The Kayin Experience in Cross Country Tour
At an early hour, we departed from Hpa An driving through this mountainous area with some of the distant mountain peaks partly shrouded by low-lying clouds. We arrived at a small Kayin settlement, which seemed to be surrounded by a lake. However, after a more careful look, it turned out to be a vast area of flooded paddy fields.
In this watery wonderland, some local Kayin people started a successful business renting kayaks to visitors, offering guide services as well. The plastic kayaks, paddles and lifejackets (provided free of charge by Khiri Travel in support of local communities trying to supplement their income through tourism) were all in good condition. The rental shop recommended that visitors leave belongings behind that very likely would get wet during the kayaking.
That particular day it was raining steadily, but the bad weather didn’t hinder our enjoyment of the experience. Sitting in the kayaks, we had a perfect chance to explore the submerged countryside and listen to the sounds of nature accompanied by the falling rain. The mountains on the horizon alternately appeared, then disappeared in the shifting cloud cover like nature playing peekaboo. This splendid sight was very photogenic. Back at the Kayin settlement we gathered our belongings, changed our clothes and left to continue driving.
The next activity (exclusively for Khiri!), consisted of leisurely walking through the forest visiting Kayin villages, Lakkana and Tilagu (Knot Hair), a great way to get a feel for how the Kayin people interact with their natural environment.
The last village was unique as its inhabitants follow a rather unusual form of Buddhism: men don’t cut their hair but tie it up in a knot and women do not wear brassieres and underwear! Additionally, the Kayin are strict vegetarians and venerate a local hermit who resides in the jungle.
During our visit, the village looked almost deserted. Our guide explained that most villagers were out working in the fields and the children were studying at school. At the house of the village chief, we were warmly welcomed with a huge vegetarian lunch, a true feast! Although not familiar with more than a few dishes, we challenged ourselves to sample as much as possible. We had a rewarding time as even our one tortured meat lover admitted that she really enjoyed this special spread of food!
After our meal, the village headman’s wife showed us her impressive weaving skills using an old style loom. The headman led us to a huge bamboo prayer hall, the tallest building in the village and used for traditional ceremonies. Inspecting the unique structure carefully, we could see that the whole building was constructed out of bamboo and rattan and not a single nail or screw was used!
On the way out of the village, we saw some solar panels, a sign that the village is slowly embracing modern technology. However, until recently, these Kayin villagers have succeeded to maintain their traditional culture and sustainable ways of life.
Walking along dirt trails and crossing a concrete walkway through the flooded paddies brought us back to our minivan. We continued driving to the coast, towards the city of Mawlamyine. This overland journey can start from either Yangon or Bangkok and is suitable for both FITs and groups who favor light adventure and a relaxing off the beaten track experience.