If Myanmar isn’t on your travel bucket list yet, you’ll definitely want to add it. Quickly becoming a popular backpackers’ destination, this country certainly has a lot to offer. From beautiful scenery to incredible food, the quiet town of Kalaw should be on your list once you make it to Myanmar.
Places like the country’s capital of Yangon or the famous temples of Bagan might get a lot more attention, but the little hill town of Kalaw is definitely worth taking adding to your itinerary.
Kalaw is located in Myanmar’s Shan state, south of the city of Mandalay. It’s not a big city or a place packed with tourist attractions, but it’s been gaining in popularity largely because of its pristine beauty and ideal location for trekking and exploring.
One of the most popular treks is from Kalaw to nearby Inle Lake. Most travelers opt to start in Kalaw and hike the journey to Inle, where there are markets, fishing, and incredible scenery. You can also start at Inle Lake and hike in the other direction.
Either way, Kalaw becomes a must-stop locale. And once you’ve visited, it’ll be hard to leave! There’s something about the rural towns of Myanmar that have such a pull. It’s truly a place you won’t want to skip.
If you’re looking for ways to get to Kalaw, we recommend checking out Flymya to compare busses and flights. Whether you’re hiking there or traveling by bus, train, or car, once you get to Kalaw you’ll want to explore the area. There’s plenty to keep you busy, but here are a few recommendations for some of the best things to do in Kalaw. This list should get you started!
Kalaw to Inle Lake Trek
This trek is probably the reason most people have heard of Kalaw. Myanmar is an increasingly popular destination for backpackers and outdoors enthusiasts. And with all the options for hiking and adventuring, it’s no wonder. One of the most popular is the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake and is one of the best experiences we’ve had in this country.
Now, granted, this is less of a thing to do in Kalaw and more of a place to go from Kalaw, but it’s worth the recommendation. The 60-km trip takes three days, but is beloved for a reason…give it a shot! Once in Kalaw, you’ll find plenty of tour companies who can guide you during your trek.
Visit the Aung Chan Tha Zedi Pagoda
Located in the heart of Kalaw, this stupa is a pretty magnificent sight. At the very top sits a mosaic-covered rooster, sparkling in the sunlight. The pagoda is covered in gold and silver colored glass, which makes for a spectacular view when the sun is glinting off of it. It’s worth seeing as you stroll through the town.
Visit the Bamboo Buddha in Hnee Paya
When you think of bamboo, you might think of panda bears or bamboo chutes in your stir fry. But after viewing this 500-year-old bamboo image of Buddha, you might think of it a little differently! This impressive Buddha statue is lacquered in gold and sits within the Buddhist temple. It’s located on a hill just a 20-minute walk from the town center. You can walk or even rent a motorbike if you want!
Explore the Kalaw Market
For a truly authentic Burmese experience, you have to visit Kalaw’s marketplace. While a small market goes on every day, every five days people from the nearby hill tribes join the market and it gets a lot bigger and a lot more impressive.
This isn’t your regular old tourist market…this is a market for the locals. If you’re looking for knick-knacks to take home, you might be disappointed. But if you want a taste of the local flavor, you’ll be happy you went.
From mountains of fresh fruits and vegetables to piles of fried bugs (if you’re brave enough to try them!) you’ll find plenty to keep your stomachs full and your eyes delighted here. Starting early in the morning, the market is set up in the center of town and you can’t miss it.
Visit the Thein Taung Paya Monastery
Located just a short walk from the center of Kalaw, this monastery offers a perfect vantage point to take in the town. Just walk up the steps and you’ll be greeted by friendly Buddhist monks. The monastery overlooks the town and boasts beautiful views of all of Kalaw. The monastery itself is interesting and worth looking around, but most people head there to take in the views below.
Editor’s Note: Take a Look at our Guide on What to Wear in Myanmar
Wander Around Shwe Oo Min Paya
One of Kalaw’s most spectacular sights, this natural cave is filled with Buddha statues. It’s a 30-minute walk south of the town center, but you can also hire a motorbike to get you there a little faster. The limestone caves create a fascinating home for the myriad of Buddha statues held within.
Try Shan Food
Burmese food is one of my favorites, but the food in Myanmar’s Shan state is something unique. There are a variety of dishes served in Kalaw particular to the area that are definitely worth a try. Probably the most well known is Shan noodles.
They are served with a signature tomato sauce and can be made in either a soup or a salad. There are also traditional rice cake dishes you can find at any of the local restaurants. The food is flavorful but usually not too spicy. If you’re not into Burmese food, Kalaw also has a variety of international restaurants to choose from.
Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp
A 45-minute drive from Kalaw, this elephant camp is one of the country’s more responsible and environmentally friendly camps. The camp cares for retired timber elephants that aren’t able to work any longer. The camp was founded in 2011 and is a family-run establishment focused on humane practices. You can feed, bathe, and pet the elephants while learning more about their care and re-plantation services. They even serve a traditional lunch while you’re there!
Visiting Kalaw lets you experience the heart of Myanmar in all its natural beauty. From hikes to delicious food, it has a lot to offer. Do you have any other recommendations in Kalaw? Let us know!