Kalaw is a hill station in Myanmar (Burma), at 1,320 metres above sea level.
From Bagan leave at 4:00 arriving in Kalaw around 15:00 (11,000 kyat). Same bus continues to Inle Lake (Nyaung Shwe town). Make sure to buy the ticket as soon as possible since it's always overcrowded and you don't want to get a spare seat on the aisle. If taking a minivan, note that the roads are extremely rough so try to avoid the very uncomfortable back row. Some companies (i.e. Rainbow minivans) will also move foreigners to the back row so that locals can have the more desirable front seats.
From Mandalay, 13,000 kyat depart in the evening and arrive around 2-3AM.
From Sipaw travel via Kyaukme and Pin Oo Lin. Leaving in the afternoon and arriving around 6AM. Cost 15,500 kyat depending on exchange rate (Oct 2015).
Share taxis headed towards Taunggyi depart Mandalay at 8AM and arrive in Kalaw around 4PM. The front seat costs 30,000 kyat while the back seat costs 25,000 kyat. This is the only daytime option from Mandalay for foreigners. Taxis can be reserved through Mandalay hotels and guest houses.
You can cover the town and nearby caves by foot. Alternatively bikes are for hire from mid-morning at the mosque.
- Tein Taung (Cloud Hill). Just take the 'stairsway to heaven' situated on the north of the town.
Kalaw offers a variety of opportunities for trekking. The countryside surrounding the town is dotted with ethnic minority villages and agricultural lands growing ginger, oranges, tea, cauliflower and other produce. Limited wild, uncultivated areas exist in the area surrounding the catchment for Kalaw's water reservoir. Treks to Inle lake are particularly popular, with 3-day, 2-night and 2-day 1-night (including a taxi ride part way) options commonly available. Loop treks around the Kalaw area of varying lengths are also possible. If you only have 3 days, it is a good idea to go trekking one day around Kalaw and do the 1-night, 2-day trek to Inle Lake as it will give a wider variety of experiences, and you can enjoy the nice mountain views from the hills around Kalaw.
A large number of trekking companies, which provide good treks through multiple areas with enthusiastic English speaking locals, compete for business in the town. Many are associated with a guesthouse and will happily visit you at yours to explain possible options. Better companies will create flexible itineraries, tailoring your trip based on the level of difficulty you can handle, and the types of sights you'd like to see. Some guides are even able to make modifications to your route during the trek depending on conditions. Treks can be organised on site, for the same day or the next day easily. Compare their quality against internet review on the common websites (Google, Tripadvisor, etc.).
Guided treks in the Kalaw area are excellent value. Expect to pay around 30,000 kyat/day for a group of two, 36,000 kyat for a group of three or 40,000 kyat for a group of four including all meals, accommodation and unlimited tea with meals (though not including treated water, which is available for purchase in many villages along the routes.) As most visitors to Kalaw plan to trek, it is usually not difficult to meet others to form a group with and thus reduce the per-person price.
Forwarding luggage to a guesthouse in the Inle lake area should cost around 3,000 kyat per bag. Or is already included in the price. You can forward your luggage to the jetty at Inle lake so you will be free to shop around hotels there.
Bring US$15 to pay the zone fee for Inle. Kyats and Euros are accepted too, but at a poor exchange rate.
Keep in mind that during high season more than 200 people trek to Inle Lake per day. Those people will all have to homestay in the villages. So be understanding when people don't want their photos to be taken. Show them respect and dress in a polite way during the trek and in the villages.
It is possible to trek independently in the area. Most paths are not too tough to carry a backpack on—they are usually used by locals to haul large amounts of agricultural produce on foot! If you can have a GPS device, you can follow the trekking trails on OpenStreetMap.org, which many mobile Apps like OsmAnd, MAPS.ME, etc. use, or download GPS tracks from GPSies. Many tracks were uploaded by other trekkers. Finding accommodation may be slightly difficult if trekking independently, as English speakers are quite uncommon in the villages surrounding Kalaw, but signaling you may want to sleep should not be too hard.
There is a big central market in the center of the town. Local "cigars" and peanut brittle are interesting purchases to make. It's also very easy to find material for a Longyi (local "sarong" type garment) which the tailors on the main street near the bus offices can sew up or modify for you inexpensively.
Trekking: Trekking boots are green and found everywhere in the market. For 3,000 kyat. Even the trekking guides wear them because they have a really good tread. Good rain coats are available for 5,000 kyat.
- Sam's Family trekking company has a restaurant too. Check openstreetmap.org map.
- The central market is surrounded by many street food stands. Look for plater in the evening (pancake).
- 1 Thirigayha Restaurant (Seven Sisters), Pyi Taung Su Road. Tasty Burmese fare made with fresh produce in this cozy cottage. Get the fragrant coconut rice to go with your curries. Mains 2,000-4,500 kyat.
- Pyae Pyae - Shan Noodle Food & Clay Pot Noodle Soup, Pyi Taung Su Road (Nextdoor to Seven Sisters), ☏ . Great local restaurant. Go for the clay hot pot (2,500 kyat) that is served still sizzling, with omelette, quail's egg, chicken, carrots and greens and might fill two. Do not miss the tea leaf salad (500 kyat) with crunchy peanuts. It might be the only one in Myanmar that is not spicy.
- 2 Pine Land Restaurant (Htin Shuu Myaing (ထင်းရှူးမြိုင် စားသောက်ဆိုင်)), 4/63, Merchant Street, Ward (4) (Corner of Merchant St and Railway Station St), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 9AM-9PM. Serves a variety of Chinese food and wines. Free Wi-Fi for customers.
- Hi bar around the central pagoda: wonderful place to spend an evening. Locals are very eager to play the guitar, they even know quite some English songs. Good Rum-sour & Whisky-sour. They also have a donation box for the local hospital.
- Many tea shops surround the central market.
It seems as if every house were a guest house or hotel. So expect plenty of possibilities during low season and consider booking ahead as the most popular ones might fill up quickly during high season. Many travellers are surprised when they are suddenly dropped off the bus in the middle of the night, much earlier than the ticket vendor had promised. Hotel owners are normally willing to still let you in, most likely at a reduced price and motorbike-taxi drivers at the drop off point will readily give you the directions.
- Pine Land Inn (Chanses are coaches travelling East will stop right outside. Almost opposite stairs to Thein Taung Hpaya.). They have a lot of choice including single/double/multi room with or w/o bathroom. There may or may not be heating in the rooms, but lots of blankets are provided. Breakfast available extra US$1. Free Wi-Fi, good connection in all the building. US$6 for a single room.
The Kalaw area is reportedly malaria free, but mosquitoes are not uncommon, especially during the rainy season, so it's best to cover up and avoid bites in any case.
- Trekking to Inle Lake
The buses from Taunggyi all stop on the main road in front (or close) to the Shwe Nan San travel agency. Ask them for information or bus tickets. 1,000 kyat per bag to store it at their office for the day.
- Inle Lake - should arrive around 3PM, ask at the guest houses/travel companies.
- Yangon - Night bus (VIP 20,000-25,000 kyat)