Off-the-Radar Trekking in Myanmar

TrekWorld_Trekking in Myanmar_Patrik M Loeff
A stupa rises from the Myanmar jungle | Photo: Patrik M. Loeff CC

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.

TrekWorld_Trekking in Myanmar_Peter Voerman
Mountains near Kalaw | Photo: Peter Voerman CC

Himalaya Mountains

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.

TrekWorld_Trekking in Myanmar_Jay Joslin
Golden Buddha at the Golden Triangle | Photo: Jay Joslin CC

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.

TrekWorld_Trekking in Myanmar_Indein_Sean Ryan
Ruins of Indein | Photo: Sean Ryan CC

Shan Plateau

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.

TrekWorld_Trekking in Myanmar_Pindaya Buddha Cave_Sean Ryan
Buddhas in a cave at Pindaya | Photo: Sean Ryan CC

 

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Dustin Walker is a journalist and freelance copywriter who loves hunting for those rare, less-traveled routes through the wilderness. Check out his blog Slick and Twisted Trails to discover other unique treks and feature articles. You can also follow him on Twitter.

20 COMMENTS

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  3. Amazing! Especially Indein. I think veteran travelers should head there before the throngs of tourists start flowing in and the place becomes crowded and prices go up.

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  5. I’m really keen on visiting Myanmar for the first time this year; I’ve always been the victim of something that has thwarted my plans such as last minute Visa policy changes.

  6. Mynmar seems to have caught the attention of the travelers. There are proposals to open a road route from North Eastern India to the North Mynmar, then one would be able to do it from India side. I wonder what impact it will have on the number of tourists and on environment.

  7. Another thing that I’ve been wondering about with regard to trekking in Myanmar is whether the “smoke season” is a big issue at the destinations mentioned in this article. As some of you are probably aware, hazy conditions are usually a problem in northern Thailand from late Feb to early May, and the haze often reaches levels that are unhealthy for most outdoor activities, trekking included. Does anyone know if the same problems affect Kengtung or the Shan Plateau? I assume they might, but don’t know for sure.

  8. Interesting article! A lot of people think that since Myanmar has only relatively recently opened up to tourists that the whole country is ‘off the beaten path’ so to speak, so it is definitely nice to read of specific places that are yet to be overcome with tourists!

    I checked out the myanmarburma.com site and I came across an article on more specific places to visit before tourism takes hold.
    http://www.myanmarburma.com/en/pages/blog/307/10-mustvisit-destinations-youve-never-heard-of?cid=26

    It’s gems like these that travelers are so grateful to be made aware of!

  9. This blog posting which mentions the places in your article and some others as well. It focuses on the Southern end of the Himalayas, as they don’t get nearly as much traffic as the northern end. Hkakabo Razi sounds fascinating, even if you don’t plan on climbing it due to the sheer amount of trekking involved to get to the base.

    http://www.myanmarburma.com/en/pages/blog/458/4-epic-treks-through-myanmars-Himalayas. The myanmarbura.com website has a lot of information that can make traveling there easier since tourism there has really just begun.

    The link to the main page of the site is listed above.

  10. @Will You’re right. You do need a guide (to accompany you pretty much the whole time, right from Tachilek). You can also get to Kengtung from inside the country, but you have to fly in (can’t go overland).

  11. Great site, great article, and thanks for the inbound link.

    I’ve been wanting to go trekking around Kengtung for years. Last I checked, it’s fairly easy to get to from Thailand – you can cross the border at Tachilek without a visa and hop a 5-hour bus up to Kengtung from there (though you may need to hire an official government “guide”).

    Keep on trekkin’

    Will
    TigerMine Research

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