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Mountain Archives - Take me to Myanmar
 

Off the beaten path and the gateway to and adventure land of volcanic lakes, caves, mountain top pagodas and beautiful countryside is the little known town of Loikaw. A dusty town bordering Thailand, this exciting region was, until recently, off limits to visitors. Even today, Loikaw makes for an authentic Burmese experience with very little tourist activity to note.

The capital of the Kayah State, Loikaw is small, dusty and nestled on the banks of the Pilo River, overlooked by the magnificent Taung Kwe Zayde pagoda. Loikaw serves as the perfect hub for exploring the splendor of its surrounding areas. Rich with natural beauty from rolling hills, to mountains, lakes and caves, it’s easy to see why trekking is a popular past time here. Take a hike around the impressive Seven Stage Lake or the striking Htee Pwint Volcanic Lake and through quaint local villages to really discover what this region has to offer.

Small villages in the area such as Rangkhu and Pataing Hnyin offer a perfect opportunity to mix with friendly and curious locals. The Kayah people are welcoming and often inquisitive when meeting foreign visitors, something that is quite rarely seen in this part of Myanmar.

Aside from its adventure opportunities, Loikaw is a town notable for its mixture of religious and spiritual beliefs and as a result, is bursting with notable sacred religious sites. Visit the impressive shrines at Dor Sor Bee, educate yourself on Loikaw’s eclectic religious history at Christ the King Cathedral and don’t miss the monastery of Thiri Mingalarpon Kyaung.

Rangkhu

About a one hour scenic drive, or more active cycle, outside of Loikaw is the rural village of Rangkhu. Named the largest village in the Kayah State, Ranghu is still surprisingly small and is home to traditional Kayan people referred to as ‘long necks’. The name ‘long necks’ derives from the Burmese term ‘Padaung’ that literally translates to ‘wearing gold’. The Kayan women here in Rangkhu are best known for the traditional practice of stacking gold rings around their necks, ultimately lowering their collarbones and making their necks appear longer.

Pataing Hnyin

This small Kayah village remains the most visited in the state. The Pa-O women can be spotted by their unique tiger striped headscarves. Close by to the village is home to a small, family run textile business. A visit to Pataing Hnyin presents the ideal opportunity to interact with local villagers and learn about local life.

Dor Sor Bee

Just East of Loikaw is the fascinating Dor Sor Bee. One of the region’s most sacred religious sites, Dor Sor Bee is home to many Kayah animist shrines, lavishly decorated and designed to represent the sun and the moon it promises a culturally immersing morning or afternoon away from the town.

Christ the King Cathedral

Built back in 1939, Christ the King Cathedral remains the oldest surviving cathedral in the Kayah state. The cathedral offers the perfect opportunity to discover Kayah’s eclectic array of religious beliefs and boasts an impressive architecture combining both European and local Buddhist styles with a stunning bell tower housing a bell all the way from Italy. This distinctive cathedral is an absolute must visit whilst exploring Loikaw.

Thiri Mingalarpon Kyaung

This interesting monastery was built in 1912 and originally served as a palace to Kayah’s saopha. After his death in 1987, his family gave it away to a local Buddhist organisation. Today it offers tourists and locals alike, a fantastic insight into a local functioning monastery.

Taung Kwe Zayde

Undoubtedly the most impressive of all Loikaw’s sights is the magnificent Taung Kwe pagoda. Towering over the towns in and around the Kayah state and littered with gold pagodas, Taung Kwe Zayde offers visitors spectacular panoramic views across rolling countryside, along with the opportunity to be immersed into local life and worship at this  unique Buddhist temple.

Htee Pwint Volcanic Lake

There are several interesting hiking trails in Loikaw, all of which offer fabulous opportunities to breathe some fresh air, stretch your legs and really indulge in some of Myanmar’s most beautiful countryside. One spot not to miss on your trek is the magical and muddy Htee Pwint Volcanic Lake. Located 12 miles outside of Loikaw, the mud here bubbles beneath the surface and the atmosphere is mystical and fairytale like, making for a glorious hike.

Seven Stage Lake

An hour south of Loikaw town will take you to the regions most majestic trekking and picnic spot. The Seven Stage Lake is beautifully enveloped in rolling hills and each lake is connected by a small channel and is different in colour. From deep blues, to turquoise hues, sit back and relax, marvel at the stunning reflections or put on your walking boots and set off on an adventure. A trip to Seven Stage Lake makes for the perfect day out and a welcome break from town and village life.

Food and Drink

Kayah state food can be extremely tasty. Some signature dishes include river caught fish and prawns and the many restaurants around Loikaw town offer a vast range of fusion food with Thai, Chinese and Burmese influences. Kayah sausage is extremely popular amongst locals and offers a meat sausage infused with locally grown pepper along with irresistible traditional rice cakes known as Hin Htoke.

 

Off the beaten travel path and affectionately known as ‘Chin Hills’ to its residents, Chin State is one of Myanmar’s most under developed. Although less visited, and financially poorer than its tourist popular counterparts, ‘Chin Hills’ is so called for its rolling hills and stunning mountainous backdrop providing adventure seekers with an abundance of exciting opportunities to choose from. From hiking to climbing and more intensive trekking, this underestimated region has something to offer all levels of adventure seekers.

Home to traditional villages, carefully built in valleys of abundant rivers and amongst waterfalls, arguably the most beautiful town is Kanpatlet.

With a population of over 400,000 and many townships to explore, Chin Hills is the perfect stop for an authentic immersion into an interesting culture and to explore its opportunities for hiking, climbing and even bird watching. The perfect place to discover new bird species, stretch your legs and spot rare types of flowers and even big cats is at the impressive Victoria Mountain.

Bursting with nature and copious amounts of outdoor activities, don’t miss the impressive rice paddies at Thantlang, join pilgrims and learn about the sacred Rieh Lake and cool down after a long hike in Myanmar’s largest waterfall, Bontala Waterfall.

Thantlang

Bordering to the west with India, Thantlang literally means ‘famous hill’. Abundant with rice paddies ploughed by the local farmers in June and surrounded by massive rocky mountains, Thantlang holds an adventurous air and the mountains hold wonderful opportunities for rock climbs and exploration.

The villagers of Thantlang are fans of festivals, Easter Sunday and Christmas being the grandest amongst this Christian community. During the rainy season an annual football tournament sees the town come alive.

Bontala Waterfall

At over 1500 feet high, Bontala Waterfall is one of the region’s most impressive attractions. An adventurous hike through jungle and forest will promise to reward you with stunning views and an even better vantage point of the incredible nine tiers of waterfalls cascading downstream. The ideal spot for those wanting to cool off with some water sports post hike.

Rieh Lake

A favourite local site for hiking and trekking, the beautiful heart shaped Rieh Lake is conveniently located just 3 kilometres from Zokhawthar village and nestles among the Chin and Indian mountain ranges. Many locals claim it to be one of the most stunning, natural spots in Myanmar and is best explored by foot or by bicycle.

Rieh Lake is of significant spiritual interest and importance for the local community. Story has it that anyone who is to bathe in the lake’s freshwater, will be healed of disease. As a result, Rieh Lake sees many locals and visitors crossing the border from India to pay their respects to the lake.

Interestingly, during the winter, the lake famously turns red in colour for a couple of months.

Kanpatlet

An entry point for the beautiful national park of Natma Taung, Kanpatlet is best known for its unbelievable scenery and kind people. The mountainous area peaks at 1400 metres elevation and is popular with hikers and trekkers wishing to explore the beauty and adventure of this mountainous region and serves as the gateway to Victoria Mountain.

Natma Taung National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must see if you’re in the area. The area is home to some of the most impressive plant life and wild life in the whole of Asia and is the starting point to hike the incredible Victoria Mountain making it an adventure seekers dream.

Hiking in Kanpatlet promises abundant scenes of impressive terrace fields, rice paddies, streams and fruit trees, including mandarins, apples, mulberries and grapes. Meander through many churches and traditional huts built on stilts, marvel at the ox pulled carts, traditional dress and the local elderly communities playing nose flutes. Most people here only speak the local, traditional language and not Burmese.

Kanpatlet offers the opportunity for not only a visually stunning adventure, but also a culturally immersive experience.

Victoria Mountain

A favourite amongst thrill seekers, at 9000 feet of elevation in the fabulous town of Kanpatlet and nestled in the national park of Natma Taung, you’ll find yourself at the base camp of Victoria Mountain. Surrounded by pine forests and enveloped in surrounding mountains, Victoria Mountain is the epitome of adventurous hiking and is proudly Myanmar’s third highest peak.

Enjoy the moderate day hike to the peak through beautiful yellow and red rhododendrons, orchids, wild flowers and even mushrooms. Spot wild animals and rare bird species. Wrap up warm as the weather gets cooler with ascent. Revel in a dream like atmosphere as you reach the peak, beyond the clouds and look down over the stunning Chin and Indian mountain ranges. Truly a once in a lifetime experience and an adventure not to be missed.

At the top, enjoy the wonderful view from the glittering pagoda and watch the monks go about their daily life before heading down the mountain and popping into one of the many teahouses for a well-earned Chin meal and delicious Myanmar tea.

Food and Drink

Note that most restaurants in the Chin State close on a Sunday when villagers attend church. The food here mainly consists of Chinese-Burmese influence such as curries or meat heavy, rice dishes.

Nestled in the scenic township of Nyaung Shwe you’ll find one of Myanmar’s most spectacular and adventure laden sites. The stunningly serene yet intensely adventurous Inle Lake. Easily one of Myanmar’s most anticipated destinations, it’s not hard to see why this vast, freshwater lake has quickly gained momentum amid Myanmar’s budding tourism scene.

Measuring in at over 116 square kilometres, Inle Lake is the country’s second largest body of water and easily the most impressive. Enveloped by breath taking scenery, traditional floating villages, flourishing gardens, and sacred temples and littered throughout with locals going about their daily lives, Inle Lake offers visitors a truly unforgettable experience.

The ideal place for water sport enthusiasts and best enjoyed by boat or by kayak, don’t miss the infamous Intha fishermen. Learn about their typical, one legged fishing technique and watch in awe as they head out at dawn against a stunning backdrop for their daily catch. Immerse yourself in culture and be educated by the long necked Padaung women. Unique to Inle, these traditional women live as part of tribes in the region, promising an enlightening and informative meeting.

The region surrounding the lake is home to countless villages and a number of minority settlements to discover and explore by bike or hike. Over 70,000 local people live in Inle, most of them staying in villages and small cities around the lake, and some on the lake itself. The local population mainly consist of Intha, but other ethnicities such as Shan, Pa-O, Danu, Bamar, Kayah and Danaw have settled here. Local people live in simple bamboo and wood stilt houses and mostly own farm land allowing them to be self-sufficient, as well as providing the opportunity to sell local produce at the markets. The villagers frequently come down into Inle to explore the local markets and engage in everyday life.

The top of the regions highest hill is home to Inle’s only vineyard and winery, providing visitors with the perfect spot to enjoy local made wine whilst revelling in the stunning surroundings and soaking up Myanmar’s spectacular sunsets. The perfect end to a busy day on the lake, add this on to a day of hiking the area or take an explorative sunset cycle to the top of the hill.

Nyaung Shwe

Mainly serving as a tourist hub for Inle Lake, Nyaung Shwe is home to the area’s best options for accommodation and has plenty of places to eat, drink and shop after a day on the lake. Despite its main purpose, Nyaung Shwe can also hold its own. Littered with stupas, its largest and most impressive being Yadana Manaung Pagoda is well worth a visit for an insight into typical Shan architecture dating back to 1866.

Inle Lake

The star of the show, and undoubtedly the reason why this beautiful region has become so popular, Inle Lake is best explored by boat. Day trips are widely available and vary from private boats to small group excursions and even kayaks for the adventurous, often on a long narrow boat with a small motor and a friendly, local guide. Allow yourself plenty of time to explore life on the lake as there is lots to see and do and many adventures to unfold.

Of course, learn about Inle’s infamous Intha fishermen and their unique one-legged fishing technique. Visit the floating markets and gardens to get a feel for how local life works here and meet the people that call Inle Lake home. Meander through endless pagodas and monasteries including Phaung Daw Oo Paya, Inle Lake’s most sacred pagoda. With its impressive five tiers and glittering gold leaf, Phaung Daw Oo Paya promises to impress. Likewise, the Nga Hpe Kyaung, lovingly referred to as the Jumping Cat Monastery is home not only to cats that jump through hoops, but also, to an impressive collection of Buddha images.

Traditional workshops on the floating villages, including lotus flower weaving and cheroot making, offer the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture and learn about life living on the lake.

Apart from all there is to see and do on Inle Lake, this unbelievable place is bound to capture your heart with its one of a kind natural beauty, stunning scenery and endless opportunities for adventure by foot, boat and bicycle.

Winery

Located on the east coast of Inle Lake and nestled on top of one of the highest hills, you’ll find the regions very own winery. A fairly new concept, the winery was only built in 2004, but today it is a tourist favourite and makes the perfect destination for a leisurely evening cycle.

Not only does it offer the perfect evening spot for unwinding and sampling locally bottled wine after a busy day, but it also boasts remarkable views overlooking the lake, best enjoyed with a glass in hand whilst getting lost in one of Myanmar’s world class sunsets.

Food and Drink

Naturally, Inle Lake and the surrounding regions are full of mouth-watering, local cuisine. Of course, the flagship dish involving locally caught fish from the lake. Namely, the abundant Inle Carp, often served fried with coriander, or as part of the popular htamin gyin. A delicious ‘fermented’ rice kneaded with fish and potato and served with Shan tofu. Rice and locally grown vegetables are abundant and play a large part in the local diet.

Located high up in the western hills of Shan State, sits the fresh, cool, colonial hill station of Kalaw. Once a popular weekend getaway from the intense city heat, today Kalaw is famous for its rolling hill views, stunning scenery, endless adventures and plentiful trekking routes.

Whether you’re visiting to explore the infinate trekking opportunities, or just to breathe the fresh air and soak up the old, colonial charm, Kalaw offers something for everyone. From multi day treks through unrivalled countryside and local tribe villages, to shorter strolls to Kalaw’s glittering Hnee pagoda. Head through bustling local markets to enjoy endless religious sites such as Shwe U Min pagoda. Learn about Myanmar’s Christian influences at the notable Christ the King Church or immerse yourself in Kalaw’s cultural richness and join the monks at Thein Taung pagoda and monastery.

The fresh air, beautiful surroundings and laidback atmosphere in Kalaw make it the ideal getaway for a few days and the perfect spot to either unwind or feed your inner adventure seekers after days of sightseeing.

By far the best way to explore this exciting region is by bicycle, you’re sure never to be at loose end in this exciting town.

Local markets

Kalaw’s local market is a sight to behold and definitely worth a visit. Selling everything from dried fruit, to local handicrafts, the market is held every 5 days and sees visitors and locals alike coming together to enjoy a morning of browsing and shopping.

Thein Taung pagoda and monastery

If you’re an early riser and fancy a leg stretch, the stroll up to Thein Taung pagoda and monastery is a nice one. You’ll be rewarded with fantastic views over the bustling market below as well as having the unique opportunity to observe the few monks here going about their daily lives and morning rituals.

Hnee pagoda

Just southwest of the market you’ll find Hnee pagoda. Hnee pagoda offers the perfect opportunity for a gentle, independent stroll and is easy to get to. On arrival, be prepared to be welcomed by an impressive 500-year-old, sparkling golden bamboo buddha.

Shwe U Min pagoda

Not far from the Hnee pagoda, so ideal to explore on the same hike lays the Shwe U Min pagoda. Somewhat different to other pagodas, Shwe U Min is a natural cave and littered with golden Buddha statues. This surprising and unique sight really is worth exploring if you’re hiking or cycling around the area.

Christ the King Church

A stunning colonial building, and a must see whilst in Kalaw. This breath-taking church is well known for having the very same priest for almost 70 years and is beautiful example of modern-day Christian worship and its activity in Myanmar especially prominent on Sundays.

Trekking

It’s no surprise that trekking is so popular in this part on the country. Not only are the scenic views completely breath taking, but the climate is perfect. Apart from shorter, enjoyable strolls through local sights, Kalaw is becoming increasing popular for its longer distance treks.

A comfortable distance for trekking to the infamous Inle Lake which sits just 50 kilometres away, the terrain is not too rough, the countryside unrivalled and this 2-3 day trek requires an immersive stopover or two in a local village, most often in a home stay. There are several routes to choose from but all of them will see you passing through friendly villages to stop for delicious meals and refreshing tea, meandering through local agricultural fields where locals grow everything from cabbages to tea. Needless to say, the Inle Lake treks are by far the most popular amongst visitors to the region and offer a wonderful explorative adventure experience.

As well as these longer treks, there are an abundance of enjoyable one day hikes on offer. Promising to immerse you deep in the Burmese countryside where you can enjoy passing through tea plantations, fruit orchards and soak up nature’s wonders in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

The trekking options really are endless in this laid back, adventure filled town and can be enjoyed any time of the year, although cool seasons are often deemed more comfortable.

Food and Drink

The cuisine served up in Kalaw tends to be quite eclectic. With influences from India, Nepal and Britain mixing up the local Shan dishes, restaurants and food stalls are in abundance. Typical Shan noodles are popular here, and of course, Red Mountain wine brewed locally close to Inle Lake.

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