True Adventure in Eastern Shan State
Eastern Shan State is a wild and hauntingly beautiful place, crisscrossed by the trails of early 20th-century opium traders and inhabited by isolated hill tribe villages with rugged mountain ranges, steep river gorges and sweeping panoramas of rural hills and valleys.
One of the last frontiers of exploration in Myanmar, the region was closed to foreign tourists until 2013, when Khiri Travel was granted permission to escort the BBC’s ‘Top Gear’ film crew through the area to film their renowned two-part ‘Burma Special’ series.
As a result of the Top Gear adventure, Khiri Travel introduced several new tours to Myanmar, including one based on the route the Top Gear team followed during their expedition. Six years on and eastern Shan State is still an isolated region with very few visitors, but if you have a love for true adventure, don’t mind sleeping on wooden beds and making do with basic facilities – often with no electricity – then this is the destination for you.
Using mainly four-wheel drive vehicles with some stops for trekking, the five-day, four-night expedition typically starts at Inle Lake with a drive into the Shan hills, but it can also be done in reverse by first flying to Kengtung. We recommend beginning at Inle Lake, as trekking in this direction is over easier terrain.
From Inle Lake the journey passes through several towns, including Taunggyi, ethnic Palaung villages, Phan Lan and Myin Pan, before arriving in the eastern Shan State capital Kengtung. Located in the centre of the Golden Triangle, it’s an area that in the past was notorious for its opium trade and Shan drug lords.
The whole journey covers a distance of roughly 475 km through remote countryside. Surrounded by mountains and traveling along rocky, uneven roads with only the odd truck or moped in sight, it feels at times like being on an expedition with National Geographic.
Many of the roads and trails the journey takes converge on the Golden Triangle where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet and in the past opium poppy cultivation was prolific in the region.
The route is a melting pot of different ethnic tribes and the expedition makes several interesting stops at local villages with the opportunity for short hikes through the area. One of the highlights is a trip to a village of the Silver Palaung, where men and women still wear their traditional hand-woven dress, accented with silver rings around their waists.
Treks will at times also involve different types of transport, from a motorboat for a short trip over the Thanlwin River that separates eastern Shan State from the rest of the country, to a traditional bamboo raft.
As the expedition continues, the region becomes increasingly isolated, passing through mountains with traditional Shan villages that offer up stunning rural scenes. Around almost every corner there’s a vista of spectacular mountain scenery awaiting you.
Kengtung is your final destination, but the journey doesn’t end here. In the hills surrounding the town live many ethnic tribes, making it one of the best places for trekking in the country. Explore three local villages with people from the Lahu, Akha, and Eng tribes, and learn more about their culture and customs, before flying out of Kengtung to your next destination.
As one of the last frontiers of travel in Myanmar, this is certainly a journey that will yield many a fascinating travel story for years to come.
For bookings and more information on other experiences in Myanmar, get in touch with us at: [email protected].