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The cosiness shouldn’t be a surprise. Kalaw Vista was designed by Cho Cho and her husband as their family home. Rooms are not numbered but instead ‘lettered’. For example on the first floor are the rooms ‘M’, ‘S’, and ‘B’ – the initials refer to Cho Cho’s husband and two daughters.
Each room is different. Each is en suite and possesses its own charm. Breakfast is superb and in the warmer months guests can sit and read below the pomegranate tree in the garden.
FLASH POINT: The smell of freshly baked bread in the morning.
Cho Cho came to Kalaw in 1992. She quickly fell in love. She and her husband Bo Bo decided that here they would raise their family. Cho Cho spent time wandering along the curling lanes of the town. Later with her daughters in tow, she admired the colonial houses of the hill station. Many were derelict; many were believed to be haunted. Not by Cho Cho. Instead of ghosts, Cho Cho saw inspiration. She began sketching ideas for her dream home. The gable from one house, the window trimming from another … These early designs became what is today Kalaw Vista. Too big for her family – and by this time her children had grown-up. Instead, Cho Cho decided to open a bed and breakfast.
Room P on the top floor. Up in the high eaves of the house, the slanted ceiling and sky light remind us of a cucumber-cool London townhouse. We would call this the honeymoon suite. There are large windows – almost floor to ceiling – with views stretching down the lane into the town and up to the forested hills beyond. Open these windows for a breeze. The coffee table is made from reclaimed wood, the bedside lighting is chic. And in the corner of the room the laundry basket winks cheekily, reminding you to get your clothes cleaned today or go naked tomorrow.
Every time Sampan has stayed at Kalaw Vista, we have been welcomed in the morning by the smell of freshly baked bread and the sound of the coffee machine quietly gurgling. The bread is baked on-site (two loaves: a wholegrain and a white). The coffee is from the Pa’O in nearby Pinlaung. Jams and marmalades are from Pyin Oo Lwin, fresh seasonal fruit and juice from Kalaw. Shan noodles, fried tofu and chapati (our recommendation) can also be arranged. Best to make the order one day in advance. The coffee station is open all day. Kalaw Vista doesn’t offer lunch and supper, but guests are invited to make use of the kitchen facilities or order takeaway and sit out on the veranda.
Kalaw Vista is a fifteen-minute walk up the hill from the train station. It is close to the Mino Taung wood, a sublime location for a peaceful, gentle stroll. Not far from Kalaw Vista is Sprouting Seeds café – an off shoot of the local charity Whispering Seed. Sprouting Seeds does excellent fruit juices and the best ice-cream in Kalaw. Travelling further along this road, to the left is a monastery with almost 100 sitting Buddhas and spectacular views over the town. Further along to the right is the famous ‘Rock House’, one of Kalaw’s most interesting colonial buildings. This was the residence of Mr Whiting, an investor working in Rangoon until the 1950s and supposedly confidant of the last queen of Burma.
Cho Cho’s original intention of building a dream home is evident throughout this hotel. There is a natural comfiness, a warmness and idiosyncrasy that welcomes long-stays and encourages repeat guests. As with a real home, each room is has its own character – each one is worth trying. From the bedrooms to the bookshelf to the garden, like a favourite holiday home there always appears a new corner to discover. Every home needs a dog. Kalaw Vista has Lucky: a jumble of golden hair with a long snout, hazel eyes and pointy ears. Lucky barks with gusto when new people arrive. But after an inquisitorial sniff quickly settles down: back to his rattan chair on the veranda or under your feet at the kitchen table.
Set amongst the pine trees since 1903, with a bold “Green Vision” for the future.
A bamboo lodge in a village north or Kalaw; best for hiking and the sound of frog song.