lady who previously spent a number of years living in Singapore. The pizzas and pastas are tasty and filling, if a little under-seasoned.
Two pasta dishes or two small pizzas with drinks will set you back K15,000 / $11.
Nº 4 - EVEREST NEPALI FOOD Centre ($)
Being from England, we love a good Indian-style curry, and this Nepali-run place was probably the closest we’ve had to a Leicester curry house since leaving Australia.
A curry costs around K5000 / $3.75.
Other great places to try include Red House, which serves pizza and pasta and Sprouting Seeds, which nails vegan brownies and fruit smoothies.
WHERE TO STAY
WE STAYED AT... MORNING GLORY ($$)
Set above the town behind the train station, this place offers chalet-style accommodation with big beds and little terraces. It’s one of the more expensive hotels in town, but offers a great place to chill in the afternoon.
We paid K33,000 / $25 for a double detached room with a small terrace and ensuite, including breakfast.
we ALSO recommend... THITAW I AND II ($$)
The European gentlemen that runs this place is an honest bloke; when we arrived the monastery behind the hotel had started a weeklong celebration which involved chanting down a microphone 24 hours a day. He offered to refund us the room price so we could look elsewhere for accommodation given the inconvenience. We ended up moving down the road to Morning Glory, but we managed to get a good look at the rooms (average-sized but rustic and comfortable) and smell the home-cooked bread (we started salivating) and have no doubt we would have enjoyed our stay sans monks.
Rooms start from K27,000 / $20 and include breakfast.
There is an airport around 16 miles away, with regular flights arriving from Nyaung U (Bagan), Yangon and Mandalay. Flights to other areas such as Thandwe (for Ngapali beach) and Kengtung are less frequent.
You can catch the train here from Shwenyaung (Inle Lake) or Mandalay (with an overnight stop-off in Thazi).
There are also regular buses to and from Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Taunggyi. Your accommodation will be able to assist you in booking these.