HIDDEN GEMS & HIGHLIGHTS OF SHAN STATE – Part II
With soaring mountains, picture-perfect waterways and a mix of ethnic groups, Myanmar Shan State is the ultimate destination for outdoor exploration. However, Shan State is huge- covering nearly 25% of Myanmar’s landmass! So, it is nearly impossible to see it all on a Myanmar holiday. To help you plan your travels, this blog gives additional information about the Shan State as well as the best places to visit as well as some hidden gems.
Highlights of Shan State (EASTERN): KYAING TONG
Kyaing Tong is located only a few hours drive from the ‘Golden Triangle’, the location where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos converge. Thus it should come as no surprise that the town is a melting pot of cultures and traditions.
It won’t take you long to realize that shop signs in Kyaing Tong are written in various languages– usually Myanmar, Thai and Chinese but occasionally in ethnic dialects as well. Many residents speak multiple languages and although western visitors are rare, they are so used to living in a diverse town they will probably not be as curious to talk to you as what the locals you will meet in other parts of Myanmar!
The real lure to Kyaing Tong, however, is the surrounding villages where you can get a first-hand look at the different cultures of Myanmar. Check out our ‘must sees’ in Kyaing Tong:
Morning Market- Kyaing Tong is home to one of Myanmar’s best morning markets. The daily bazaar attracts people from various ethnic groups- not only do you hear an array of languages you also get to see traditional costumes from the region. Another bonus is the incredible array of items for sale- from dried insects used for traditional medicine to beautiful vegetables straight from the farm and stalls serving steaming bowls of soup, Kyaing Tong sausages and more local delights.
Trek to Loi Villages- The Loi people have a very unique way of life, partly due to the remote location of their villages. To get their takes a bit of effort – drive two hours in the direction of the Chinese border then trek a further two hours through tea plantations, fields and forest. You will pass through the villages of Wan Nyet and Wan Seng where the Loi people reside in impressive long houses, some of which are home to five families!
Explore diverse Hokyin- Another excursion to add to your list in Kyaing Tong, is Hokyin, a beautiful region inhabited by the Akha and Lahu people. To reach the villages, you must first drive an hour from town then hike around 1.5-2 hours – the trail passes terraced rice paddies and continues through rugged jungle until you reach an Akha Village. The Akha are known for their elaborate costumes and unique houses- you may have a chance to visit inside one of these houses! Continuing on foot through Hokyin you reach a Lahu Village. This is one of the smaller ethnic groups in the region that is known for their traditional blacksmith work.
Highlights of Shan State (Southern): Kalaw
Kalaw is one of the most accessible towns in the Shan State, but don’t let that put you off! It still has much to offer the intrepid traveler, with fabulous trekking routes and stunning landscapes. The town has been a popular destination for visitors since the 1800s when the British came to Kalaw seeking refuge from the oppressive heat in lowlands.
Today visitors will find that Kalaw has a small town vibe- everyone seems to know each other- and plenty of charming colonial buildings, quaint cafes and a mix of local and international restaurants. However it is the trekking that is the town’s biggest lure! In every direction, there are hills and villages inhabited by the Shan, Danu, Pa-Oh and other ethnic groups.
Short Trekking & Village experience- A half or full day trek from Kalaw introduces you to rural landscapes and local life without having to exert too much effort! Breathe in fresh air while walking through agricultural fields and tea plantations. Pop into a village home for a cup of tea or a home cooked lunch, a first hand look at what life is like in the Shan highlands.
Overnight Trek- For those with a bit more energy and adventurous spirit, a range of 1-3 night treks are available. Setting off from Kalaw, these treks are supported by a team of porters so you only need to carry a small bag and water with you. Days are spent climbing trails through forests and fields, passing by the occasional small hamlet. In the evenings, sleep in village homes or monasteries, a truly memorable experience!
Train Travel- Another of our favorite Myanmar train journeys is from Kalaw to Shwe Nyaung, a town near Inle Lake. Starting from the colonial station in downtown Kalaw, the train travels slowly through rice paddies and around highland areas with brilliant views. As interesting as the scenery is outside, the inside views are also unique. Passengers on the train are often farmers, bringing piles of produce along with them to sell in other destinations. Vendors hop on and off selling snacks, cold drinks and other goodies. Don’t be surprised if you make a new friend on this scenic three-hour adventure.
There you have it- Our top tips for exploring Shan State! Come and explore this magical part of Myanmar. We know you won’t regret it!