Southern Shan State
Pindaya is a small town of Burmese dialect speaking Danu people, located in a fertile valley bordered by 1700-meter high mountain range in the west. The road to Pindaya is highly scenic, whether you come from Inle Lake, Kalaw, Mandalay or Bagan, especially the road segment between sizeable town Aung Ban and Pindaya. The multi-color fields, ethnic villages, buffalo cowboys, bamboo hat makers, orange farms, Chayote shelves, bullock carts loaded with cabbages, Pine tree clad hills and farms with different vegetations could make you an interesting and pleasurable rolling hill drive. There is a huge lake in the middle of the town, and it is related with the fascinating stories of Pindaya caves. The caves of Pindaya are the naturally formed last 200-million years ago. The southernmost cave is the main cave and home to over 8,000 ancient Buddha images made from different material such as alabaster, teak, lacquer, bamboo, cement, and marble. Some images date more than 300-years. And the cave entrance provides breathtaking views of entire Pindaya valley and Pontalouk Lake. There are also a few comfortable hotels, for those who don’t like to drive back on the same-day or who wants to explore tribe villages. Pindaya can be visited easily from Heho and then overnight in Kalaw or Inle Lake if you fly either from Bagan, Yangon, or Mandalay. It can be visited from Mandalay by road on the way to Kalaw or Inle Lake. And it can be reached direct from Bagan or Mt Popa within a day if you plan to stay overnight in Pindaya.
The charming hill station Kalaw sits on the western edge of Shan plateau at the altitude of approx. 1350-meters. It was established by the British to be a summer resort hill station. The main living quarters are established in the valley, whereas the charming colonial buildings can be seen on the circular road developed on the hills that encircled the town. There are a number of Gurakhas who once served in the British army still living in the town, together with some retired government servicemen, and other tribes of the region. Due to the peaceful & charming atmosphere, and the perfect temperature even in the period of Myanmar hottest months, Kalaw has been an escape-villa for everyone, making possible to choose several hotels in this minute area. Kalaw is worth to stay for at least two nights just to soak up in its Pine-fumed colonial ambiance doing nothing at all except strolling on your own foot along the misty trails dotted with British country houses and churches or follow the tribes who come to Kalaw central market every 5-day. For most people, they prefer Kalaw to use as the base to explore surrounding hill tribe villages or as a starting point for the multi-day trekking tours to Pindaya or more typically to Inle Lake.
Sits on the peaks of Shan hills at the altitude of 1600-meter, Taunggyi (or) The Big Mountain City, was established by the British in 1880s as British’s summer palace. Nowadays, Taunggyi became the capital of Southern Shan State, and almost the third largest cites of Myanmar with population around 400,000, comprising Shan, Pa O, Kyain, Kayah, Indians, Bamars, and other Shan sub-groups. Due to the immense development in the past decades, the city’s colonial charm has already been lost. Nevertheless, the main market, Shan state cultural museum, and a couple of Buddhist shrines overlooking the city are a few places worth looking for. In November, Thaunggyi hosts for one of most popular festivals in Myanmar, where people make hot-aired balloons in the shape of animals to offer the sky-spirits, in the form of competition. Due to the ethnic insurgencies, overland travel to the east of Taunggyi is officially off-limited.
One of our favourite places in all Myanmar, Kengtung (or Kyaing Tong) lies in a broad, beautiful valley in remote Eastern Shan State, midway between the borders of Thailand and China. The people of this area are predominately Shan, or ‘Tai Khun’, and speak a language very similar to Thai. The surrounding hills are the abode of various hill tribes who carry on a traditional, agricultural way of life unchanged for centuries. Kengtung is an increasingly popular trekking destination and many visitors to Myanmar now make this pretty and historic town the first or last stop of their visit – the border with Thailand being only a morning’s drive away.
Historically, Kengtung was the seat of a powerful Shan (Siamese) ‘Sao Pha’; a ‘Sky Lord’ or Prince. Founded in 1243, the state was a rival to the more well-known Shan Kingdom of Chiang Mai. Its location, on the overland route from Xishuangbanna (now China) to Chiang Mai, Southern Thailand and Myanmar, made the town an important and wealthy trading centre. In recent decades, the area was closed to the outside world and achieved notoriety as the ‘Golden Triangle’, the centre of the illicit opium trade. With the opium trade now mostly a thing of the past, Kengtung and the road to Thailand have been re-opened to visitors and the area is gaining attention for its hill tribe trekking opportunities.
Kengtung is situated in a lush rice-growing valley in the heart of the Eastern Shan Hills. The town itself is set around the romantic, sunken Naung Tung Lake – hidden down quiet side lanes from the town’s major roads. Mine Yen Road, the main thoroughfare is lined with colonial-era shop buildings, bungalows and churches, and the town is studded with more than 30 pagodas, known here by the Thai word ‘Wat’. The highest hill in Kengtung is topped by the Catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral, and a more recently built standing Buddha; Ya Taw Mu, which looks out over the lake, to the valley and hills beyond.
Fifteen minutes walk south of the lake is the most important site in Kengtung, the central market. Khun villagers from the valley and hill tribe villagers, some in traditional dress, walk for hours through the night to bring their produce here for sale at dawn. With the money earned, the villagers buy dry goods, mostly imported from Thailand and China. This is a good place to shop for Shan textiles and bamboo utensils, and try out some breakfast items you may not have tried before such as the delicious noodle soups. In addition to this market, a twice-weekly water-buffalo market is held on the western edge of town. The animals are very important to the local economy, used for ploughing the rice paddies and hauling carts filled with produce. It is fascinating to watch the farmers meticulously inspecting the animals before launching into a bargaining session to secure their desired acquisition.
Of the many ‘Wats’ in Kengtung, Wat Jong Kham, dating from the 13th Century Lanna period is the most impressive; its golden spire is visible from all over the town. In classic Thai-style, Wat Mahamuni fills a traffic circle at the junction of two of Kengtung’s main streets. The beautiful, wooden Wat In is well-known for its archway entrance, featuring a pair of delicately-fashioned bird people; Keinari and Keinara, which symbolise eternal fidelity. The monastery is also home to an impressive collection of ancient wooden Buddhas, covered in gold. These Buddhist sites are set amongst an impressive collection of old colonial-era churches, houses and bungalows. This is truly a town for strolling and discovering. End your day at scenic Naung Tung Lake; sip tea, buy a bowl of noodles and chat with the friendly, curious locals.
Tachilek is the easternmost town in the country and enjoys the fame of anchoring the Myanmar end of the Golden Triangle, a term which made its entry into print during the Vietnam war.
Tachileik sits on the banks of the Mekong River across from Mai Sai in Thailand. It is a cross border town. It is the residence for many of the ethnic hill tribes such as the Khun, Akha, Shan, Wa and Lahus. The mixture of different ethnic cultures adds the diversity to the cultural practices of the area. Myanmar and Thai borders are open from 6am to 6pm in weekdays and 6 am to 9pm in weekends.
Many hotels and inns are growing up with the growth of trade and economy.
Northern Shan State
Once the administrative center of an independent Shan kingdom ruled by the Sao Bwe (Shan Chieftain), Hispaw still has its bucolic charms, where many travelers find a good reason to stay longer than they have intended. In February / March, the town celebrates a big pagoda festival for the region’s most sacred 700-year-old Bawgyo Pagoda. Many pilgrims from all over Shan State, including tribes living on the steep slopes, come to worship the four holey images that are allow to take out from the inner sanctum once a year for a week-long festival. During the Sao Bwe times, gambling was allowed to collect tax for the Hispaw Shan kingdom. It is highly recommended to read “Twilight over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess” an account of Austrian-American Inge Sargent, who was the popular Mahadevi of Hsipaw from 1950s until 1962. The European-style Shan Palace (Haw in Shan language), which was built in 1924, is still standing at the northern end of the town, where the visitors are welcomed after 4:00pm. From Hsipaw, there are several trekking trips to surrounding hills, waterfall, typical Shan villages, mandarin orange orchards and boating on Dokhtawady River can be made. For those who tend to be a bit more adventurous can be visited a remote town of Namhsan, another Shan principality perched on a 1600m-high narrow ridge, surrounded by valleys and mountains that rise to 2000m. The 80km unpaved dirt road seems exhausting but what rewarding is to see Shwe (Golden) Palaungs, a tribe renowned for best tealeaves producing, and the stunning beauty, which got its nickname as the Switzerland of Myanmar.
Kyaukme is surrounded by many high mountains and hills. it is quite amazing to see that there are the indigenous people still living in the mountains. They are called Palaung (hill-tribe). When you go trekking or driving scooters to these tiny villages of these minority groups you can still see them wearing their own traditional costumes in everyday life.
Located at the southern end of the "Burma Road", Lashio is in a mountain basin. It is divided into two main districts, Lashio Lay (Little Lashio) and Lashio Gyi (Big Lashio), connected by Theinni Road. Lashio Lay is the newer and bigger of the two districts. Lashio is 6-hour drive from Mandalay. It is a major town that locates on the route connecting to China and Myanmar. Lashio Hot Spa is a hot springs about 10 kilometers northeast of Lashio Gyi via Theinni Road.