Kilometres away from the Inle Lake and often left out from tourists’ itinerary lies an old British station which features colonial-era buildings, scenic hills, beautiful mountain ranges surrounding the valley and comfortable cool temperatures amidst the tropic climate - that is the town of Kalaw.
Experience a traditional adventure close to nature by trekking the hills and streets of Kalaw whose simplistic way of life gives you a refreshing feeling – emphasised by the hospitality and kindness of the locals. You are surely going to miss Kalaw when you return to the hectic rush of city life!
Kalaw’s definition of enjoyment is defined well by these two words: tradition and simplicity! Shop in the crowded market of Kalaw where you can find all sorts of eclectic food with mixed influences of Indian, Nepali, and British recipes. Walk towards the hills of Kalaw and be rendered speechless by the scenic views of the town’s liveliness from above and on the way to visit Thein Thaung Pagoda and monastery. The golden Buddhas in a cave can also be found southwest of Kalaw in the Shwe Oo Min Paya. The British colonial times left their marks in this beautiful town as evidenced by the restored cottages and an intact Christian church. The Green Hill Valley elephant camp is also a taxi ride away and is a learning experience on the endangered elephants in Myanmar. Above all, while doing these activities, the most enjoyable means of transportation is walking – Kalaw’s beauty is best done through its natural features.
Heho airport, the nearest domestic airport in Kalaw is 26 kilometres away. Take a taxi for one hour at a fare of MMK 45,000 or USD 40 to 50. Booking in advance can save you a few dollars. A cheap alternative is the pick-up trucks or buses that can take you to Kalaw but it can be a bit inconvenient. Fares for pick up trucks start at MMK 300 to 1000 or roughly USD 1, while buses cost around USD 3 to 5 for regular, USD 10 to 15 for air conditioned, and USD 12 to 20 for VIP ones.
Myanmar’s national currency is the Kyat (MMK), with an exchange rate of roughly MMK 1,000 for USD 1. Due to Kalaw’s simple way of life, modernisation has a slow effect on the town, as a result, there are only a few banks and money changers in the busy part of the region. So, if you’re planning a trip to the hills, or the pagodas, and other far attractions, better stack up on Kyats enough for the duration of your tour. You can choose from a number of guest houses, lodges, hotels, and resorts in Kalaw, all offering different comforts at a wide range of price points. Room prices vary from USD 7 to 90 per person per night.
Kalaw’s topography helps it maintain cooler temperatures throughout the year at an average of 19 degree Celsius, even though it is considered warm and temperate because it is located near the equator. Myanmar’s seasons are divided in between wet and dry. The dry season starts at December and ends in April, being the driest and the hottest, while gradually approaching the wet season from June to November, with August having the most amount of rainfall. The best months to visit would be June to July when the weather and temperatures are balanced and manageable. October and November would also be nice as the Tazaungman Full Moon Festival takes place on these months.
Motorbike taxis, motorcycles, and cars are all available for rent in Kalaw, with prices of USD 1 to 5, USD 8 and up per day, and USD 20 to 80 per day respectively. But the beauty of Kalaw can be best appreciated not from vehicles, but while trekking. Exercise those legs by walking or bicycling around the town and stop to appreciate the views or commune with nature by taking snaps or just absorbing the positive effects of it. Kalaw is a place best discovered and loved by hands-on experience, not behind a steering wheel or rapidly speeding through it while driving.
As previously mentioned, Kalaw’s cuisine is a fusion of East and West. British colonial rule has not only left structures as a reminder of their presence in town but also in the dishes that they serve. At the same time, neighbouring Asian countries has influenced Kalaw’s culinary tradition. Most restaurants and food stalls charge USD 1 to 2 for the staple delicious Shan Noodles paired with a Kalaw dish. Lunch and dinner can be more costly at around USD 5 to 10. But, overall, food is delicious and affordable – as well as diverse and unique.