The surroundings of Kalaw are perfect for trekking and the landscapes differ from rice paddy fields, pine forests, tea plantations to enchanting bamboo groves with rolling hills as the main feature of the area. There is also a beautiful reservoir lake surrounded by green forests, the perfect spot for a refreshing swim.
Kalaw is a great place for ethnic minority encounters and the surroundings are mainly habituated by Shan, Danu, Palaung and Pa-O people. Inside the town the best place to witness local life is the lively and colourful central market. Villagers come there to trade their produce from the surrounding region. Due to popularity of Kalaw the locals are already used to seeing foreigners, so the atmosphere is relaxed and you are welcome to join the hustle and bustle of the market.
What to do in Kalaw?
Kalaw is the most popular trekking destination in Myanmar and what makes Kalaw great is that you don’t have to have a guide to explore the surrounding areas. There are few places you can rent bikes for self-guided day trips around the beautiful nature. Most popular treks go from Kalaw to Inle Lake with a duration of two to five days depending on the chosen route. There is also a spectacular elephant camp 40 minutes’ drive away from Kalaw. This elephant reservoir was founded in 2011 to protect the ageing working elephants of the area. The camp is a good example of well managed ecotourism and we highly recommend visiting. You can also do a one night trek to the camp with an overnight stay in a local Village.
How to get to Kalaw?
You can reach Kalaw from Bagan with bus leaving at 7.30am and arriving around 3pm. There are also frequent mini-van coaches running from Mandalay 5hrs journey. If you feel extreme you can take 26hrs train journey from Yangon including a 5 hours stop in Thazi in the middle of the night. The stop is for resting because the rides in Myanmar are amazingly bumpy.
Climate in Kalaw follows the same three season pattern that is dominant in all of Myanmar. The biggest difference comes from the higher altitude of the region that keeps the weather nice and temperate all around the year. Average year temperature is 19 degree Celsius. Main tourist season is in the “winter” from November till February with pleasant temperatures, clear skies, warm days and cool nights (bring warm clothes with you). The down side is that it might be bit crowded on the most popular routes. Hot season lasts from March until May and weather gets warmer and occasional showers might occur. Rainy season is from end of May until October and you can expect almost daily showers but the rain fall is much lesser than in Yangon and other coastal parts of Myanmar. Driest month is January with almost no rain and rainiest is August with daily rainfalls.
Pindaya is known for its extensive network of limestone caves, yet the town itself offers a charming stop as well. Sitting over 1,160 meters above sea level, it was developed around the tranquil Boutaloke Lake, surrounded by curved temple spires and regal Banyan trees. Oxcarts are not an uncommon sight and the pace of life is unhurried here. Pindaya is few hours’ drive away from Inle Lake, Kalaw or Taunggyi which make Pindaya a great pit stop when exploring Shan state.
The Nature of Pindaya is quite similar to Kalaw with various farming fields and rolling hills. The distinct difference is the limestone caves and formations that surround the area. The lake in the middle of the town gives a nice calming feature to the atmosphere of Pindaya.
Pindaya Caves winds north to south along a limestone ridge and for centuries has seen a steady stream of devoted pilgrims bringing images of Buddha to be placed in the cave shrines, an awe inspiring testament to the Buddhist faith. The most impressive of the cave shrines is Shwe U Min Paya, accessible through a series of covered staircases.
Once inside, the viewer is greeted by over 8,000 Buddha images of every imaginable size and material— gold to silver, alabaster to teak, marble to brick, lacquerware to cement – each reverently carried by pilgrims from all over Asia and places as far as northern Europe and USA. The pilgrimage continues today. The sight of thousands of Buddha statues in the labyrinth of the cave chambers is spellbinding.
The ethnic encounters and people habituating the surrounding areas are similar to Kalaw. Only difference is that Pindaya does not have market as big and colourful as Kalaw.
Although Pindaya is not as known for trekking as Kalaw you can still find great trekking routes around the area. You can choose short or extended excursions to surrounding Taung-Yo, Danu, Pa-O and Palaung villages. The limestone caves with countless of Buddha images are attraction not to be missed and can be reached by 45 minutes’ walk from the town centre. One quite popular and recommended trek is from Pindaya to Kalaw. This trek takes usually three days and two nights. Local village monasteries welcome foreigners for overnights with simple shared facilities. This trek suits for people with basic physical fitness and covers rolling hills farming land and some lush forest areas.
How to get there?
Pindaya can be reached from Kalaw and Heho airport with 1hr drive and from Inle Lake 1.5hrs.
Discovery DMC Tours in and around Kalaw and Pindaya regions.