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Myanmar: Day Walks From Kalaw Without A Guide

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Walkers Behold.....

If you’ve made a trip, or are planning one, to Myanmar we are sure that Kalaw will be on your list. Famed for expansive walking routes across lush dynamic terrain, Kalaw is the perfect spot for some walks in nature. But while most guide books or guesthouses will tell you to book a local guide to set off on day walks, we will explain how you can enjoy Kalaw's amazing nature for free. Read on to explore our 3 day, guide free, walking itineraries....

Agricultural fields outside Kalaw

Agricultural fields outside Kalaw

3 x 1 Day walks From Kalaw With No Guide Needed

Thank you Marc from Thitaw Lay House for providing this amazing information as it really let us explore the area on a low budget without having to pay for a guide, not that there’s anything wrong with booking guides! You could include both the cave walk and mountain walk in one if it’s just a short visit to Kalaw but expect to walk for 6-8 hours.

Walk 1: Walk To The MyinMathi Caves Without A Guide - 4-5 hours

Tips: You may want to bring a torch or a fully charged phone as there can be power cuts in the caves! Remember the route as you walk, it will make the return voyage much easier. For extra fun you could leave markings on the route to aid you return journey :-) Bring water because there aren’t any shops until you reach the caves. Expect the walk to take 4-5 hours including 45 minutes in the cave visitor area.

The internet is very slow in Kalaw so you may want to download these notes in Bagan or Mandalay before you arrive.

Directions

• Starting from outside Thitaw Lay House follow the road up the path for 200 metres, at the turning, leave the road and continue straight into the forest towards the green building.

• Follow the gravel paved forest road for around 5 turns as the road tapers into a path, watch out for a big fig tree, follow the natural path for around 400 metres (ish) until you arrive at a Y. Take the left path.

• The path lightly descends and gradually become an ox-cart road, for those compass welding walkers you should be walking south to south-east.

• Expect to pass a little brook before leaving the forest area and arrive at a lush green agricultural valley. 

• Follow the ox-cart road until you reach the MyinMathi Village where you will meet friendly villagers and high-fiving groups of children.

• Continue walking into the village for around 500 metres and take a right where the road splits. Keep walking and you’ll pass an old bridge and then the path starts to climb a small hill towards a huge monastery. Turn a slight left at the monastery to the top of the hill and then down until you reach the National Road.

• The Pagoda is visible from the road, follow the road into the cave visitor entrance where there will be many locals who have come to enjoy this religious site. We were the only westerners in cave during our visit. Give a small donation.

• Return using the same directions or grab a motorbike taxi.

kalaw - walking routes

Walk 2: Additional Walk To The Mountains Near MyinMathi Caves Without A Guide - 5-6 Hours

Tips: Remember the route as you walk, it will make the return voyage much easier. Bring water because there aren’t any shops until you reach the caves. This a whole day trek so expect the walk to take 5-6 hours. If you have already walked to the caves the first 1.5 hours is the same walk.

Directions

• Starting from outside Thitaw Lay House follow the road up the path for 200 metres, at the turning, leave the road and continue straight into the forest towards the green building.

• Follow the gravel paved forest road for around 5 turns as the road tapers into a path, watch out for a big fig tree, follow the natural path for around 400 metres (ish) until you arrive at a Y. Take the left path.

• The path lightly descends and gradually become an ox-cart road, for those compass welding walkers you should be walking south to south-east.

• Expect to pass little brook before leaving the forest area and arrive at a lush green agricultural valley. 

• Follow the ox-cart road until you reach the MyinMathi Village where you will meet friendly villagers and high-fiving groups of children.

• Continue walking into the village for around 500 metres and take a right where the road splits. Keep walking and you’ll pass an old bridge and start to climb a small hill. Halfway up the slope take the second (horizontal) road to the right and climb and descend for 20/30 mins until you reach a hill tribe village.

• You’ll soon spot 2 lion statues guarding the stairs to the hilltop. Climb for an hour or so and enjoy the stunning view at the top.

• Return the way you came back to Kalaw or you could continue onwards to MyinMathi Caves by following the guide above.

Ox and cart on the way to MyinMathi

Ox and cart on the way to MyinMathi

Walk 3: Peaceful Walk To A Hill Top View Without A Guide - 2 Hours

This is a short easy walk just outside of Kalaw, we haven't drawn it on the map as its easy to find by following the instructions. 

Directions

• Starting from outside Thitaw Lay House follow the road up the path for 200 metres, at the turning, leave the road and continue straight into the forest towards the green building.

• Follow the gravel paved forest road for around 5 turns as the road tapers into a path, watch out for a big fig tree, follow the natural path for around 400 metres (ish) until you arrive at a Y. Take the right path (the left path will take you to MyinMathi caves).

• Follow path up to the Telecom compound where you should walk a few step up the concrete path but don’t not enter the compound. Instead, turn right passing a few alters and spectacular trees until the path circles the hill top.

• Enjoy the great views as you reach the meditation cabin, why not relax and take in the stunning environment. Afterwards, continue to the pagoda and the hill top. 

* Walk back the way you came or take the 585 steps down from the pagoda to the road below.

Sun passing through the trees near Kalaw

Sun passing through the trees near Kalaw

We hope you have found Thitaw Lay House’s instructions, presented by Studio Mali, helpful. With this information you should feel confident in tackling local day walks on your own without having to pay for it. We found the routes incredibly beautiful and surprisingly diverse and we would go as far as saying they are as idyllic as some of the landscapes on the highly rated 2/ 3 day treks from Kalaw to Inle Lake.

As you can see from the map above, the Kalaw day walks bring you within very close distance to the starting point of the 2-day trek to Inle Lake. If you’re interested, and adventurous, you could tackle the 2-day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake on your own without a paid tour, we have written up our advice on the 2-day trek here:  Myanmar: 2-Day Trek From Kalaw To Inle Lake Without A Guide Or Tour

How To Get To Kalaw 

Bus

Kalaw is easy to access, most travellers will journey from either Bagan or Mandalay then trek on to Inle Lake. There is the option to travel in reverse from Inle Lake to Kalaw but be prepared to walk against the continual tide of trekkers coming towards you! The preferred route is the 2 or 3 day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. From Bagan you can book a VIP air conditioned coach for around 12,000 kyat (£6.50) pp. This is a 3 seat across coach that fully reclines if you need to sleep on it. They leave in the morning at 7.30am and the journey takes around 8 hours. There is also a night coach, ask in Bagan for timings and costs, all guesthouses can book a seat for you but always get a second price for comparison.

Train from Thazi to Kalaw

Train from Thazi to Kalaw

Train

We traveled to Kalaw from Mandalay by train which was a cheap, slow and scenic way to get there. It also includes a stopover in Thazi so it would suit a traveller on a low cost 2 week trip like us. We have written about the Mandalay, Thazi and Kalaw train ride in our 2 week itinerary here: Myanmar: The Ultimate 2 Week Travel Itinerary For Backpackers

Our beautiful room at Thitaw Lay House

Our beautiful room at Thitaw Lay House

Where To Stay

We stayed in one of our favourite guesthouses of our entire round the world trip in Kalaw! Thitaw Lay House and it’s smaller Thitaw II site are incredibly relaxing and well priced guesthouses. Another benefit (that became a benefit by chance) is that it’s not in the centre of Kalaw, which means you get to relax in quiet green gardens just 15 minutes walk from the train station/ city centre.

There were a few reasons we loved staying at Thitaw Lay House. Firstly, the owner Marc and the team are really friendly, runs a tight ship and provides all the information you’ll need to enjoy anything from a 3 day to a 5 day stay in Kalaw. The breakfast was also very good, imagine freshly baked banana bread along with homemade bread, jams, egg and rice all served in traditional Burmese lunch pots. We booked a standard room but by a strike of luck were upgraded to a family room at 4 times the price.  Even with a standard room the Thitaw Lay House is cheaper than most double bedrooms in Kalaw centre, our room was 26,940 Kyat (£14.61) per night.  

Although the best part is that Marc provides detailed information on the local walks that can be done without a guide.  We are using his information to help others enjoy some the amazing local walks out of Kalaw.

700 Kyat / 37p Shan noodles at Parami

700 Kyat / 37p Shan noodles at Parami

Where To Eat

If you’ve been on your feet all day you'll be wanting some good grub to refuel in the evenings. We stayed in Kalaw for 4 days, which gave us time to try out a few options and we found some really tasty cheap food we’d like to tell you about. Of the more touristic restaurants we enjoyed was Paradise Spa which sells yummy Mexican food at medium prices, around 2,500 Kyat (£1.30) per dish.

But our favourite spot was Parami restaurant in the centre of Kalaw (see map below). Parami sold tasty, cheap, Burmese and Indian food like the chapati and daal for 500 Kyat (23p) and Myanmar's ubiquitous Shan noodle soup for 700 Kyat (37p). If you’re on a budget you can’t do better than Parami, you can see the menu here. Other cheap fun can be found by grabbing bottled beers and watching the sun go down in the town park, you might be lucky enough to be joined by a local cow as we were. 

 

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50 Things We Have Learnt From Travelling 

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We've been on the road for 6 months and we thought it best to mark the occasion with a reflection piece on what we have learnt along the way. Read on to get tips, hints and warnings from long term travelling. 

In no particular order:

1. Having a fixed plan rarely works out, long term travel teaches you to be flexible and adaptive in an array of situations.

2. Never get a taxi the from the bus, coach or train station after reaching your destination. The drivers always ‘see you coming’ and put the prices up. Grab your cab 5 minutes walk away as it will almost always be half the price.

3. Long term travel forces you eat in local restaurants, which normally serve the tastiest food anyway. But here’s a tip, don’t buy food from an empty restaurant, if the locals don’t eat there it’s no good.

4. Try not to book seats at the front of a sleeper or long distance coach, the drivers will chat on their phones, play loud music and you’ll also get a premium view of some terrifying driving.

5. Ear plugs are a constant saviour, forget them at your peril.

6. Always have two prepaid credit cards and make sure you’ve topped them up when travelling to a new country, there’s nothing worse then getting in late to a new place without any cash to draw out.

7. Always have a some passport photos printed for visas applications, they’ll sting you with extra fees if they have to use their visa control web cams.

8. Except that you will get sick. It’s basically impossible to avoid bugs if you want an authentic experience, certainly authentic food.

9. You also learn that most of the world survives perfectly well without fridges, clean water, soap or basic sanitation. 

10. Most countries have faster internet that the U.K. Germany and Norway’s trains had faster internet that our line at home! Although Myanmar’s sucked.

Remember to sign up a VPN when visiting China

Remember to sign up a VPN when visiting China

11. Most situations can be overcome with a smile, a few gestures or a drawing pad.

12. Many people have £2k DSLR cameras but shoot in automatic! Undermining the very reason to shell out for a DSLR.

13. Western tourists like to photograph landscapes whereas Eastern tourists take selfies of themselves in front of the landscape, just saying.

14. Asian culture is, in general, very generous. Even when they have very little, people will often share their food and drink with foreigners.

15. Most countries have two tier prices for products and travel, the best way to avoid paying a higher price is shop at supermarkets that use barcodes or shops/ restaurants with no English signage.

16. It’s important to take rest days during long term travel because it’s more tiring than full time work, think of it like a 7 days a week job! 

Remember to take some time out for travelling, as paradoxical as that may sound

Remember to take some time out for travelling, as paradoxical as that may sound

17. Occasionally a place will feel like ‘home’ or your ‘beach.’ You should change your plans to spend a bit longer there or you’ll forever regret it.

18. Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail! Always have a raincoat and jumper because you never know what’s coming...

19. If it smells bad it’s probably bad for you!

20. Don’t drink too much if you’re trekking the next day, it will hurt physically and mentally!

21. Learn  ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’ as a minimum in all countries.

22. Never eat stinky tofu in China, it smells and tastes like drains.

23. Staying fit and slim is basically impossible when you eat out for three meals a day.

24. Life without with your phone on aeroplane mode is pretty liberating…. 

25. …..Although the first thing you do in a new hostel is login to the wifi, we’re all trapped in the Matrix!

26. However scary a new country may seem, rest assured there will be a well trodden tourist trail and lots of people. You’ll rarely find a place without other tourists.

So many tourists on Haungshan Mountain

So many tourists on Haungshan Mountain

27. After taking pictures of a few sunsets you soon realise you’ll never capture the in the moment experience, just take one photo when the sky turns from yellow to pink or orange and just live in the moment for the rest of it.

28. Do something every day that scares you, if you can.

29. You meet the best people when you’re in your favourite type of place. We always gel well with people in the countryside but stay well away from party hostels, we’re too old for that.

30. Save money on beer by buying it in rice kitchens, 7/11s, or mini marts and find a park or a sunset to enjoy it from.

31. Every few days you should treat yourself to a meal other than cheap rice or noodles, or you’ll never meet the doctors 5-a-day quota.

Amazing Indian curry in Mandalay, £1.40 each

Amazing Indian curry in Mandalay, £1.40 each

32. Distance from your old life really puts everything in perspective, most of the world doesn’t have a degree, high paid job or a mortgage and seem so happy.  Perhaps ignorance is bliss.

33. Travelling as a couple means you’ll learn everything about the other person. We thought we knew everything about each other after 10 years, wrong!

34. That old phrase ‘the more you put in the more you get out’ is so true of travelling. Very often the hardest, sweatiest and scariest bits end up being the most memorable.

35. As with all purchasing when you’re on a budget, always check other search engines agoda.com, booking.com and hostelworld before you book because they often have one-off deals, we have found many half price rooms on agoda.com over booking.com and vice versa.

36. The Yanks have it easy, their currency is the worlds default currency. Always have some emergency USD.

37. Keep your passport in a plastic wallet on your body at all times, we’ve sweated through our cotton pouches too many times, you’d barely know Mark’s passport is a British one.

38. Always steal coffee/milk/butter/salt/jam/shampoo/soap portions from hotels and use them at the cheaper hostels later in your trip who don't supply these niceties. 

39. Always confirm prices of the foods you want before ordering in a local restaurants, without menus a clever waiter may add on a few extra pence to your bill.

40. Always try and bargain. Although it might seem cheap to you, if you pay a much higher than local price it will only inflate future prices for future tourists. Just imagine how much your children might pay in 2040 if we all pay more than we should…

41. Getting a bike is the easiest way to get off the beaten track and create your own adventures.

Get some wheels to explore and adventure

Get some wheels to explore and adventure

42. If you are not feeling a place then just move on. Everyone might tell you ‘this place is amazing’ or ‘you’ll love it here.’ But you’ll soon get to know which kind of places suit your interests, don’t be afraid to move on early if you’re not feeling it and everyone else is.

43. Keep your plans loose, the best adventures always come from the spontaneous.

44. Don’t blindly follow guide books the whole time or you’ll likely end up following everyone else on the trail. They are great starting points in a new place but after a few days somewhere put it down and follow your eyes, nose and ears and create your own adventures.

45. Get rid of anything in your backpack you don’t use, send it home or give it away. Your back will thank you some day in the future.

46. Occasionally treat people you meet to something nice like a dinner, this flames the fire of the traveller circle of life. Someday someone will buy you dinner (so many people bought us dinner on this trip and wouldn’t let us pay a penny).

Thanks Maybe for taking us out for dinner

Thanks Maybe for taking us out for dinner

47. Forget about keeping your clothes clean, just embrace the hippy state of dirty traveller chic. 

48. Although we have met many cool people, don’t except to meet as many people as you thought before leaving. Being a traveller couple in our 30s means we generally bond with couples like us, normally in more remote places. We missed the travel party experience of partying our way across Asia’s cheap dorms in our 20s, I guess we’re just getting old! 

49. Although you shouldn’t expect a spiritual epiphany, there is something inspiring about living a completely new existence where you meet new people everyday, explore cultures and observe spellbinding sights. We feel like travel will change the direction of our lives, hoping to mimic the attitudes of some of the amazing people we’ve met in Mongolia, China and SE Asia. Perhaps the learning is just beginning.

50. The most important thing we learnt is that travelling is not as scary as it first seems. People are basically the same in all countries and there is human spirit to look after each other that is so easy to spot once you leave the safety net of home. Whether you start with smaller trips or plan something a bit longer you can't help but be amazed by the spirit of people. 

 

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