Is an old British colony turned mountain village in Myanmar’s Shan State. The town itself is surrounded by beautiful pine forests and untouched country side. The smell of pine and fresh mountain air, combined with the peaceful serenity of utter seclusion and disconnectedness makes Kalaw one of the most magical places on earth.
Personally I recommend staying at least two days in Kalaw to truly experience the magical qualities of the people and town. Although the town itself is incredibly small – so small in fact, that it is possible to walk around its entirety within a couple of hours – there are still plenty of sights to see.
The town is centred around its local markets, where you can find anything from fresh food and flowers to small trinkets and local artist masterpieces. Kalaw, like all of Burma, is a photographers dream; you could easily spend a day walking around, taking in the sights, smells, and culture of this picturesque town.
Or if you are seeking a little more adventure, I would recommend a visit to the Green Hill Valley elephant rehabilitation camp. Here, you can learn about the logging industry in Myanmar and support a local organisation working to protect and save old and disabled elephants. You will also have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the elephants, helping to feed them and also taking them bathing in the river.
Most visitors to Kalaw will also be embarking on the well known ‘Kalaw to Inle Lake’ trek. There are a number of companies and guides available daily, so don’t worry about arranging this ahead of time. It is best to organise this once you arrive in the town, a day before you are set to leave.
The main thing attracting tourists to this area however is the surrounding countryside, rich with the undisturbed culture of the country. Kalaw is the starting point for a number of day walks and overnight treks, the most popular being the 3 day trek to Inle Lake. All up the three day trek is approximately 60km meaning you’ll walk about 20km per day. When I planned our itinerary out I had initially set aside the three days for this trek, but when you get to Kalaw and choose your trekking agency they map out the route for you. The first day is essentially just a 20km walk circling the town of Kalaw to reach a viewpoint. As a newbie trekker I decided I wasn’t going to waste my energy on a trek around Kalaw and that I’d see enough on the remaining 40/50km to Inle. I must admit this was a great decision.
So instead of the 3 day trek I did the 2 day/1 night trek. To catch up on any area missed during the 3 day trek, you will be driven by truck for an hour to a starting point (consisting of a small village in the middle of the countryside), from which to begin the long walk to Inle. The trek will take you along a winding dirt track through villages, farmland and forests where you will see and meet many locals. My highlights were watching the ginger farming, visiting a small local school, meeting so many beautiful Burmese locals, and of course getting to know our tour guide and enjoying delicious food along the way.
Be warned however, this was not an easy trek. I was 20 at the time, incredibly fit and active, and I was struggling after 10km. But, to be fair it was hot. Very hot. We did the trek in the middle of January which is the hot and dry season with temps in the mid 30’s. So I would suggest planning the trek during the cooler months of the year!
That being said, it was the experience of a life time and I would most definitely recommend it.
Just a quick note for those of you wondering, the 2 day trek (and the 3 day trek) include home stays which are actually quite decent. We slept on the living room floor of a big house (wooden on high stilts). The nights get quite cold, and the cracks of the floor let some cold air through, but you’ll be given big warm blankets and cushions to sleep on. It felt like heaven after a day of walking!