October 3-4, 2015
Kalaw is a small Burmese town in the northeast state of Shan, Myanmar. At the moment it is still pretty under the radar as far as tourism goes, however its proximity to Inle Lake (about an hour and a half drive) which is an increasingly popular resort location, is what puts Kalaw on the map as a destination at all.
What tourism Kalaw does get, revolves around hiking and trekking, as the town here is situated in some of the greenest mountain side I’ve ever seen.
We arrive into Kalaw at around 6am after a sleepless, ill-ridden overnight bus ride, and getting to our B&B is about the only thing on our minds. Strangely, the only mode of available taxi transport is via motorbike, even though they have cars here. I’m perplexed as to how this is going to work considering we have two large packs, one small pack and a suitcase, but the drivers are unfettered and so with one bag at each of their feet and a pack on both of our backs, we each hop on the back of a bike and take a chilly 10 minute ride to our room.
Unfortunately I spend the better part of the day recuperating from my stomach bug, but by late-afternoon the antibiotics have started to kick in and I venture out for a stroll through the sweet mountain lanes near our B&B while Lochan goes into the village to check out options for entertaining ourselves tomorrow… kindly returning with a huge bowl of authentic vegetable broth and noodles for my temperamental tummy.
Evenings wind down early in these small towns once the sun sets, so after dinner we check out the Kalaw ‘nightlife’ by exploring the town on a rented motorbike, first tooling uphill to a brightly lit pagoda which seems to be part of a monestary or school, and where what seems to be young monks-in-training are milling about, enjoying their evening, their books still stacked up inside the main temple space.
We then find what appears to be the only bar in town (none for me, thanks,) the ‘Hi Snack and Drink’ and it’s just the cutest little place… sort of the rural Burmese version of a city dive bar. The capacity can’t be more than about 15 and graffiti adorns the walls with little love sentiments for Kalaw tagged by folks from all over the globe.
Lochan tries the ‘house special’… a local rum with fresh sugar cane syrup and lime juice, and we chat with another couple traveling around the country, as the locals, who happily eat, smoke and sing along with the radio. It’s all just so sweet.
Hiking is on the agenda for our only full day here, and the surrounding region does not disappoint.
I have found in my travels, that trekking through small villages is one of the purest ways to understand a country. Nothing is being sold to the tourist…. not goods, nor any particular kind of image or experience. What you get is just authentic life being lived, usually peppered by the occasional sweet interaction as they pause to consider you just as you contemplate them.
Hiking through the countryside reiterated the consistent friendly feel of this country so far, as people were only too happy to try and engage or pose for a photo.
Lunch is at the appropriately named ‘View Point,” a Nepalese-Indian restaurant located at the top of a mountain.
Just more than halfway through our 18k trek, most of which has been an uphill climb, this fantastically located lunch is a welcome rest.
The trek back ends us at our lodge just to load up our bags, hop in a hired car and head off to see what awaits us in nearby Inle Lake.
Kalaw, you were short, but very, very sweet.