Visiting Kalaw: a Guide for International Tourists

Kalaw mountains

Those who love nature and outdoor activities should certainly place Kalaw high on their Myanmar travel bucket list. An old British hill station village, Kalaw is for many a starting point for some of Myanmar’s most famous trekking routes, the most popular being Inle Lake.

However, Kalaw deserves a visit itself. The scenery is idyllic and refreshing and there is plenty to do and see thanks to nature and old colonial buildings.

In this article, foreign visitors will learn:

  • How to get to Kalaw
  • When to travel to Kalaw
  • The best Kalaw tourist attractions

How to Get to Kalaw when Traveling from Abroad

There are no international airports in Kalaw. Those who travel by air will find that the closest airport is Heho airport, less than 30 km south east from Kalaw.

The structure only operates national flights, meaning that those coming from abroad will have to fly to destinations like Mandalay or Yangon and then transfer to Heho.

A very cheap option is to purchase a bus ticket from one of the below cities:

  • Bagan (12,000 kyat, about $8.5)
  • Mandalay (11,000 kyat, about $8)
  • Yangon (15,000 kyat, about $11)

What documents do I need to travel to Kalaw, Myanmar?

Most foreign nationals need a Myanmar visa in order to travel to Kalaw from abroad, unless they are from visa-exempt countries. Those who need a visa can choose among a variety of options depending on their specific travel plans and their passport.

One of the fastest and quickest visas to obtain for Myanmar is the electronic visa (eVisa) that can be applied for completely online. Travelers should make sure to carry their visa with them as they reach Kalaw and for the entirety of their time in Myanmar.

There are no specific vaccinations or health certificates required for Kalaw but foreign citizens should check with their health practitioner that they are up to date with their routine vaccines before leaving.

Kalaw Weather: When Is the Best Time to Visit?

Since Kalaw is famous for its breathtaking trails and natural beauty, visitors should keep the weather in mind when planning their trip.

The dry season runs between November and May. While the temperatures are pretty low until early January, it can become quite hot (but still dry) in March and April. That is why the months of November and December are also considered high season with the highest concentration of tourists.

The wet season starts in May and ends in September. Visitors will find no crowds but the heavy rains often make the roads and trails muddy and often unusable.

Kalaw Tourist Attractions: What to See and Do

Most tourists see Kalaw as a necessary stop on the way to the famous Inle Lake. Because of that, they spend just a few hours in Kalaw before moving on. This can be a mistake as even though it is a very small town, Kalaw has much to offer to visitors.

Kalaw Market and exploring the town

Kalaw Market is a local five-day rotating market and it is the true heart of Kalaw. Villagers travel here every 5 days from the surrounding hills to sell their fresh products. The market then moves to neighboring villages and returns once the cycle is complete.

Shoppers can find fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, cooked food, and local liqueurs.

The majority of Kalaw’s public establishments such as beer gardens and restaurants are found near the market. There are plenty of nice spots and even spas to relax after a long day walking

The streets lit up during the popular Tazaungmone Full Moon Festival, one of the Burmese festivals which takes place between October and November each year. Expect street parades, music, dances, and fireworks.

The view from the Thein Taung pagoda and monastery

Head north for a short walk uphill and reach the Thein Taung pagoda, one of the most panoramic locations in Kalaw. This is, according to many, the perfect sunset spot with a view over the market and the center of town.

The Buddhist monastery is in use and visitors are asked to respect the monks who live and pray there.

The 500 years-old Hnee Paya

After a 30-minute walk south east of the center of Kalaw, a pagoda hosts a unique Buddha image that is made entirely of bamboo. The Buddha is said to be over 500 years-old by locals.

Discovering colonial architecture

Many towns and villages in Myanmar preserve several colonial buildings as a testimony of the British rule. In Kalaw, these include cottages, public buildings, and the Christ the King church, which is still in use and has employed the same priest for 69 years.

Trekking in Kalaw beyond the Inle Lake trail

As already mentioned, most nature lovers are attracted to Kalaw because of the renowned Kalaw-Inle Lake trail. However, there are plenty of other stunning tracks that travelers can explore.

Tracks worth hiking in and around Kalaw include:

  • 3-lined town walk from train station (1-2 hours return)
  • World peace pagoda (3-4 hours return)
  • Viewpoint (half day return)
  • Viewpoint-Tar Yaw-Ywar Thit (full day)

Please note that many tracks are not well-marked. Personnel at hotels and guesthouses will be happy to provide hikers with maps and other resources.