When it came to experience a side of Burma that is far from the usual tourist trail, I really couldn’t resist taking the time out to visit the town of Kyaing Tong, situated in the heart of the Shan state in the far north-east of the country. Kyaing Tong is located in the golden triangle, a region tucked away with China to the north, Laos to the east, Thailand to the south, Kyaing Tong is certainly in the thick of it. The region became infamous as being the largest producer of opium in the world.
Due to the trafficking of opium and past regional insurgency, the Burmese government shut Kyaing Tong to foreign visitors for many years, with the town only reopening to tourist only in recent years. Now, Kyaing Tong rivals other regions of Myanmar offering some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Travellers to the region can visit a number of interesting locations such as Loi Mwe, the ancient Kaba Aye Pagoda or even bath in natural hot springs. But for me, the idea of seeing a community that had been disconnected to the outside world for such a long time really flickered my curiosity.
I flew into the small airport at Kyaing Tong on a small Air Bagan 42 seater twin prop jet from Mandalay. The landing was a little bumpy but I was aware that Kyaing Tong Airport would be nothing like Heathrow!
I exited the plane and was greeted by cool and refreshing inland breeze, something that I hadn’t experienced in my time in Burma yet. The airport was small and simple, but managed to do the job. I collected my bags and met my tour guide who took me to the hotel before enjoying the sites of the local town.
The local town was small and remarkably simple. Definitely travelers who rely on connections to the outside world with their laptops and Blackberry’s wouldn’t know what to do in Kyaing Tong.
My guide suggested that we take a walk through the town to experience the sights, sounds and smells of every day life in a small rural Burmese community. As we entered the main street, I felt as if we had walked into another world. Cars were practically non existent; people were walking everywhere and vendors selling all kinds of objects imaginable. I could tell by the faces of the locals in the main street that tourists didn’t come here to often. Children came up to me, waving, and saying “Hello Mister”, while the old women who made the journey into town for their shopping smiled and stared.
Kyaing Tong offers some of the most amazing treks off the beaten track and the chance to get up close with some of the ethnic minorities. I decided to challenge myself and opted for a hike that was considered ‘moderate to hard’ in difficulty. The hike began 85 kilometres from Kyaing Tong and passed through beautiful valleys scattered with fish ponds, rice fields and the villages of the Khun people, who had been living the same way for hundreds, and possibly thousands of years. Witnessing the cultures and way of life of the people is something that truly put into perspective some of the creature comforts which I had become accustomed to back at home, such as running water and gas.
After finishing my hike I was exhausted, so I headed back to my hotel to contemplate how to spend the next two days in Kyaing Tong before flying back to the historic city of Mandalay.
Kyaing Tong, 13 October 2099