Kalaw hillside

Kalaw

High in the mountains of Shan State, this British era enclave is now one of Myanmar’s premier hiking destinations, offering you the chance to explore ethnic minority villages on foot. You’ll also find Green Hill Valley nearby Kalaw, an ethical elephant sanctuary that we simply adore.

You’ll find Kalaw at the top of a misty blue mountain, 1,320 metres above sea level in the hills to the west of Inle Lake. It can be cool enough up here to sleep with a duvet, a rarity in Southeast Asia.

The British founded Kalaw as an escape from the heat. Today you’ll see the remnants of colonial era architecture, even mock-Tudor chalets that wouldn’t look out of place in Switzerland. Flowers grow in abundance, pavements are wide and clean, vegetable gardens are well tended. With sweeping views of the mountains, Kalaw is Myanmar's answer to an alpine getaway.

Carve out time to visit Green Hill Valley, an hour from Kalaw, and meet elephants living out their retirement after years of labour in illegal logging. Get to know their different personalities as you feed them pumpkin and bamboo, watch bath time in the river and learn about being a mahout (elephant handler). We only pick animal experiences we know are beneficial not exploitative, this sanctuary leads Myanmar in terms of ethical treatment of its animals and its efforts to conserve the surrounding area.

Kalaw’s other draw means pulling on your hiking boots to trek to ethnic minority villages. Meet the Pa-O, Palaung and Taungyoe groups who once cultivated opium, but now grow tea, clementines, cabbages and aubergines, as well as herbs used in cooking and medicines. Some villages are just an hour away, others a more serious multi-day adventure, so take your pick. Our favourite is the three-day trek to Inle Lake.

Nearby destinations

Central Myanmar

Welcome to beautiful Inle Lake, home of the Intha people who spend their whole lives farming, fishing and living on the water. Hop in a longboat to explore their stilted villages, floating gardens, pagodas and ethnic minority markets.

Central Myanmar

Pindaya is a beautiful destination in the patchwork farmland of Shan State, home to the Danu, Palaung and Pa-O people.