Trekking in Shan State, Northeastern Myanmar

Text and Photos By Kayti Denham

Bali, 10 April 2010. Shan State in Northeastern Myanmar offers adventure travelers some incredible opportunities to trek through remote villages, spend nights in rustic accommodations, meet the different ethnic groups and end up in the breath taking Inle Lake area.

Mother and son from Kone Hia

Visiting Burma, or Myanmar as it is now known, can present challenges both logistically and ethically, and it is not our intention to promote travel to anywhere that outsiders can do more harm than good. Once inside the country of Burma there is much a traveler can contribute to the people without causing offense or being provocative.

Kalaw in Shan State is the ‘centre’ for the trekker –traveler and with its altitude of over thirteen thousand meters it has a very pleasant cool climate vibe that turns distinctly chilly between November and January. At one time it was a popular British hill station and the appeal is easy to see, with the surrounding mountains and pretty forested groves it makes an idyllic Shangri-La for those seeking retreat from the dusty western plains or the torpidity of Yangon.

Outside the centre of town sprawling hillsides host pretty resorts that are almost alpine in style with open fireplaces and thick blankets on the beds. Most of them are family run, including the Golden Lilly Guest House and the Hill Top Villa Resort.

Trekking View

Trekking can be prearranged through tour operators such as Diethelm and Exotissimo or you can investigate options once you arrive. Kalaw has many experienced guides who are happy to discuss the options for trekking that can take you on well trodden half-day treks or into the hills for three days across the range to Inle Lake. The beauty of trekking here is the glimpses into the lives of the local tribes people. The villagers are not yet immune to the trail of trekkers and are open and friendly as everyone in Burma and will invite you into their homes, show you around the farming lands, or share a pot of strong tea.

While some of the trekking can be challenging most of the routes take you along gentle paths through the ranges and lead you to Inle lake.

Inle Lake is vast. A full 20 kilometers long and roughly half that in width, and it’s setting, surrounded by the crenellating shapes of mountain ranges lends a sense of serenity to its surface. However the closer you get to the lake the more activity you can see, the lake is abuzz with endeavors, employment and energy. It is the life blood of the Intha people who fish from its depths, cultivate their vegetables from floating beds and build their homes on stilts in its shallows.

Bamboo bridge offers stunning views.

The town of Nyaungshwe is the lakeside cousin of Kalaw, with a strong traveler vibe, laid back cafes and good food from all over the world it does provide plenty of accommodation options and a good base from which to trek further out into the area to discover the Hot Springs, the ancient area of Sankar and the caves of Ta-Eh Gu.

Nyaungshwe is also a good spot to catch up on Internet, not so common elsewhere but a very reliable connection can be found at the K.K.O café, and the place to discover where the next local market is held.

Tribal cloths, local produce; ethnic bags and warm knitted clothing of many styles and colours are some of the best bargains, along with beautiful embroideries and tribal artifacts.

So next time you travel to Burma, go rustic. Head up to Shan State for an unforgettable experience.