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Follow the Trails of Former Opium Traders


Crisscrossed by the trails of cunning opium traders back in the 1930’s, eastern Shan State Myanmar was closed to foreign tourists until 2013 when Khiri Travel was granted first permission to pass through the area escorting BBC’s Top Gear film crew. As a result, it is now possible to apply for a special travel permit to traverse this truly stunning area of isolated hill tribe villages, hilly mountain ranges, steep river gorges and sweeping panoramas. Certainly a new frontier for exploring Myanmar and a trip that will surely yield for your travelers many fascinating travel stories at the dining table when they get back home.

We take your travelers for a road trip adventure (roughly about 475 km) through this remote area in eastern Myanmar where visitors often feel like they are somehow part of a National Geographic film. In the past, these trails lead to the Golden Triangle (the common border of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos). In those days, opium was grown and traded along the route. Many things have changed since then although most of the communities along these mountain trails have stayed remarkably the same.

The sleeping accommodations during the trip range from very basic in local homes to simple homestays or 2 or 3-star hotels. Interesting stops along the way let visitors discover pre-modern traditional ways of life and opportunities to meet a variety of hill tribe people during short walks around their village surroundings. Villages are quite secluded so ethnic minorities each have their own unique set of colors, customs and traditions.

Anybody with an average health condition can do this trip. The most important qualification for visitors is to remain flexible, as conditions are very basic. For example, many sites along this tour do not have electricity, telephone service or modern medical facilities.

Highlights of the road trip include the start at Inle Lake, then driving north to the Ho Pong Valley. We can stop to see one of the colorful markets still operating since the opium days selling food, tools, longyi (traditional sarong garments) and all kinds of goods traded between Thailand, China and Myanmar.

We will also visit the palace of former Shan royalty for a meal and stories of past glory. At the village of the Silver Palaung ethnic people, all of the men and women still wear their hand woven, traditional dress accented with silver rings around their waist. We can tour their communal bamboo long houses and overnight in a village homestay that does not see many foreigners. Known for their hunting prowess, another ethnic minority of this area are the Lahu people. They live more remotely in the forests and were the preferred guides by the opium traders because of their jungle survival skills.

There will be a boat ride down the deep gorge of the Thanlwin River (also commonly known as the Salween River) that bisects Shan State with a chance to do some trekking into the Shan communities hugging the riverbanks. Around every corner of the river is a new vista of stunning nature. The tour terminates in Kentung from where your travelers can continue onwards for the 3.5-hour drive to Tachilek and the Thai border for continuing on to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. Arriving at the center of the Golden Triangle, your travelers can even cross into northern Laos and travel overland or by riverboat to Luang Prabang.

For more information about booking our special travel access through Shan State Myanmar, please contact to [email protected]

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