Myanmar’s best trails are still far more likely to be trekked by local villagers than foreign travelers. But that could soon change.
Shortly after the election of a reformist government in 2011, following decades of brutal military rule, travel restrictions in this Southeast Asia country were gradually eased. Places that were once almost impossible to get to can now be accessed, which means thousands of adventure-hungry travelers are putting Myanmar on their bucket lists.
The tourism boom isn’t surprising. Here, trekkers will find sky-piercing mountains, hills layered in jungle forest and trails that wind past villages few foreigners have ever experienced.
However, there are still plenty of logistical challenges to navigate when trekking in Myanmar. Depending on where you want to go, you may still have to apply for permits that can be tough to obtain. Also, travelers are technically not allowed to camp in Myanmar (although it’s unavoidable on some treks).
All these obstacles have helped to reduce the number of people wandering Myanmar’s hiking trails. But as the tourism industry develops, you can bet that even the most desolate treks will become busier over time. So if you’re planning on trekking through Myanmar, here are three areas you’ll want to check out while they’re still off the average traveler’s radar.
China, Pakistan and Nepal instantly come to mind when you mention trekking in the Himalayas. Few people think of Myanmar.
However, some of Southeast Asia’s most grueling treks can be found within an extension of this mountain range that cuts into Myanmar’s northern Kachin state. Among this cluster of snow-capped mountains, you’ll find Hkakabo Razi—the highest peak in Southeast Asia at almost 6,000 meters. The summit of this unforgiving mountain wasn’t climbed until 1997.
While most people probably don’t have the expertise to tackle Hkakabo Razi, they can take on a punishing two-week trek to the mountain’s base camp. Hikers will work their way through thick jungle brush while passing through nine different villages.
Other more moderate (but still challenging) Himalayan hikes include climbing Phone Yinn, a 10-day round-trip trek that offers amazing valley views, and Phon Gan Razi, located near the Arunachel Predesh of India.
If you plan on venturing into Myanmar’s Himalayan Mountains, travel to the mountain town of Putao first to arrange tours and stock up on supplies.
The Golden Triangle
A few decades ago, most of the world’s heroin was produced amid the tranquil hills of the Golden Triangle, which stretches across Laos, Thailand and Myanmar.
This area was once a deadly no-go zone; today, it’s a tourist attraction. There’s even an opium museum in the Thai town of Sop Ruak. But unlike its neighbors, Myanmar hasn’t yet developed its share of this infamous terrain for tourists. Getting to this region can be difficult and trekking is heavily regulated. You can’t do any overnight trips here.
But those who make the journey will get to explore lush jungles and emerald-colored valleys filled with villages. The region offers a rare glimpse at an area that was once one of the most dangerous places in Southeast Asia.
To hike around Myanmar’s Golden Triangle, first fly into the town of Kengtung. This community makes a great base for exploring the surrounding region.
Here you’ll find gentler, more cultural-focused trekking with many routes leading from village to village.
The town of Kalaw makes a good starting point for exploring the region; it’s already earning a reputation as one of Myanmar’s hiking hotspots. The community is surrounded by thick bamboo groves, pine forests and rolling hills. From Kalaw, you can hike east to Inle Lake, which is one of Myanmar’s most popular natural attractions.
For a longer trek, you can head deeper into the backcountry where you’ll find a number of villages, including the Palaung, Taungthu, and Danu communities. One somewhat more challenging route stretches from Ta Yat Pu village, just outside Kalaw, to the crumbling, rarely explored temples of Indein. You can stay at monasteries along the way.
There’s also a three-day trek from Kalaw to Pindaya, a town famous for limestone caves filled with Buddha statues. This route follows trails that twist through tiny villages.
Have you trekked through Myanmar? Tell us what route you took in the comments below.