Eastern Myanmar is a region in Myanmar comprising Shan and Kayah states.
Shan State covers a quarter of Myanmar. The Tai (Shan) people constitute the majority among several ethnic groups that inhabit the area. Shan is largely rural, and is home to several armed ethnic armies. Vast areas of the state, especially those east of the Salween River, remain outside the central government's control. In some areas, the local ethnic army has signed peace agreements with the central government, and some of those areas are now open to tourists, though a guide may be required. Kayah State is a mountainous area inhabited primarily by the Karenni ethnic group, also known as Red Karen or Kayah, a Sino-Tibetan people.
As in many other states in Myanmar that have ethnic minority populations, there are alleged human rights abuses by the Myanmar military junta and the armed forces.
- 1 Heho - gateway to Inle Lake
- 2 Hsipaw - town on the old Burma Road from Mandalay to Lashio
- 3 Kengtung (Cheingtung, Chiang Tung, Kengtong, Kyaingtong)
- 4 Kyaukme
- 5 Loikaw - the capital of Kayah State
- Mong La - casino boomtown gone bust
- Mu-se - border crossing to Ruili in Yunnan, China
- 6 Tachileik - border crossing to Mae Sai in Chiang Rai, Thailand
- 7 Taunggyi - the capital of Shan State
The Shan people in Myanmar are the same as the Dai people in China's Yunnan Province. The Shan people are one of the largest minority groups in Myanmar. They have been fighting an on-and-off war with the central Burmese government for several decades. The central Burmese government has signed peace agreements with some factional groups, such as the Wa State, which allows these groups to have a high degree of autonomy, including maintaining separate armed forces. The political situation, however, remains relatively unstable. Many military checkpoints exist on few major roads that cross the mountainous Shan State. Each checkpoint marks the border between a territory (usually a Special District or a city) controlled by a different army. In July 2005, the central government official responsible for negotiating these peace agreements was imprisoned for corruption, possibly signalling a renewed attempt by the central government to crack down on the rebel Shan armies.
The southern portion of this region is Kayah state. The Karenni people are the majority within this province similarly to Kayin state to its south and west. Refugees from this area also inhabit Mae Hong Son province in Thailand. Similarly to Shan state and other Burmese frontier states, various Karenni groups, seeking independence for their homeland, have been in conflict with the central Burmese government. Since 2012, there has been ceasefire agreements between armed Karenni groups in the region and the central government.
The Mekong River marks the border between the Shan State and Laos. This border region is generally known as the Golden Triangle, though the actual Golden Triangle point is where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet on the Mekong River. The Golden Triangle region used to be one of the largest opium producing areas in the world. Opium production today is minimal.
This area is linguistically very rich, with many languages spoken by the various ethnic groups. The Shan language is a Kra-Dai language related to Thai, though not mutually intelligible. Burmese serves as the lingua franca within the government-controlled areas, though it may not be spoken at all in some separatist-controlled regions.
In the Wa State, Mandarin is widely spoken as a second language, in addition to the native Wa language, and hardly anyone speaks Burmese.
Loikaw Airport (LIW IATA) - Loikaw airport is the only commercial airport in Kayah state and connects the state with Yangon. Myanmar National Airlines and Air KBZ operate a daily flight to this airport from Yangon.
Buses link cities in this region to each other and to the major Burmese centres of Yangon and Mandalay.
The major cities in this region are connected by local trains off the Yangon-Mandalay mainline. The connection with the mainline to this region is at Thazi. Trains are, in general, slower than road travel in this region due to the age of the tracks.
Car is the easiest way to travel in this region. Roads other than the highways in the rural parts of this region can be quite poor with many existing as unpaved dirt roads. During the monsoon season, these dirt roads wash out and become very difficult to drive. A 4x4 vehicle is recommended for the remote and rural roads in this area. Motorbiking is also possible, but ensure adequate knowledge of conditions. There are military checkpoints along the highways and in remote regions, you may encounter checkpoints by ethnic organizations controlling those areas. The maps of this area are incomplete and mostly outline major highways.
Tourists who wish to visit the Pa-O Self Administered Zone of Shan State are required to be accompanied by a local Pa-O guide, who can be hired in Taunggyi. Your hotel or tour company can usually arrange this for you.
Train travel between the major cities (e.g. Taungyyi, Loikaw) is possible on the local train line, albeit slow. However, smaller towns and furthest reaches of this region will not be connected by the sparse rail network in this region.
The daily market in the regional administrative city of Kengtung is a sprawling complex with a wide variety of goods, including tourist souvenirs, although they do not get many tourists. Instead the market is full of local residents and hill tribe people dressed in their colourful traditional clothing, and Buddhist monks and nuns with their begging bowls. A visit can easily consume half a day of people watching, shopping and bargaining. This market is much more interesting than the border market in Tachileik, where hawkers harass tourists to buy soft porn and cigarettes.
A subgroup of the local Kayan people, the Padaung, are famous for the neck coils worn by some women. These so-called "giraffe women" have become a popular, if arguably exploitative, tourist attraction in the Shan State, bringing in much-needed revenue.
Try the traditional foods of this area which include:
- Shan noodles - noodles in a sauce formed with a variety of different spices, chilies, and peanuts
- Hin Htote - rice flour and meat steamed in a banana leaf
- Kayah sausage - a pork sausage
Common dishes in this region also include Burmese staples like Mohinga (fish soup), Burmese curries, and a variety of stir fries influenced by Chinese cuisine.
Local liquors in the region are of the moonshine variety made from fermented palm sugar or grains. You may be able to see people selling their homemade liquor in what appears to be gasoline containers in smaller towns. If you're adventurous, ask for a taste before buying. Otherwise, Burmese beer (e.g. Myanmar, Dagon) is the drink of choice.
The area is generally safe for foreigners, but traveling to remote areas in this region without a local guide may bring up the attention of a variety of groups. Exploring off the beaten path without a guide is not recommended as areas can be heavily mined with landmines due to the conflict between the area's minority groups and the central Burmese government.
Roads in this area can be poor and mostly are not lit, so caution is recommended if walking or traveling by motor vehicle.
Malaria prophylaxis in this region is highly recommended. The Thai-Burmese border is endemic for drug-resistant malaria. Make sure your malaria prophylaxis is suitable to protect against this.