Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Kengtung, Myanmar: Visiting the Hill Tribes

For my trip to Myanmar, I joined a 2-week tour through G Adventures, a tour group aimed at adventure-targeted travelers - they do tours worldwide with different levels of travel style/comfort.  I didn't realize this at the time, but the group I joined had already done a month together through SE Asia (dear God can you imagine a month-long tour) - there were 12 people as part of the group initially, and 6 of us joined additionally for the last leg in Myanmar.

Just as an intro, Myanmar is amazingly, breathtakingly gorgeous.  Everywhere you look is lush green rice fields surrounded by mountains and rivers.  Given its history and the fact that it was under military rule until 2011 (WHAT), it's been the slowest to develop and grow in Southeast Asia - therefore, therefore so much landscape is totally undeveloped and so, so UNREAL looking. Seriously, it's like being in a dream.

Myanmar is SO. PRETTY.

Rice paddies as far as the eye can see

Ok, last rice paddy photo I promise

What It's All About:
Kengtung is a city near the Thailand/Laos/China border in the Eastern part of Myanmar - the city is surrounded by various ethnic groups/tribes, who all have their own traditions, lifestyle, language, way of dress, religions, etc.  (and are completely fascinating).  The actual city of Kengtung itself is fairly small, with a handful of hotels and a choice of only 2 restaurants at night.  To trek to the villages, you need a local guide.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • After initially meeting in Chiang Mai, we took a 4-hour bus up North to cross into Myanmar by land.  These land border crossings, man.  Our crossing point was between the Thai city of Tachileik and the Burmese city of Mae Sai. The crossing itself wasn't too bad - our bus dropped us off in front; we had to walk through and get our exit stamps from the Thai side, then walk through a no man's land (which had the strangest shops I've ever seen, by the way - imagine a giant cavernous room housing liquor, wines, fake handbags, and fake name branded-items). 
Approaching the Thailand/Myanmar border crossing
Welcome to Myanmar!
  • After crossing the border and another 4 hour bus ride later, we arrived at the city of Kengtung, Myanmar! 
Welcome to Kengtung! (Always spelled differently given how many different backgrounds and languages are involved)
  • The next day, our group went to the local Kengtung market
The bustling Kengtung market
Lady with chickens at the market
  • Then we set off by bus to visit a couple of hill tribes. We ended up visiting 3 separate villages, all with their own ethnic tribes, customs, and languages. The operative word in hill tribe is the word "hill" - the hike up to the villages and between them was no joke. The scenery, however, was breathtaking. Photos don't do any of this justice.  I could have literally turned and taken a photo every 2 seconds.
This is a lady from the Akha tribe.  They traditionally wear these silver headpieces as a symbol of beauty. As the women earned money, they would add on to their headpieces. The headpieces were HEAVY - some of them can cost up to $1K (dollars).  

We got to sit in one of the homes and the tribe served us huge platters of rice and porridge and pork
And then we got to try on the headpieces and pretend to be fancy
Rice paddy selfie in between villages

Another Akha tribe - this tribe all had black teeth because they wanted to be different from other tribes, so they would rub their teeth on bark that would turn their teeth black

Small Akha children. There were tiny tiny children carrying their even tinier siblings on their backs
The views were breathtaking no matter where you looked

The Ann tribe kids - the CUTEST
Will (from my tour) compared to the tiny Ann tribe children.  This village really valued shampoo; we bought tiny packets of shampoo beforehand and handed it out to the women here. And they were thrilled
So. green.
The Palaung tribe - the women in this tribe wear heavy metal rings around their waist to prevent them from floating up to heaven before it's time
WATER BUFFALOES. I don't even know why, but I was obsessed with them
And here's another one rolling in a mud pit. ADORBS

Naung Tung Lake

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • Myanmar's time zone is a half-hour behind Thailand.  I DIDN'T KNOW THIS WAS POSSIBLE.  So if it's 9:00 in Thailand, it's 8:30 in Myanmar.  I am currently 10.5 hours ahead of NYC.  Did anyone else know this kind of wonky time was possible!?
  • Mosquitoes. Everywhere. I am being eaten alive.
  • Despite the fact that we visited all the hill tribes by foot (aka they live fairly close to one another), none of them spoke the same language or could understand each other (which blows my mind).  This is because they just all came from different backgrounds way back in the day (China, Nepal, etc.).  
  • Myanmar was formerly called Burma - it was renamed in 1989.  However, many countries don't recognize or support the current military regime so they still call it Burma - this includes the UK and Canada (and part of the US).
Sunset over Kengtung

Convo of the Day:
Upon entering the tiny stuffy immigration room, our local Burmese tour guide was waiting for us. As we entered, he looked straight at me, pointed at me, and said aloud to the room with a huge smile, “You.  You’re different than everyone else.”  

I'm kind of used to it, therefore unfazed - but everyone else in the room was kind of shocked/taken aback. He asked where I was from and I told him, “America but my parents are from Taiwan.”

“Ah,” he goes, “you’re Chinese!  I knew this because you don’t have eyelids. See my eyelids? Many Chinese do not have this.”  

The people in my tour were incredibly amused by the entire exchange.  I, however, am slightly concerned - apparently my lack of eyelids is very prominent??


  1. Ah, so gorgeous! What is that Akha woman weaving? It looks beautiful! Also, I'm impressed that the tour guide knew Taiwan=Chinese! :D Love reading your adventures!
    -Shiopei (in case my blogger profile doesn't say)

    1. Ahhh hi lady! Yes, the Akha tribe is very good at weaving - they were selling all these scarfs and bags and such!

      So glad you are following along! Your kids are adorable, btw! <3