Kalaw, a small town in the Shan state, finds itself on the tourist trail mainly as the base for a trek to Inle Lake. Since we basically swooped in exceptionally late at night and swooped out the morning after, there is not much I can say about the town itself, but the trek is a pleasant jaunt across the countryside, cutting through patchwork fields, hill tribe villages and railway tracks.
What is most enjoyable about this otherwise quite ordinary trek is the fact that you get to walk through villages that haven't seen any touristy development, where people are just getting on with life: working on the farms, laying out red chillies to dry, weaving their colourful headscarves, and generally standing around chatting about their day.
The trek can be done between one and three days, though two is most ideal: you can pace yourself well, and you get to spend the night in the home of some locals. Its worth giving it to the leisurely pace.
We reached Kalaw late at night and it was really chilly. Fortunately, we found a guesthouse next to the bus station with a hot shower and decent beds. We took a guide to help us for our 2-day trek to Inle Lake (You can also do the 3-day trek). At night you halt in a local village and it is definitely a good cultural experience. In November the landscape is a bit boring, but if you go there in February you will see green paddy everywhere. Nevertheless the trek was still beautiful (and not very hard). Our guide was a 19 year local Burmese boy who was excited to find out more about India and also tell us his love story :). The 2 day trek cost us 50$ per person, including food, stay and a long boat ride to cross Inle. You can ask the guest house at Kalaw to have your backpacks dropped directly at Inle. I think if you negotiate a bit harder and take a tour directly from the guide it is possible to do it in 35$ per person. The village stay was definitely the highlight of the trek for us along with the beautiful foggy morning that we witnessed on our trek.
We have been wondering about the yellow face paint everybody's wearing. It’s called thanaka, a paste made from ground tree bark which works as both a sunscreen and a beauty accessory (judging by some of the creative patterns).
We took a hike in the hills and rewarded ourselves with a raksi (Nepali-style homemade liquor) from one of the teashops.
En route to Inle Lake, we stayed in the chilled town of Kalaw. There were plenty of "teashops" serving raksi ( nepali-style home made liquor).