Ecotourism (Nature Tourism) in Myanmar

Trekking in Shan State (Kalaw, Inle Lake, Pindaya, Kyaing Tong, and Hsipaw)

(text compiled by Paul Bates, Harrison Institute)

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Trekking from Kalaw and Inle Lake, Shan State

Kalaw is the most popular centre for trekking in Shan State. The town itself is a picturesque hill station, which is characterised by its blend of local and old colonial architecture and it is relaxed atmosphere with many gardens and trees. It is situated on the western edge of the Shan Plateau at an altitude of 1,310 metres and the air temperature remains cool throughout the year, although the sun is hot during the day.

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Treks from Kalaw are of various lengths and durations. Some pass through Ye Ayekan Reserve Forest (further information) to the View Point. Here, whilst sipping a drink and taking a snack at the Nepalese-run tea-shop, the visitor can enjoy the spectacular panorama of hills fading into the distance, with many of the slopes cultivated with citrus fruit and/or green tea bushes.

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Other treks are longer. These include the route to the beautiful Inle Lake. On these treks, visitors have the chance to pass through many local villages. Here they will meet individuals belonging to a variety of fascinating local ethnic groups, including the Danu, Pa O, Palaung and the less well known Taung Yoe and Inthar. All are characterised by their distinctive clothes. Often the women wear colourful turbans and on some occasions beautiful jewellery, including necklaces, earrings, bracelets and ankle bracelets, with each tribe having different customs and a different appearance. Although not originally from the area, it is also possible to see in some of the villages around the Inle Lake, the fascinating Padaung women, who are also known as the ‘long–necked Karens’ because of their custom of encasing their necks in brass coils.

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The villages are home to various activites such as making pottery, forging knives and other iron implements in blacksmiths, weaving textiles, and making cheroots in the traditional manner. It is also possible to visit some of the many monasteries. In the countryside, trekkers will pass by fields of potatoes, garlic, ginger, rice, wheat, beans, chilli and sesame and orchards of citrus fruits, avocado, mango and papaya. Once in Nyaungshwe (the main access point for Inle Lake), visitors have the chance to take a variety of boat trips on the lake, with further cultural opportunities and also bird watching (further information).

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Trekking tours from Kalaw and Inle Lake

Most visitors pre-book their trekking tours prior to visiting Kalaw and Inle Lake. However, there are numerous trekking companies based in Nyaungshwe (the main access point for Inle Lake) and Kalaw, so it is also very possible to put together a trek at short notice whilst staying in the area. This latter choice is especially relevant to back packers or those with more time to travel. Both Nyaungshwe and Kalaw have numerous hotels and guest houses and a wide variety of restaurants catering for different tastes and budgets.

 
Myanmar Eco Travels and Tours Company Ltd Tour 1
Shan Yoma Travel and Tours Co. Ltd Tour 1
Let’s Go Myanmar Tour 1, Tour 2
Mountain Kingdoms Tour 1
Columbus Travel and Tour Tour 1
Bravo Travels and Tours Co Ltd Tour 1, Tour 2
Myanmar Typical Exploration Tours Tour 1, Tour 2
Tours in Myanmar Tour 1
Nandar Kan Travel Tour 1
Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1
Lotus Bonita Tour 1
Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1
Myanmar Mother Land Travels and Tours Tour 1
Thagyan Moe Travels and Tours Co. Ltd Tour 1
Ideal Travel Land Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3
AMB Travels and Tours Tour 1
Yangon Tours Tour 1, Tour 2
Myanmar Signature Travels and Tours Tour 1, Tour 2

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Trekking tours to Pindaya, Shan State 

Pindaya is most famous for the remarkable Pindaya Cave, which is home to some 8,000 images of Buddha. Pindaya, Kalaw and Inle Lake form a trekking trio, which can be visited together or separately. All are accessible from Heho Airport.

As with Kalaw and Inle, Pindaya has its own distinctive hill tribes, which include the Danu and the Ann (Enn or Enh). Currently, these ethnic groups are less well known and the area less visited than those living near to Inle Lake (further information). Traditional, herbal medicine is a local speciality.

Pindaya is well known for its tea plantations. In addition, trekkers can ascend Mount Yasakyi, which at 2,150 metres provides panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

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Trekking tours from Pindaya (map opposite is care of Ideal Travel Land)

Let’s Go Myanmar Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3, Tour 4
Bravo Travels and Tours Co Ltd Tour 1
Tours in Myanmar Tour 1
Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1
Myanmar Typical Exploration Tours Co Ltd Tour 1
Nandar Kan Travel Tour 1
Lotus Bonita Tour 1
Asia Central Link Tour 1
Ideal Travel Land Tour 1
AMB Travels and Tours Tour 1
Expeditions Myanmar Tour 1
Myanmar Signature Travels and Tours Tour 1
 
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Trekking tours from Kyaing Tong (Keng Tung), Shan State

Kyaing Tong (Keng Tung) is situated in eastern Shan State and is popular with trekkers. The picturesque and friendly town is built around the Royal Lake and is the meeting point for various tribes’ people who come to the town from throughout the area. Highlights include the central market, where the colourful local people sell fruit, vegetables, clothing and a range of handicrafts. Elsewhere, the water buffalo market is also a great place to see and photograph local life.

There are several local ethnic groups who have a variety of faiths including Buddhism, Christianity and animism. Each group has many fascinating characteristics including the Ann with their distinctive black teeth; the Akha with their striking silver head dresses; the Wa, formerly famous for their head-hunting; and the Black and Red Lahu – two tribes who are closely related but distinct.

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For those who are interested in the subject, it is highly recommended that they consult specialist publications, such as Richard Diran’s beautifully illustrated book ‘The Vanishing Tribes of Burma’, prior to visiting. Other publications include ‘National Ethnic Groups of Myanmar’ by U Min Naing, although copies if this are more difficult to find.

Most treks will involve a combination of visiting local tribes and walking through the attractive limestone scenery with its hills, valleys and farmland, where rice, maize, sugar cane and tobacco is grown - the area used to be renowned for its opium production. On some tours, visitors will stay in monasteries or village houses and thereby experience in greater depth the local life of Shan State. Trekkers may also get to revive their strength with a glass or two of locally produced ‘whisky’ distilled from rice.

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Trekking tours from Kyaing Tong

SST Travel Tour 1
Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3
Columbus Travel and Tour Tour 1
Bravo Travels and Tours Co Ltd Tour 1
Myanmar Typical Exploration Tours Tour 1
Nandar Kan Travel Tour 1
Ideal Travel Land Ideal Travel Land Tour 1
AMB Travels and Tours Tour 1
Yangon Tours Tour 1
Myanmar City Star Travel and Tours Tour 1
Expeditions Myanmar Tour 1
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Trekking from Hsipaw (Hsibaw), Shan State

Hsipaw (Hsibaw, Thispaw) is an increasingly popular option for trekking in Shan State. Situated on the scenic and epic railway line to Lashio, it is currently less crowded and less well known than Kalaw and Inle Lake and gives a wonderful opportunity to observe Shan life in a relaxed and peaceful environment (further information). It is located next to a small, clean river, the Daut Hta Waddy, which flows through the valley and passes beside the town. This is popular for paddling or even swimming. Treks in the local area pass through rice paddies and vegetable plantations and there are natural hot spring and the Namtok waterfall. Local ethnic groups include the Tai (Shan) people and the Palaung. For numerous reviews and photographs, it is useful to visit Tripadvisor.

Trekking tours from Hsipaw (Hsibaw)

Myanmar Typical Exploration Tours Tour 1
Indochina Holidays Travel Tour 1
Nandar Kan Travel Tour 1
Myanmar City Star Travel and Tours Tour 1
Expeditions Myanmar Tour 1
Myanmar Signature Travels and Tours Tour 1