Kalaw sits atop the misty blue mountains of Burma's Shan State. Once a favourite among British colonialists, as seen by its crumbling period architecture, the town enjoys stunning views of the area and serves as an excellent starting point for what could easily be considered the country's most picturesque region.
Trekking is Kalaw's main attraction. Numerous hill-tribes and villages are scattered among the surrounding mountains. Some can be reached in as little as an hour, while others are more isolated and take several days. The villagers are mostly farmers and land once used to cultivate opium is now used to produce tea leaves, clementines and a countless variety of fruits and vegetables. A knowledgeable and local guide will be able to explain many of the plants that constitute Kalaw's flora, including several herbs used in local cooking and traditional medicine.
Kalaw is often the starting point for three-day treks to Nyaung Shwe and Inle Lake, about 50 kilometres to the east and very popular with travellers. Ultimately, reaching Inle Lake on foot from Kalaw is a rewarding experience, providing travellers an up close and personal experience of the surrounding landscape, people and nature.
A rotating five-day market is held in the town of Kalaw, though dates aren't exactly set. People from surrounding villages, near and far, come to town to trade goods, such as hand-made crafts, green tea and produce. It's an interesting sight to see if you're lucky enough to be in town on a day it's held.
With cool nights, delicious food, and a laidback atmosphere, Kalaw is more than just a starting point for treks. There's much to be seen by the traveller willing to take the time to look. Sights such as a Buddha cave, bamboo Buddha, small winery and the British architecture (with one building said to be haunted) make Kalaw a worthy destination in its own right, perfectly seen on foot, bicycle or even horseback.
The town of Kalaw is quite small and nearly everything is easily accessible by foot. Pyi Daungsu Lun is the main road that cuts through town. Along this road you'll find the market, several hotels, trekking companies and countless restaurants. A market selling clothing, handicrafts and food is located in the town's centre and closes in the evenings. The bucolic train station can be found in the southern part of town on Railway Station Street with horse-drawn carriage taxis often found nearby.
The town's main pagoda and nearby monastery are located in the southern part of town; morning chanting, prayer and music can be quite noisy. The temples, Catholic church, Baptist church and Sikh temple reflect the diversity in the small town. It's also seen in the range of culinary options: traditional Burmese, Nepali, Indian and Shan-style dishes are all here.
An ATM is located just next to the market; it appears to be functional but we didn't try. The bank that houses the ATM machine offers currency exchange.
Nearly every hotel in town claims to have WiFi and a few internet cafes are located around the market.
By Matt French