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The North of Myanmar


Global Mark : 15.22    Top Five : No2

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 


4 4 1 2 5 5 5 2 3 13.78

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
12 100% 75% (9) 100% 14 to 20 16.67

Description :
A cool hill station on the way to even cooler scenery.

Comments : Kalaw is very pleasant in itself but the main reason to stop here is to do a trek to nearby tribes villages. 

What to do ? Shop around for a trek / Walk toward temples & churches / See a bamboo Buddha / Meet tribes at the colorful every-5-days market / Take the stairs to a temple & a good view of the village / Walk up the hill for an even better panorama, a pleasant 1.5 hours trip / Taste strawberry lassi / Feed birds / Breathe fresh air filled with pine trees smell / While on trek, visit coffee, tea or cigar leaves plantations or see elephants at work 

What you may not like ? The frequent power shortcuts during the day / Not being out of your room walking or trekking during the day / The difficult selection of a trek company / Being charged more than 3 times the local price for the minibus to Taunggy / Being explained that because prices for locals have increased from K125 to K150, then the foreigners' prices should be increased from K100 to K500 / Not being offered 3 seats for that price / Missing the market by a few days / Not being always authorized to visit Long Neck tribes at Loikam Village (155km) / A few "give me money" monks !

How long ? One day in Kalaw is enough but a trek should last a minimum of 2 days.

Where to stay ? All the below places offer HW shower and breakfast. 

- On the Thazi - Taunggy street : 

  • Pine Land Inn (50020) / Basic Sgl K600, bigger & better Dbl w. HW shower $3(1) or $6(2) / Go there for the good prices & the acceptable rooms / What you may not like : the rather ugly building
  • ® Winner Hotel (50279) / Basement Sgl $3, Basement room w. HW shower & satellite TV $5(1) or $12(2), standard room $7(1) or $15(2) / Sgl occupancy more expensive in HS / Skip the breakfast and save $1 / Go there for the huge & comfortable basement rooms at great price / What you may not like : getting Chinese TV channels instead of CNN when Chinese tourists are around.

- In the village, all 5mn from the main road :

  • Golden Lily GH (50108), Natsin Rd / Nice green house / Basic rooms without shower $2(1) or $4(2), slightly better rooms w. HW shower $3(1) or $6(2) / View on the village from common balcony / Go there for the cheap prices and the acceptable rooms / What you may not like : the real early prayers' wake up from the pagoda 
  • ® Golden Kalaw Inn (50311), just after the above / Basic Sgl without shower $2.5, big OK rooms w. HW shower & balcony $3(1) or $6(2) / Superb view upon the village / Go there for the good global package and to check the Sgl rooms / What you may not like : often full plus the noisy pagoda
  • Parami Motel (50027), Merchant Rd, east of the above / Bike for around K300 per day / Not so clean rooms without shower $3(1) or $6(2), better rooms w. HW shower $5(1) or $10(2)
  • ® Eastern Paradise Motel (50087), Thirimingalar St, east of the above / Rooms w. HW shower downstairs around the lobby $5(1) or $10(2), upstairs $7(1) or $14(2) / Go there for the very nice clean rooms in a well decorated cozy house / What you may not like : the average sized rooms at not so cheap prices
  • Dream Villa Motel (50144), Zatila St / Good looking house but not so fresh & basic rooms at $5(1) or $10(2) downstairs and $10(1) or $18(2) upstairs. Expensive !

Where to eat ? The place does not lack restaurants but the one I tested (Ye Baw Gyi, main road) did not leave me ecstatic though it was cheap (K250) and the table invaded by lots of small dishes. 

Backpacker's Tips : Franck Bertagnolio, France (May 02)
« A small and good restaurant owned by an old fellow which speaks very good English and has a long life experience: THA ZIN Restaurant, No.1/106, Yuzana Street, Ward No.1, Kalaw, Shan State»

Trekking ? 

The main reason to come here beside breaking a hot journey. At least a dozen registered trekking companies in town offer various options. The following info were nicely provided by New Land (50150) on the main road :
- 1 day : $5 for one person , $4 / person if 2 or 3 incl. lunch. A visit to 2 or 3 tribal villages but those should be rather empty as the villagers will be working in the fields.
- 2 days 1 night : $5 / person / day all included. You should pass around 8 villages and see 3 or 4 different tribes. 
- 3 days 2 nights to Pindaya : $6 / person / day all included, return by taxi. A great trek toward Pindaya cave (mixed reviews, $3) and paper & bamboo umbrella fabrics. 
- 3 days 2 nights Elephant trekking : $8 / person / day with minimum of 2 people. You see elephants at work but you do not ride any...

Backpacker's Tips : Lai Nam Khim, Singapore (Dec 04)
« It is possible to trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake or Inle Lake to Kalaw. You can do a 3D2N trek or a 2D1N trek. Kalaw to Inle is easier because it is going down hill. The rates we paid was USD$10 per person per day, which included meals and 1 night lodging. (the 2nd night was in a monastry and we were expected to give a donation. the guide suggested $5 for 2 of us). The rates also does not include a final boat ride from an Inle village (mostly will end up in In Dien) to Nyaungshwe. You can send your lugguage to the hotels you want to stay in Nyaungshwe for K3000 per bag (the hotel would automatically reserve a room for you). If you do 2D1N instead of 3D2N, you have to trek about 2 hours more on the first day, and you miss the detour through the Paluang villages (which see the most tourists and have been corrupted to the point where children are literally begging tourists for candies or pens whenever they see one)
Note that officially, overnight trekking for tourists aren't allowed. We encounterred some problems with armmy officers on the 2nd night and the guide settled it with some bribes. Some tourists did a overnight trek around Kalaw. They end up sleeping at the Nepali "view point". This is only about 2 hours trek from Kalaw town! I met some tourists who were decidedly upset when they reached their rest stop so early in the afternoon and there was nothing else to do other then walking some more nearby.»

Backpacker's Tips : Zoe, Singapore (Sept 04)
« Trekking in Kalaw was the best part of our trip. It is an experience like no other. And our guide, Ronald from the Winner Hotel, was amazingly knowledgeable and had a bond with the villagers I didn't notice with the other guides we met on the trek. He knows the villagers personally, genuinely caring for their welfare and health, and the trust and friendliness they displayed towards him is priceless. He stopped often to speak and enquire of the villagers passing by along the way.» 

Market day ? 4 days on in 4 different villages, then one day off means that Kalaw receives the visit of tribal peoples every 5 days only. The 21st of April was market day.  Have fun planning your visit !

Order Inle Lake Villages Ex
1 Floating Market (Ywama) Aungban & Taunggyi 20/04/00
2 Mang Thawk, Pagoda (Phaung Daw Oo) & Taung Ni day off 21/04/00
3 Kaung Daing Kalaw & Shwengyaung 22/04/00
4 Nyaung Shwe & Nampan (big) Pindaya 23/04/00
5 Than Taung & Taung To Heho (buffalo market) 24/04/00

Pindaya ? The best trek you could do is arguably the one toward Pindaya. The village itself gets mixed review from travelers, even so there are a few attractions : basically a cave with numerous Buddha images (not really worth the $3) plus fabrics of umbrella, shan paper and pottery. 

Backpacker's Tips :  Leandro Diano, France (Nov 01)
« Don't forget trekking in Kalaw. Ask in Golden Kalaw Inn for George (very interesting guide, 5$ per day) » 

Backpacker's Tips : Jean-Marc Delatre, France (Sept 00)
« To go to Pindaya by public transport: 50 K p/p to Aungban, then 200 K p/p to Pindaya (market days, other days expect 300 or 350 K), " horse cart " to go to the caves: 400 K both ways (we were 4 people). Thus expect 600 K p/p on market days (more interesting) for the whole trip. According to the Kalaw Golden Inn, a taxi must be 3500/4000 K both ways including a stop to the caves. Pindaya Cave entry : 3$ + 35 K for photographs. Impressive. It is not possible to see the working elephant camp in May, only in dry season (in this case see with " Mr. Tiger " in the main street) 
Two days Trek with Eddie from the Golden Kalaw Inn (owner's son): 5$ per day (including food and accomodation). Strongly recommended : very easy trip and Eddie is very interesting: he speaks continuously about a heap of things and know very well the hill tribes (it also helps them: teach basic stuffs, installation of water taps in the village, give medical care - first aid -  to the children.). Really a good guy. Very nice Trek (although the rain! unlucky): contact with the tribes very interesting, landscape (probably) superb... on sunny days. The night is spent in a refuge held by Nepali people (in " View Point "). I brought inflatable balloons for children (of the refuge and the villages), which had much success, and also pens and exercise-books (but always ask Eddie before giving anything, he knows when to give these things and choose the persons in order to be fair and not create any problem). Great memories: do it !

Leaving Kalaw ?

To Inle Lake, you will have to board a bus heading to Taunggyi and get off at the intersection of Shwengyaung and from there take a pick up for the 11km south to Nyaungshe (K50) :
Taking the direction toward Kalaw Hotel, just after Eden Store on the left, before the silver temple, a small drink & snack shop Shwe Pyi Soe with a blue sign offer seat (no ticket is issued) to Taunggy for only (!) K300 for foreigners. The only old bus leave at 6:15
Most people will however orientate you to the minibus Company after the tree (small plain basic cabin with a window) which charge more than 3 times the local price : a K500 rip off to avoid ! Buses at 6:30, 7 and 7:30. 
After those early times, the best bets by road (if seat) are the buses coming from Bagan and Mandalay and passing at around noon. Pick-up also do the trip during the day but it won't be a very pleasant journey as crowded. 
The train should therefore be a better alternative : three trains a day between Thazi and Loikaw via Shwengyaung. It should arrive in Kalaw at around 8:30, 10:45 & 15 and reach Shwengyaung 2 to 3 hours later. It cost $2 ordinary class, $4 upper. From Shwengyaung to Kalaw, trains leave at 8:30, 10:30 & 14. 

To Pindaya, a few pick up in the early morning : around K200, 2 hours. But the best way to go there would be by trekking...

To Mandalay (K1200, 7am, 6 hrs), Bagan (K1500, 7am, 8 hrs) or Yangon (K2000, 2pm, 15 hrs), you will have to board a bus coming from Taunggyi, which means reserving a seat in advance. A few shops can do it in town for the same regular prices, in particular the electrical shop Mahuya Store (50089), south of the bazaar. 

The trip to Inle Lake (Nyaungshwe) : SSSS / R / K300 + K50 / 2 hrs + 20mn / Old minibus + pick up
Waking up at 6:05, I had a big 10 minutes to prepare my bag and reach the minibus. It turned out to be very old, very tired and very crowded but my front seat was there and the road was mostly down so it did not really matter.
The scenery was beautiful as expected with early morning fog in the pine trees forest and great panorama but you will need to seat on the right side to really enjoy it. 
We arrived at the Shwengyaung junction at 8:05, a good performance by Myanmar standard even so we cheated a bit : we did not stop on the way for breakfast !
The pick up bound for Inle Lake took half an hour to fill up and it off course did so at the precise moment I was away buying snacks at the nearby colorful market. So I innovated with my travel techniques and sat on the roof with other locals. Not that comfortable maybe (actually traveling with pick up is never that comfortable) but fresh air and 360 degree view. Just before the village, everybody got down to pass the government official. He had certainly spotted us approaching with passengers on the roof like all the other vehicles but why bother ? As long as traffic rules are followed in its courtyard...

See also the trip from Kalaw