A Travel Guide to Burma's Shan State

David Pettitt

Shan State is the largest administrative region in Myanmar-Burma and with its location in the east of the country borders the neighbouring nations of China, Thailand and Laos. Predominately rural, life in Shan State is slow paced – a largely sleepy, sedate region in direct contrast to the hustle and bustle of city life in Mandalay and Bagan. Despite this, Shan State’s beautiful bucolic scenery attracts visitors from around the world and here are our four must-see sights.

Kalaw

The historic hill station of Kalaw sits of the edge of the Shan Plateau and offers some of the finest walking in the country including, for the more intrepid, a two-day hike to Inle Lake. The countryside surrounding Kalaw is charming, dotted with tea plantations, orange groves and rural farmsteads whilst the town is also an excellent base to visit the region’s numerous minority villages that are home to Shan, Palaung, Burman and Nepali people.

Inle Lake

Famous for its stilt villages, floating gardens and local fisherman that row in a unique ‘one-legged’ style, Inle Lake is the mainstay of any visit to Shan State. Despite its popularity, sections of the lake still see few visitors and for those willing to travel that little bit further, a three hour boat journey to the southern reaches of the lake takes you to the traditional villages of Sagha, Thakong and Kyauktaing – the latter of which is famous for its pottery works.

Pindaya Caves

A short drive from the airport at Heho, the small country town of Pindaya is best known for its astonishing cave complex. Housing an extraordinary collection of Buddha images, it is estimated that the caves here hold close to 8,000 statues of varying shapes and sizes. If you are in Pindaya at the start of March, your stay will also coincide with the Pindaya Cave Festival which is attended by the different minority groups that live outside of the town.

Goitek Viaduct

For train enthusiasts, traversing the Goitek Viaduct is arguably the most exhilarating rail journey in South East Asia. Boarding in Pyin Oo Lwin, the train rumbles through northern Shan and midway to Hsipaw crosses the 870ft deep gorge at Goitek. Completed in 1901, the viaduct was the longest railway trestle in the world and to this day remains the highest bridge in Myanmar with the track bed towering over 100 metres above the gorge below.