Kalaw is a small hilly town only a few hours’ (awesome!) drive from Nyaungshwe near Inle Lake. The town is centred around a market of rusty tin sheds and the glittering gold and silver stupa of Aung Chan Tha Zedi.
Whilst it is on the tourist map, it seemed refreshingly devoid of Westerners after the tourist playground that is Inle Lake. Backpackers typically come here to do a trek to the famed lake, but our visit, in light of rainy season, was purely pleasure-based.
A bit about Kalaw
Kalaw was founded as a hill station by British civil servants desperate to escape the baking heat of the plains. The architecture of the surrounding houses, therefore, is quaintly reminiscent of a proverbial British cottage.
A wander out of the town centre introduces neat hedgerows, tamed gardens, peaked tile roofs, brick walls (rather than the much more common, not to mention cheaper, wooden walls) and bay windows. Chickens roam the front yard and here and there a cow, tethered to a fence, offers a satiated moo. Washing hangs from clothing lines and purple bougainvillea, white frangipani, and large droplet-shaped yellow flowers dangle onto the road.
Our Kalaw hike
Kalaw is easy to walk without a guide. One day, my sister and I decided to bravely venture from our hotel with the purpose of visiting Shwe Oo Min Paya, a network of Buddha-filled caves just outside town. We had a photograph of a map on our camera to follow but we still needed some guidance. And there were plenty of locals around willing to give it.
A simple, “Mingalabar. Shwe Oo Min Paya?” excited a series of hand gestures and a grin that always led us reliably on our way. Some gardeners tending to flowers bordering the expansive yard of a mansion even offered us some purple blooms for our journey.
We found ourselves following a bougainvillea-lined road, past a golf course and then met a dead-end. A sign reading “No authorised access” welcomed us to our first military base in Myanmar. We tried to hide our curiosity at the plush estate beyond and veered left past a number of desolate shops to a city of golden stupas.
Shwe Oo Min Paya is a cave sheltering hundreds of sitting Buddha statues. The eyes of these Buddhas followed us as we explored the complex and marvelled at the number of gold, marble, stone and even plastic statues. Some had those popular neon halo lights emanating from Buddha’s head. Others more tastefully lit up the Buddha’s peaceful face with a single simple lightbulb.
It was deathly silent and a dampness pervaded the air. The tiled floor was slippery and we focused on the placement of our feet as well as ducking between the electrical wires adorning the ceiling and walls.
In a darkened cavern several flashes of the camera bulb informed us of the presence of bats – not by the sight of them but from the far creepier squeak of displeasure they gave to the light. It was time to vamoose.
Back on the road, we detoured to visit the venerable Bamboo Buddha, a lacquered figure seated in a nondescript hall. The hospitality here is admirable; Buddha himself had hundreds of offerings of flowers and mangoes and bananas ripening in fruit bowls before him.
We ourselves were supplied with complimentary green tea and a bowl of nuts to replenish our energy for the walk back into town. Remember how I mentioned the abundance of everyday generosities in Myanmar?
More about Myanmar
I love Myanmar so much, the number of stories I have about this country are limitless. But I’ve narrowed it down to a select few of my favourites – check them out on the ARoamerTherapy travel blog today.