If you're heading upriver on the Chindwin River from Monywa, chances are your first stop will be Kalewa (unless you fit in an aside at Mingin), a port cum road junction town that has enough to entertain for an evening, but not much beyond that.
Set at the confluence of the Myittha and Chindwin rivers, the town will most likely make first appearance via its telecom tower or the gleaming stupa that sits overlooking the two rivers. There is a suspension bridge a 15-minute walk back through town and aside from the wet market and a decidedly scruffy waterfront area, herewith end the main attractions of Kalewa town.
If you're looking to head into Chin State, unless flying in, this is your starting point, with a road connection to Kale, from where, at the time of writing, foreigners are permitted to travel onwards to Falam and Hakha. Bear in mind you will need to back track through here as a loop, exiting to the south, at time of writing in late 2013 is not possible.
The town has a small internet cafe, a scattering of beer stations that double up as basic restaurants and a couple of guesthouses. The quite polite immigration officers will find you and you'll be expected to show a copy of both your passport and visa upon arrival, and they'll ask where you are heading next. If you later change your plans, they need to be informed of the change.
Kalewa has three main boat landings roughly 100 metres apart. The closest to Monywa, below the pagoda and by the big tree (whose days look to be numbered), is given over to freighters while the other two boat landings slightly to the north are where passenger boats pull up. If you arrive at the centre landing, walk up the stairs till you hit the small road, take a sharp right and the guesthouse is on your left on the corner. If you arrive at the third pier, take a sharp left and the guesthouse is on your right.
The road from the first boat landing leads to the main road through town where you'll find the internet cafe (on your left), followed by a beer station (on your right) and then, perhaps a five-minute walk from there, on your left, a good restaurant for breakfast. Continue along the same road for another 15 minutes to reach the bridge which offers good views over the Myittha River, though it probably isn't worth the walk -- and certainly not at night when we did it.
The pagoda is reached by the road from the first boat landing and offers reasonable views over the surrounds.
The Chit Ko Ko Guesthouse really isn't very good at all but is most likely where you'll be finding yourself. Rooms are uber basic, with lumpy thin mattresses and shared bathroom facilities. Power is limited and while there is no WiFi there are multiple plugs in the room so be sure to organise your charging needs when the power is on. Bathroom facilities are all shared, with cold water bucket showers and squat toilets (one has a throne). Staff are friendly enough and try hard but speak barely a word of English. We paid 9,000 kyat per person for two people in a double room, which quite frankly was extortionate, but, well, options are limited. Local rate for a single appeared to be 6,000 kyat.
Eating options are limited in Kalewa but you won't starve. At least three beer stations are clustered around the main road through to the bridge -- just look for the Myanmar Beer signs. Don't expect an English menu but with a bit of point and gesture you should be able to figure something out. Further down towards the bridge, on your left, is a popular restaurant for breakfast.
Along the waterfront are snack and tea shops where they should be able to rustle you up a simple meal, while down on your left, just before reaching the third boat landing, is a decent tea shop.
Overall while you won't go hunger, but don't expect any culinary delights.
By Stuart McDonald.