The main reason that people come to Kalaw in Myanmar is to make their way to the graceful Inle Lake. If you make the trip to Kalaw, you can then trek to the lake or vice versa and this part of the country is known for having the most beautiful scenery in all of Myanmar.
If you are looking for a more rural side of the country outside of the main cities, then this is an excellent choice and you will find rolling hills, scenic mountains and dainty local villages dotted all over the countryside. Certainly if you like trekking, then this is not to be missed, and there are a range of hikes available that suit most fitness levels and itineraries.
As well as trekking, you can also enjoy spending time in Kalaw itself and check out craggy caves, spectacular temples and bustling local markets.
Here are the best things to do in Kalaw:
1. Admire the architecture
Like many spots in Myanmar, Kalaw has a few relics of crumbling British colonial architecture.
As you walk around the town you can see these in person, and they include oddities such as cottages built in the British style that would not look out of place in an English village.
You can also check out the pretty Christ the King Church which is famous as it employed the same priest for some 69 years.
2. Support the local community at the RDS Shop
The RDS shop is owned by the Rural Development Society which works to help the local community in Kalaw.
The shop sells textiles, clothes and also paper which is made by hand in the hills around Kalaw.
All the profits from the shop are put towards empowering the local Shan and Pa-O villages and there are a number of development projects in place that work to do just that.
You can also book treks into the surrounding countryside here.
3. Check out Kalaw Mosque
Many travelers are surprised to know that Kalaw has quite a sizeable Muslim population.
With this in mind, you can also visit the main mosque in Kalaw which is known as Kalaw Mosque and is the central place of worship for the Muslim community in town.
The mosque can be visited by non-Muslims outside of prayer times as long as you dress respectfully.
4. Travel to Myin Ma Hti Village
Around 30 minutes outside of Kalaw is the quaint Myin Ma Hti Village.
The main reason to come is to visit the large cave here and you can also rent a bicycle to explore the village from Kalaw.
There are also a number of elegant temples scattered around the village and this is a good spot to visit if you want to get out of Kalaw and see some of the surrounding countryside quickly and easily.
5. Visit the elephants at Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp
Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp is around 45 minutes away from Kalaw and is set in the mountains.
The camp is a sanctuary for retired and aging elephants that used to work in the timber trade and the emphasis here is on conservation.
In comparison to many other elephant camps that use the animals as circus attractions, this is said to be one of the best of its kind in the region.
You can help bathe and feed the animals in the camp and all donations go towards rescuing more elephants that have been mistreated in Myanmar.
6. Trek to Inle Lake
The main reason why most people come to Kalaw is to trek to Inle Lake which is the biggest attraction in the area and usually takes around three days and two nights.
There are a number of different companies that you can choose from to lead the trek, but you can expect to pay around USD 50 for a tour which also includes meals.
As part of the experience you will get to visit monasteries and farms along the way.
7. Shop at the local market
When you are in Kalaw proper, one of the main attractions is the central market, also known as Kalaw Market.
The market rotates its location and changes every five days between Kalaw, Pindaya, Aung Ban, Heho and Nyaung Shwe.
With that in mind, if you are in town when the market is located in Kalaw, then make sure to take advantage of the opportunity to visit.
On a trip here you will find an amazing mix of local fruits and vegetables as well as local arts and crafts.
These are brought down by artisans and sellers who live in the surrounding mountains and include traditional textiles as well as jewelry and some toothsome street food.
8. Take the train to Thazi
Myanmar is known for its epic train journeys, and one of the best ways to arrive in or leave Kalaw is by taking the train to Thazi.
This is known as one of the most scenic journeys in all of Myanmar, which is saying something, and it is not to be missed if you like travelling by rail.
If you do opt to depart or arrive in Kalaw by train then you will get the chance to slow down and take in the verdant scenery in one of the less visited parts of Myanmar.
9. Visit Hsu Taung Pye Paya
If you are visiting Kalaw Market, then you should also take the time to visit Hsu Taung Pye Paya which is located close by.
This temple is known for its many different stupas and it also has a charming history attached.
The temple fell into disrepair many years ago and was crumbling to the ground, but luckily it was restored thanks to the generous donations of Buddhist visiting pilgrims.
10. Watch the fishermen at Inle Lake
If you choose to trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake then you will be greeted with a huge, limpid body of water.
The main attraction here however is the fishermen who have developed an amazing way of rowing their boats using their legs instead of their arms.
If possible make sure that you visit the lake around sunset to watch the light dancing on the water.
11. Admire Aung Chan Tha Zedi
If you are in the center of Kalaw then you won’t be able to miss this colorful and pretty temple.
Aung Chan Tha Zedi is so famous thanks to its glittery stupa and is covered in a shimmering mosaic that catches in the afternoon light.
The mosaic is made of thousands of pieces of gold and silver colored glass and this is one of the more vibrant temples in terms of design that is definitely not to be missed when you are in town.
12. Stop off in Meiktila
Many people who come to Kalaw do so to travel to Inle Lake or vice versa.
If you decide to take this route, then one of the best places to break the journey is in Meiktila which is around 5 hours away from Kalaw by bus.
The main reason to visit Meiktila when you are in Kalaw is to enjoy the scenic lake here which is not as grand or famous as Inle Lake, but is still well worth a visit.
The lake is actually an artificial reservoir rather than a natural body of water, but it still gives you the chance to check out the local scenery and watch locals going about their business.
13. Explore Buddha Cave
Buddha Cave is also known as Shwe Oo Min Paya and is perhaps the most famous religious spot in Kalaw.
The attraction is actually located around half a mile outside the center of town and consists of a natural limestone cave which is a famous as it has been filled with iconic, golden Buddha statues.
You can explore the cave at your leisure and check out the mesmerizing rows of statues at the same time and this is truly one of the most amazing sights in the region.
If you are visiting Kalaw in March, then you can expect the cave to be quite crowded as this is the time when pilgrims come here to pay their respects at the shrine.
Outside the cave you will also find a collection of stalls that sell local trinkets and traditional arts and crafts pieces.
14. Dine at a local tea shop
Kalaw is located in Shan State which means that you spend time sampling the delicious food for which this part of Myanmar is famous.
This includes succulent Shan curries as well as fresh salads and plenty of chewy noodles.
Some of the other delicacies for which the region is famous include rice cakes which are made from pressed rice with additions like turmeric and sesame seeds.
Some of the best places to try the local food include the Burmese tea shops that are dotted around town and you can get a cup of the local tea here and try a variety of toothsome side dishes.
15. Admire Thein Taung Paya
Thein Taung Paya is a good spot to visit in Kalaw as it is located on a hillside and allows you vistas over the main market and the city center.
To get to the temple you can take a set of steps up the side of the Union Highway and from there you will get to see a traditional Buddhist monastery in action.
This means that you can check out the monks who live there and see how they go about their daily lives and this is a good spot to visit if you are looking for a serene atmosphere out of the city center.