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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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Myanmar: 2 Day Trek From Kalaw To Inle Lake Without A Guide Or Tour

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Whilst we did enjoy our 3 day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, we couldn’t help but think we didn’t need a guide for most of the walk. Not that there was anything bad about our guide but having someone leading you down such an obviously well trodden route seemed arbitrary for relatively experienced trekkers like us. So we thought we'd try and break down the experience so others could walk it on their own. We have written this guide for independent travellers who want to do-it-themselves.

 

Everyone has different expectations for a trek like this; meeting friends if you're a solo traveller or a couple exploring the village culture or discovering all about the local flora and fauna by chatting with the guide. For us, we like the freedom to walk at our own pace and feeling like we have conquered something independently.  Having a guide removes the fun and adventure out of the experience, which was our rationale for writing this piece.

Walk from Kalaw to Inle Lake without a guide

Walk from Kalaw to Inle Lake without a guide

3 Day Trek With A Guide

Firstly, If you want to trek the 3 day route we would recommend using a local tour company because the first day of the trek includes a web of hard to find routes around the reservoir up a view spot for lunch. You really need a guide to find these routes. If your interested in the longer, more popular, 3 day route we did some research before booking so you’ll have a rough idea of what it might cost for 2 people. The prices include a guide, accommodation, 3 meals a day, delivering your bag to either your next hostel or the boat port, boat trip ride to Nyaung Shwe and entrance into the protected area (you will pay this yourselves but we’ve included it in the total price). None of the tours include water but it's easy to buy it on the way. If more people join the tour the price goes down by about 10,000 Kyat / £5 per person. We picked Eagle Tours because they cap the tour group at 6, although no one else joined our tour so it was just the two of us and the guide. If you don’t mind how big the tour group is pick Ever Smile because they offer a fixed price of 44,000 Kyat / £23.60 pp but groups can be as big as 12, perfect for solo travellers. 

Cost of tours for 3-day tours for 2 people

Prices for 2 people on a 3 day trek; includes guide, accommodation, 3 meals a day, delivering your bag to either your next hostel or boat port, boat ride to Nyaung Shwe and entrance into the protected area (you will pay this yourselves but we’ve included it in the total price). None of the tours include water but it's easy to buy it on the way.

2 Day Self-Guided Trek From Kalaw To Inle Lake

2 Day Trek Without A Guide

If you’re the adventurous individual, group or couple who wish to tackle the 2-day trek without a guide we think this is entirely possible. With a bit of planning and an explorers spirit you can use a map to plot your route and follow our tips for successfully trekking to Inle Lake without a guide:

Before You Leave Kalaw

• One of the biggest barriers is the weight of you bags. When you use a tour company they will deliver your bag either to your next hostel, if you have one booked, or to the boat port so you can travel onwards with it. Your choices are to either walk with your backpacks, which is definitely an option if you travel light, or speak to a travel company to see how much it will cost for them to deliver your bag onwards.

• Bring enough money for the 2 days. Your accommodation shouldn’t cost more than 12,000 Kyat / $10 /£6.40 for 2 people for one night. This is based on what our guide said his company paid to each guesthouse for 2 people. There are many guesthouses in Htee Thein so don’t worry about finding a room. You could of course bring camping equipment and camp wild, which we would love to return one day and do! We have written about wild camping in this post: Living In A Tent

• Bring enough snacks for 2 days of lunches and a breakfast, have emergency noodles for dinner as well just in case. We’re sure a local villager would boil you some water as they’re lovely people.

• Prepare cue cards with Htee Thein and Inn Dein (the two end destinations) written in Burmese in case you need directions from a villager. It might be wise to translate water, food, guesthouse too.

• You’ll need to organise a taxi to take you to the starting point of the 2-day trek. It’s further south on the national road towards La Mine. It’s also where all the other 2-day trekkers get dropped off so drivers will definitely know it. Ask your guesthouse to book it to get the best price. Alternatively, you could walk from Kalaw towards the MyinMathi Caves and follow the road south to La Mine. You’ll need to leave at 5am as it will take between 3/4 hours.

• Try and get a proper map of the area.

Workers lay chillis to be sun-dried

Workers lay chillis to be sun-dried

Day 1 Trek to Htee Thein

• The route isn’t particularly challenging with only a few uphill sections, so if you are carrying your bags it is more than suitable for a fit backpacker carrying 10-20kg. (Mark carried 12kg to practice for the Annapurna trek)

• The walk is pretty much one straight route, which is very well trodden. The paths are also very wide to accommodate the many tourists so be prepared to see many other walkers. The beauty of this is that if your not sure on the route you could always tag along behind a tour group or ask one of the guides for help. There are plenty of people around to help you if you get stuck. 

• You have the freedom to decide when you will stop for snacks and water, most of the walkers will stop for breaks every 2 hours in one of the villages.

• Make sure you’ve saved Htee Thein and Inn Dein on your mapping app as you can use GPS to track your progress across the day. 

Our room in Htee Dein

Our room in Htee Dein

Accommodation In Htee Thein

• Finding a place to stay in Htee Thein will be very easy as hordes of tourists enter and leave every day. They may be a bit surprised that you’ve come on your own but they’re friendly hospitable people who will find you a bed. Your accommodation shouldn’t cost more than 12,000 Kyat / $10 /£6.40 per night and may even be negotiable or include dinner.  

• Your host may make dinner for you or you can get some boiling water for your noodles. Alternatively there is a restaurant in Htee Dein where you can grab food and beer, so lots of options.

• You may wish to bring a mosquito net as there are many animals in the village, and with animals come mosquitos!

A misty start from Htee Dein

A misty start from Htee Dein

Day 2 Trek To Inn Dein

• Leave early if you want to get ahead of the crowds.

• Be ready to pay the entrance fee into the protected area just after you have passed the large hotel before the road, entrance is 13,500Kyat / $10 / £7.40 pp.

• Some sections of this walk pass along the road for over an hour.  You should start to look out for a dirt track appearing on the left side of the road and use GPS to check you are walking towards Inn Dein. If you are unsure you can always wait for the tour groups to catch or ask a local person for some help using your cue cards.

• There is at least one checkpoint where rangers will check that you have paid to enter the protected area, be ready to show them the ticket.

•You will need to negotiate a boat ride to Nyaung Shwe when you reach the canal. You'll know its the right way because of the number of restaurants on either side of the canal. Through our tour company we paid around 15,000 Kyat / $11 / £8.40 for the hour long boat ride up across Inle Lake, but we think it should be much cheaper than this considering you can hire a boat for the whole day for around this price and upwards.

Sun setting on a rice paddy in the dry season

Sun setting on a rice paddy in the dry season

Hints & Tips

• Be aware, by walking this trek on your own will mean that less money goes back to the local community. You will be paying back through accommodation and paying for food but not to the guide or tour company.

• On both days you will pass relatively busy national roads.  If at any point you feel you might be lost then you should wait on the road and get advice from a local person. Or ask them to help you get some transport.

• The tour group guides are nice people, always ask for advice if you need it. The local people are incredibly friendly too and will want to help you if you ask them.

• Our guide told us that many people have successfully walked the route on their own, our guess is that it will become a more popular way to experience this excellent trek as time goes on.

* If you intend to use GPS make sure your battery lasts for the two days or bring a power pack.

* Buy water in the villages as you need it.

* Always bring extra food and money in case you have an emergency.

* Tell your guesthouse in Kalaw that you are going to walk without guide, just in case.

• It might be worth reading our day walks from Kalaw post if you're thinking about walking the whole way from Kalaw to Inle Lake, here it is: Myanmar: Day Walks From Kalaw Without A Guide

 

We hope you find our post useful, if you want to ask any questions please use the comments box at the box at the bottom of the page...

 

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Myanmar - 2-Day Trek From Kalaw To Inle Lake Without A Guide Or Tour, By Studio Mali
 

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Video: Myanmar - Inle Lake & Ngapali Beach

Let us end with a grand finale of footage from our amazing trip to Myanmar. Our final destinations were the serene Inle Lake, just imagine Asia’s version of Venice but with motor boats! Lastly,  the most beautiful beach we’ve ever visited in Ngapali beach, named by a homesick Italian. Prepare for boat trips, artisan makers, cycling back streets and some time lapse sunsets to wet your appetite for your own adventure around this awesome country. 

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