What can I say, I’m doing it again. Just when I felt like I had seen it all, I experience yet another amazing Myanmar destination. Sure I have been to some more off the main tourist trail places here in Myanmar, like Mrauk U, Pyin Oo Lwin, Hpa-An and Taungoo, but the slightly more known Kalaw had not made my list till now. And what a place. It is where some of the most famous Myanmar treks begin. One can trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, staying in a remote village and a mountain monastery. But what I experienced was Kalaw itself and also took my family to the most amazing Green Hill Valley Elephant camp, 45 minutes from Kalaw. Can one do a weekend escape just to Kalaw? Absolutely. It is a fabulous retreat with fresh mountainous air and if you add in the elephant camp visit then your weekend retreat will be the most memorable one for years to come.
On Friday, I visited a bunch of hotels, and quickly confirmed that the newly renovated Kalaw Heritage Hotel, was clearly in a class of its own. So much so, that Thahara has decided to work with them as the luxury option stay in Kalaw. Medium to budget was a challenge but narrowed it down to two other places that we would like to promote as well.
Walking around the ‘neighborhood’ of the Kalaw Heritage Hotel, was very rewarding. My parents live in Germany in the Black Forest and it was so incredibly similar in respect to the habitat and not only the old heritage houses, but actually the newer ones as well are so similar to houses in our little town in Germany – really felt like I had been zapped back to the Black Forest but with an exciting Asian twist to it…where the local Myanmar hospitality is so extremely unique. Everyone was so accommodating and friendly.
We discovered a couple of places to eat and have coffee and all were rewarding. Since we live here in Myanmar, and I often eat Burmese food, which I am very fond of, we decided to try out not only a famous local restaurant but also a new one, opened by an Italian guy, called Paolo, serving Italian dishes. Wow – super amazing food. I had ravioli with butter and sage…and a fresh garden salad along with a great espresso and éclair for dessert. The atmosphere at the Thirigayhar (seven sisters) was great and they were extremely friendly and so just for the atmosphere and charm I would say give it a go – the food was not excellent but acceptable and usually if that happens and everything else was great, I give it another chance and will do so when I am back in January. The Kalaw café is about a 20 minute walk from central Kalaw just up along the trek route and it is great for the coffee, relaxed vibe and view – not for the cheese cake or brownies, which were not so good.
The Green Valley Elephant Camp with Re-Plantation – a home for retired timber elephants – was definitely one of, if not the highlight of our Kalaw visit. Just 45 minutes by car, this very unique place is a must. It is a very efficiently, Myanmar family run, elephant sanctuary. Tin Win Maw grew up in a family that worked for the Myanmar Timber Enterprise and has been around elephants since she was a child. She encouraged her husband, Htun Htun Wynn, who has a big admiration for elephants and had his career in the tourism industry, and her uncle Ba Kyaw Than, who spent years working with elephants in the jungle and who is a vet, to come together to set up a camp for retired timber elephants and that’s how the Green Hill Valley came about. What is so enjoyable and unique about the camp is that it is for and about the elephants. So no riding or circus shows or anything along those lines. As a guest, you get to learn, participate and interact.
You will get to feed the elephants, as well as walk to the river where they bath and participate in giving them a good scrubbing…..kind of like a “elephant spa time” and then see the dispensary and learn about the medical necessities/treatment required for these retired timber elephants as well as a visit to a project where they are using elephant ‘poop’ to make organic paper – very cool – also there is a fully constructed skeletal bones of one of the elephants and serves as a further educational component in understanding more about the elephant – which Htun Htun Wynn is extremely knowledgeable. We were so very lucky to have him introduce us to the whole experience. He is very passionate about it and so great with kids – our daughter immediately took to him and was sad when it was time to say goodbye!
On top of all these amazing experiences, including planting a teak tree along the mountain slope (reforestation) there is a superb lunch back at the base camp, with a great view. As said, a day not to forget – really highly recommended.
Leaving such a peaceful town with such fresh mountain air was not easy. I am not saying that I don’t appreciate Yangon, but I will definitely be back to further enjoy the beauty that Kalaw has to offer.