Perching up above the lowland of Myanmar, Shan State is composed of the serene hilly plateau as a backdrop for an incredible variety of ethnic groups who have been living here for centuries. There are many fun things to do in Shan State, from adventurous trekking trips to mere relaxation on the calm waters of the Inle Lake, from discovering how the Intha catch fish by their unique leg-rowing technique to penetrating deeper into the traditional hill tribes at Kengtung. With the help from our dedicated and experienced team of travel experts in Myanmar, here are 6 highlights during your holiday in Shan State.
There hasn’t been a proof, but Pindaya must be one of the most densely farmed destinations in Myanmar, if not Southeast Asia. And the majority of those green lands are planted with tea. Whilst in Pindaya, you can spend some time to visit the local villages where the best tea leaf salads in Myanmar are made. But the biggest reason to stop at Pindaya is the three caves situated on the limestone ridge in the town’s edge. The most famous of which, Shwe Oo Min Pagoda contains over 8,000 statues deep inside the natural cave. Legends say that if you continue to penetrate deep enough into these caves, you will end up reaching the ancient city of Bagan on the other end. Fascinating, right?
This is one of the most extraordinary sites in Myanmar. Located about 60 kilometers away from Inle Lake, Kakku is where 2,478 stupas are neatly placed on a surprisingly compact site. Legend has it that the stupa garden was founded by Buddhist missionaries in the 3rd century B.C. But what makes you even more amazed is that the style and size of these stupas vary a lot. Some are simply-designed; some others are decorated with the image of deities and mythical beasts. Once entering this sanctuary, you will feel like getting lost in a maze filled with a holy ambience.
First established as a hill station by the British who want to escape from the intense heat of Yangon, Kalaw now is a premier choice for hiking and trekking in Myanmar. You can choose from a short and easy one day hike to Pa-O, Danu and Taung Yo villages or spend three days trekking in from Inle Lake, during which you will pass through tall mountains covered with pine trees, hills fringed with tea plantations, fields of rice, wheat, potato, and sesame. It’s more of an agricultural route than merely a scenic one. With Exotic Voyages, we can also arrange a half-day trek from Kalaw to Magwe on the back of an elephant.
The most famous food in Shan State must be the Shan noodles or Shan Khao Swè which is composed of rice noodles along with chicken or minced pork, tomatoes, chili, garlic, onions, peanuts,… Other notable dishes in Myanmar such as Lhpet Thoke (tea leaf salad) and Htamin jin, a signature dish in Inle Lake with fermented rice, boiled fish, mashed potatoes, garlic, and sometimes a touch of tamarind sauce. As the destinations in Shan State do not provide fancy restaurants with the exception of Inle Lake, the most popular and maybe the best way to experience the Shan cuisine is eating at local places. However, do keep in mind to always drink purified and bottled water. For dinner, be a little bit more adventurous and try the orange brandy called Shwe Leinmaw, a common alcoholic drink in Shan State.
Shan noodles, a popular dish in Myanmar
There are not many places in Myanmar that can match Kyaing Tong (or Keng Tung) in terms of the authenticity of the people living within the area. With the geographical proximity to Yunnan Province of China, Laos, and Thailand, plus the long-lasting history during which the town was occupied by several different forces, Kyaing Tong is where a number of ethnic groups are living including the Shan, Tai Lü, Tai Khün and Tai Nuea. Some people here have not even left their tribal village even though they are deep into their 40s. What’s even more interesting is it is possible to spend one-day trekking within the surrounding villages of Kyaing Tong without hearing any Burmese words nor seeing any Burmese restaurants. The iconic Longyis and Thanaka face powder is also hard to be found here. So, if you want to travel to a truly remote land in Myanmar, one that is hardly influenced by the modern world, Kyaing Tong is your place to be.
Now here comes the big one, the one that is a must-visit in every Myanmar trips. Although total relaxation by the tranquil landscape and atmosphere of Inle Lake is what everybody should expect, visiting here can be a great opportunity to learn more about the local’s life. Here’s how we suggest 48 hours to be spent in Inle Lake. On the first day, go on a kayaking expedition through stilt houses of villages, vegetable farms, and schools. Afterward, visit an Intha family to learn how the locals cook then have lunch and share some chats with them. In the afternoon, embark on a boat and be introduced to the lifestyles of people living on the lake. This time you will be able to watch more closely how people “perform” leg-rowing fishing technique. In the evening, make sure you don’t stay up too late because the next morning you will wake up early to watch the magnificent sunrise while taking a small cup of tea or coffee. As the sun ascends far away from the horizon, take part in the Inle morning market before head out for an excursion to Indein, a nearby village where hundreds of ancient stupas erecting from verdant bushes. End the second day with a memorable candlelit dinner with at the locals while watching the traditional dance and music performance.
The leg-rowing fishermen, one of the most iconic images in Myanmar