HIDDEN GEMS & HIGHLIGHTS OF SHAN STATE – Part I
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.
SHAN STATE BASICS
Myanmar is divided into 14 administrative states divisions, each with its own character. Some regions are marked by flat plains with towering toddy trees, others feature dense forests and winding rivers. Residing within these states and divisions are more than 135 different ethnic groups, contributing to the culture and traditions in the regions they inhabit. Yet it is the Shan State which has greatest diversity of landscapes and ethnic groups, making it a favorite destination for travelers.
The Shan State is divided into three sections: Northern, Southern and Eastern. The Northern area is noted for its rugged mountains and jungle, the Eastern for its lakes and traditional ethnic cultures and the Southern region for its incredibly diverse ethnic blend, winding rivers and undeveloped towns.
The main airports for accessing the Shan State are Lashio in the far north, Heho in the Southern region and Tachilek or Kyaing Tong in the east. Overland travel to the southern region is rather long but scenic whereas permission is needed to travel overland to the northern and eastern sections of Shan.
Read on to learn about our favorite destinations in each region!
HIGHLIGHTS OF SHAN STATE (NORTHERN): HSIPAW
The northern town of Hsipaw has been making its way on to the tourist map in recent years and it’s easy to see why- the stunning natural surroundings and laidback atmosphere make it the perfect place to relax.
Unlike bustling Yangon and Mandalay, the streets of Hsipaw are blissfully un-congested with more motorbikes and cows on the road than cars. The sounds of pagoda music and hawkers selling their goods fill the air, not the honking horns and revving engines you find in the big cities. Hsipaw sits amid lush rice paddies, rolling hills and farm land and the Dokthawaddry River curves along the edge of town.
Passing the time here is easy- wandering through town, sitting on the river banks and café hopping could keep you occupied for days. But here are our top tips for Hsipaw:
Shan Noodles: Wake up early and head to a street stall for the best bowl of noodles you have ever had! Shan Khao Sway is the breakfast of choice in the Shan State and the combination of noodles, meat and herbs will help you fuel up for a day of exploring.
Hit the trails!: Head out of town through rice paddies, stopping to chat to farmers along the way or to snap photos of water buffaloes in the fields. Discover the atmospheric ruins of ‘Little Bagan’ about 30 minutes from town or venture further into the hills to explore waterfalls and dense jungle terrain.
Meet the Palaung People: Many of the residents in and around Hsipaw are from the Palaung ethnic group. In the morning market or on longer treks, you can meet with the Palaung and learn about their traditional culture and customs.
Take the train: Reaching Hsipaw is relatively easy. A direct drive from Mandalay by car or bus will take around 6 hours. However the journey is far more interesting if you opt for the local train. Not only does it pass through scenic rural landscapes, the train route also crosses the Gokteik Viaduct. This railway bridge was built in 1901 and stands more than 100 meters above ground, connecting a deep gorge. For jaw-dropping views and a memorable overland adventure, hop on the train to Hsipaw!