Loikaw is the capital of the Kayah state (population 140,670 as of 2013) in Eastern Myanmar close to the Thai border.
Formerly an administrative outpost of British Burma, Loikaw continues today as the administrative capital of the region with government and NGO offices, a hospital, and a nearby military base. The region is known for its many ethnic groups with the most famous being the Karenni people, especially the Kayan Lahwi/Padaung (women) with their golden brass neck coils that seem to stretch their neck (but actually cause a lower shoulder). You will see locals wearing traditional ethnic clothing, usually at the markets.
The geography around Loikaw consists of plains dotted by lakes surrounded by a multitude of densely forested hills. Agriculture and resource extraction are the main industries of the area. There is a large hydroelectric dam at Lawpita providing around 30% of the national electricity output.
Historically, this region was affected by decades of conflict. Various Karenni and Shan groups were in armed conflict with the central government and with each other until the 2012 ceasefire agreements in the state. Refugees from this conflict are present in Thailand and around the world. The largest Karenni organization in the area is the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP). You may be able to see offices and flags of these groups when you travel in the region.
Starting in the early 2010s, the area opened up and begun development for tourism. Travel to remote regions off the beaten track may still require permits. A guide is recommended to help with navigation and safety. The state is heavily mined due to the prior conflict.
- 1 Loikaw Bus Station (north of airport on the NH5). Bus station for minivans to regional towns and long distance buses linking to larger cities. From Kalaw: Costs around 5,000 kyat (October 2015) and approximately 7 hours travel time. Departing Kalaw at 04:30 in front of Morning Star eatery just behind Aung Chan Tha Zedi. First stop is just outside Aungpan, from where it departs again at 06:00. Recommended to take the front seats for the view but have a blanket and warm clothes as the driver may leave the door open and the mornings are cold. On the way the driver might ask if you're hungry and stop at a rice restaurant with view over south lake, but best to take a picnic as this is not guaranteed. From Taunggyi: Costs around 3500 kyat (November 2018) and takes approximately 5 hours. Departing from Bus Station ti Hsiseng at 07:30. Beautiful journey through small villages.
- 2 Loikaw Train Station. Small train station with service connecting to the greater rail network at Aungban. From Mandalay/Thazi/Kalaw: Thazi is on the main railway from Yangon to Mandalay. From Thazi you can take a train up the mountains; go to Aungban. In Aungban there is a junction for the branch railway line to Loikaw which was constructed in 1992. The trip is slow, but the landscape very scenic, and tickets are cheap. Tickets can be bought only at the stations, usually a few hours before departure.
- 3 Loikaw Airport (LIW IATA) (5 min north by car from city centre). Loikaw has a single gate airport connecting the city with Yangon. Myanmar National Airlines operates a daily flight to this airport from Yangon and Air KBZ has a flight Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Planes arrive and leave the airport the same day. Arrange a taxi for pickup from your accommodations or see if there's a taxi waiting at the terminal entrance.
Most of the town can be covered on foot. Surrounding temples and villages are easy by bicycle if you are comfortable with traffic on busy roads. Alternatively, a tuktuk or taxi can be hired. Local buses travel the main road. Ticket prices are based on distance.
To reach sights further away from Loikaw, a hired private car is recommended due to the remoteness of some of the sights and the lack of public transport options. Reaching areas off the highways may necessitate a 4x4 vehicle due to dirt roads. The monsoon season will also impair any travel to these areas due to its effect on dirt roads.
Within the city
- 1 Taung Kwe Pagoda. Impressively built on a big rock with many smaller pagodas sticking out. Requires climbing several flights of stairs around the rock to reach the top. At night the temple is lit like a fairground with twinkling lights. Also a good place to weather watch or star gaze on darker platforms. Alternatively, go during dusk or dawn to watch the sunset or sunrise. Free but camera fee of 300/500 kyat (photo) or 1,000 kyat (video).
- 2 Naung Yar Lake. Tranquil lake in the middle of the city with a wooden bridge crossing it. Popular with local young adults as a hangout spot. Have a picnic here if the mood strikes you. Free.
- 3 Kayah State Cultural Museum. M-Sa 9AM-4PM. Over 400 artifacts and objects representing the various cultures and ethnic groups of Kayah State are displayed here.
- 4 Ngwe Taung Dam. A dam by the town of Demoso, which forms a mirror like lake. A picturesque spot to take pictures with the background fields and hills. The dam regulates the irrigation of surrounding fields
- 5 Umbrella Pond (Htee Pwint Lake) (30 minutes south of Loikaw). Small pond by Demoso with mud that occasionally rise up in several places forming a mound that looks like an umbrella - likely from gas formation within the pond. Said to be lucky if you see one of these umbrellas bubbling up. Free.
- 6 Htee Sel Khar Waterfalls (1 hour north of Loikaw). Staircase type waterfalls with a pontoon bridge crossing the water straddling Kayah and Shan states. A popular place for a dip with many people from the surrounding area visiting. Free.
- 7 Seven Lakes (Seven Stages Lake) (1 hour south of Loikaw). A series of lakes where it was said was formed by 7 mythological creatures who landed in the area. With a backdrop of surrounding hills, it's a scenic location. Free.
- 8 Kyet Cave (Ya Sa Ku) (1 hour east of Loikaw). A limestone cave with mysterious ancient wooden coffins inside ranging in sizes. Some coffins are located in hard to reach nooks within the cave. It was said that ancestors of the local population were interred in these coffins inside the cave. There are no visible skeletons or bones. There is a small monastery outside the cave. Within the cave is pitch black without lights (2017), so carry a flashlight or other light source. Free.
- Kayan people villages (south of Loikaw and around Demoso, west of the Salween river in the mountains between 1000 and 1500 m). Ask around which villages are good for visiting or organise a local transport/tour to go around (5,000-10,000 kyat). You will have to decide about the ethics of this form of tourism. Try to find a tour that benefits the local community.
- Sunboon village (leaving town south along highway 5; at the first traffic toll gate take the left track). 50 m down, women can be seen sitting weaving with goods for sale. 500 m further on, there are a few wooden houses with Kayan. Older people don't understand Burmese, so an interpreter is suggested if you really want to interact.
- Take a walk around the local market in the morning and spot different tribes selling their goods.
- Cross the old wooden footbridge without tripping.
- Walk around Naung Yar Lake to watch the sunset in the evening.
- Rent a bicycle or motorbike at Loikaw Souvenirs (No(1), Kandayawadi Street across the street of Mingalar Hotel. ☏ ). Victoria, the owner of the shop is very kind and would be very happy to help you. She also organizes tours to go around Loikaw and villages.
Many local foods and products at the market. Traditional woven Karenni clothing are made within this region as a handicraft to buy from various shops in town. Woven bamboo baskets are another local handicraft.
- 1 Naung Yar Market. Local roadside market selling a variety of foods and goods. People travel from the surrounding region to buy and sell here. Go in the morning.
- 2 Thiri Mingalar Market (Where the NH5 highway crosses south of the bridge). Large outdoor market with covered stalls. Many different items sold here including a range of grocery stalls, eateries, souvenir and general goods shops. Pharmacy and electronic stalls are also present.
- 3 Demoso Market (2 min drive south of Ngwe Taung Dam). Large outdoor local market in Demoso. People come here from the surrounding region to buy and sell. Large selection of foods and goods. If you're up for it, try the moonshine from the people selling liquid from what appear to be gas cans. You will see people offering you a liquid in small cups to taste before buying.
Since it's Myanmar and a small town don't expect much open after 21:30 or before 08:00.
- 1 Mingalar Hin Htote. Daily 07:00-16:00. Popular restaurant known for its Hin Htote (rice flour and meat steamed in a banana leaf), a specialty of the region. Eat it with chili sauce. Busy with both people eating in and buying hin htote for takeout. ~500 kyat.
- 2 Shan Noodle Shop (3 minute walk south of the clock tower across the police station). Shop selling Shan noodles, which are rice noodles topped with a mix of spices, peanuts, and chilis. Busy during the breakfast-lunch hours.
- 3 Shwe Ya Ti (3 minute walk west of the clock tower by the Daw Na Street bridge). Restaurant with a patio overlooking the Balu Chaung River. Serves traditional Burmese foods such as Burmese curries. Food available pre-made and made to order.
Cheap noodles 500 kyat at a small shop just north from the wooden bridge on Highway 5.
Usual tea houses with fried food freshest early in the morning. Small market with food stalls north of Shwe Thaung Monastery. Dumpling stuffed with tofu and spring onions, 1,200 kyat good for two.
There are numerous tea shops selling fried dough snacks. Local Burmese beer such as Dagon is a popular drink of choice. People will also consume homemade moonshine made from a variety of grains, which you can try if you are adventurous.
- 1 Kayan Golden Sky Motel, 29, Khattar St, Mingalar Ward (south side of the river, 300 m before Taung Kwe Pagoda), ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Motel with 12 non-smoking rooms (double, twin & family), all featuring AC, TV with satellite channels, private bathroom. Family run business. Breakfast included served from 06:30 to 09:00 on the rooftop. Free wifi accessible from all areas. Free parking. Free bicycle to borrow. Motorbikes can be rented. Guide & transportation can be organized from here. Payment by cash or Visa/Mastercard. US$30 for double & twin, $45 for family room.
- 2 Hotel Loikaw, 9 Street, Naung Yar A Quarter (End of street by Htee Ngar Yar Lake), ☏ . Large hotel about 15 min north of the city centre beside a lake and one of the oldest hotels in Loikaw. There are rooms in a tower constructed in 2018/2019 as well as rooms in much older wooden bungalows constructed of what appears to be teak. Private bathrooms. Restaurant on-site. The hotel appears to be a popular venue in hosting large groups with large conference space. Front desk staff speak English and can arrange private cars and tours. Bicycles also available. Starting at 40,000 kyat; dependent on the season.
- 3 Moon Joy Inn, 4 U Thiri Road Dal U Khu Quarter (from the clock tower in the north of town on Highway 5, turn west and travel past the lake; take the 4th left turn (also the second road over the river), the Inn is on the left side set back from the road, before the bridge), ☏ . Basic and not recommended if you are a light sleeper. Single and double rooms available with shared facilities, popular with locals so advanced booking is suggested. Speak English slowly and clearly. 8000 kyat.
- 4 Thingaha Inn, No.72 Nawarat St Daw Noe Ku Quarter (from the clock tower on Highway 5 head south; take the last left turn before the steel bridge over the river; the Inn is about 350 m along on the right side; the sign is in Myanmar Burmese but can be recognised by a large space for car park in front), ☏ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Basic breakfast included. Wifi and shared bathrooms, sometimes hot water. Helpful landlady. Bicycle hire is available but bikes in poor condition. US$15 single, $25 double, $60 en suite room.
- 5 Nan Ayar Inn, No.112A, Nat Shin Naung Street, Daw Oo Khu Quarter, ☏ . Basic accommodation with two different types of rooms. Basic breakfast included. 15,000 kyat double with shared bathroom and 25,000 kyat double with private bathroom.
To Yangon goes via Kalaw to Aung Mingalar station in Yangon. Cost 12,800 kyat (October 2015) departs 12:00 and 15:00. The route can be popular so best book in advance. The 15:00 bus arrived at 07:00 in Yangon to Nyuengshwe leaves very early in the morning.
To Kalaw and Shwenyaung (Inle Lake) you can take a train on the branch line. You can continue down the hills to Thazi, which is on the main railway line between Yangon and Mandalay.
The ferry to Nyuengshwe departs from Pekon around 09:00