In a nutshell
Located in the Shan state in Myanmar, Kalaw is known for its amazing trekking opportunities.
Why go to Kalaw
The best and most famous of these is the trek out to the mighty Inle Lake, and the rest of the area is covered in sweet local villages as well as fruit farms, sprawling tea plantations, and picturesque herbs gardens that are cultivated for their medicinal properties.
Another great reason to make the trip is for the chance to travel to Kalaw by train from neighboring Thazi, and if you enjoy scenic rail journeys, then this is definitely an experience that is not to be missed.
This part of Myanmar also offers you an enjoyable change of pace to some of the bigger cities like Yangon. If you want to relax and take in some of the less visited areas of the Myanmar and explore the beautiful countryside here away from the crowds, then this is an excellent choice. For us, the highlight was the trip out to Inle Lake from Kalaw which is one of the most beautiful routes anywhere in Southeast Asia.
When to go to Kalaw
As a general rule the best time to visit Kalaw is from November to February. This is the time after the monsoon period and the weather is clement and dry. After February it can get extremely hot in Myanmar and some travellers find it dusty and unpleasant. June to October is the rainy season and you can expect downpours every day as well as widespread flooding which can make trips to remote areas all but impossible.
Where to stay in Kalaw
The main types of accommodation in Kalaw appeal to mid-range travellers, and there is not really a strong backpacker scene here. This means that you can expect to pay upwards of USD20 per night, although you will get a decent sized room for this that usually includes breakfast.
While it can be hard to find cheap guesthouses if you are on a budget, there are some upscale places here that usually serve package tourists if you are looking to splurge on something a little more luxurious during your stay.
Most of the accommodation is conveniently located in the centre of town (well, village actually) on the main street.
Where to eat in Kalaw
Kalaw may be small but it has a diverse population and this is very clearly reflected in the food choices here. As this is a Shan area, you can expect Shan curries, fresh salads, and noodles. Other delicacies from the area include a range of rice cakes which are made with rice and an array of added ingredients like sesame seeds or turmeric.
Also of interest in Kalaw are the little Burmese tea shops that are dotted around where you can try the brews sourced from the local plantations.
As well as Burmese classics there are Nepali and Indian restaurants in Kalaw and if you stick to local eateries then you will find a wealth of cheap bites here.
Getting around in Kalaw
The centre of Kalaw can be explored on foot but one of the better ways to get around is to rent a bicycle. If you want to rent a scooter then it can be a bit hit and miss and not all guesthouses or hotels have these available. Horse and carts are popular if you are going short distances in town. There are some motorbike taxis called moto around, and if you want to go out to Inle Lake then this is the best choice and should cost around USD10. There are also some local buses that will take you to the lake for USD2 that leave at 6.15am, 7.30am and 7.45am.
Getting in and out
There are various ways to get to Kalaw depending on how much of the country you want to experience.
If you want to get to Kalaw quickly and easily then it may be better to take a bus, but if you have more time and enjoy rail travel then taking the train from Yangon and changing in Thazi before continuing on to Kalaw can be quite an experience.
If you decide to take the bus then there are a number to choose from. There is a bus from Kalaw to Bagan that leaves at 7.30am and costs around USD9. You can also take buses to Mandalay that leave at 7.30am and 8.30pm and cost USD8. Buses also make the journey from Kalaw to Yangon at 5pm and 7pm and cost USD10.
The scenic way to get to Kalaw involves getting a train down from Yangon to Thazi and then on from there. This means leaving Yangon at 3pm and arriving in Thazi at 3am. The connection then leaves from Thazi to Kalaw at 5am arriving at 11.35am. It is certainly something of an epic journey, but for many travellers in Myanmar it can be the highlight of a trip here as you enjoy the picturesque countryside and the delightful little Burmese villages that you will pass along the way.
If you want to do the trip in reverse then the train from Kalaw leaves at 11.45am and arrives in Thazi at 7pm. It then leaves Thazi for Yangon at 10pm arriving at 2.40pm the next day.
There are actually three trains a day from Yangon to Thazi but the two remaining do not connect so seamlessly with the train from Thazi to Kalaw. For more detailed information on the subject read our From Yangon to Inle Lake page.
Safety in Kalaw
Kalaw is considered a safe place and most visits pass without incident. There have been some issues in the past with low level crime such as bag snatching so make sure to be vigilant with your belongings and if possible leave valuables in a safe at your hotel or guesthouse.
Myanmar has both malaria and dengue fever although areas such as Yangon have been declared malaria free and it only exists in rural parts of the country below 1,000 meters. Before traveling it is best to check with a healthcare professional to decide if you want to take anti-malarial prophylaxis.
Healthcare in Kalaw is basic and if you become seriously ill you will need to travel to Yangon.