Trekking and homestays in Myanmar’s Shan State

FOR a taste of rural Myanmar and the opportunity to enjoy homestays in villages along the way, head to Shan State in the country’s northeast. With rolling hills, few roads and welcoming locals, it’s an experience not to be forgotten.

“It might be a little bit freezing,” our guide Thura announced as we headed off at 5am from Kyaukme for our three-day trek. “I have gloves for you,” he added handing me a pair as I’d been designated the second motorbike driver to double one of the other travellers in our group, an amazing experience in itself in a nation where foreigners aren’t always allowed such privileges.

We soon realized “little bit freezing” was about right, as we headed into the hills beyond. Still it was a beautiful start to the day, as the hills emerged from their cloak of darkness and appeared rich with colour in the early morning light.

A ‘little bit freezing’, but very lush. Pic: Joanne Lane.

Two hours of bumpy roads later and we arrived in the first of a series of villages we were to visit over the successive days. The houses were wooden and high set with the living areas up steep stairs. Inside wide areas opened up with a fireplace and floors for sleeping. We were ushered into one of these by the welcoming fire as tea was produced.

Outside horses clumped past in groups, locals wandered up to the local monastery to make their morning prayers and offerings, chickens pecked and scratched, and the village hummed with early morning life.

Pic: Joanne Lane.

Food was soon served – rice, vegetables, meat and tea, always tea, until we were well satisfied. It was delicious.

When the motorbikes were safely stowed away underneath the house we set out on foot, moments later encountering women weaving their distinctive and colourful skirts. A stop ensued as we admired their handiwork. We set off again and found men making baskets and stopped again.

Pic: Joanne Lane.

Pic: Joanne Lane.

It set the scene for the rest of the journey through Shan villages with plenty of opportunity to interact with people farming, feeding children or making local products. At times we wandered connecting fields, tea plantations (a big industry here), paths or hills with a lot of up and down thanks to the hilly plateau upon which the state is based.

Lunch was basically whenever we were hungry or needed a rest. Thura would simply ask at a dwelling we encountered and make arrangements for us. The hospitality of these people was undeniable and sometimes it was hard for him to make payment for the food we had consumed. At night he would do the same, asking in homes if we could stay the night and have dinner and breakfast.

Most of the villages we stayed in were Pa-O or Shan but we also encountered Nepali and Ahka people. There are nine primary ethnic groups in the state and many are believed to have come from China originally.

Everywhere we went people greeted us, they showed us their monasteries, they invited us into their homes, their children played with us, and they waved or smiled as we passed. Most people were farmers and had crops nearby, mostly tea.  We passed herds of buffalo, cattle and goats as well from time to time.

Pic: Joanne Lane.

Life in the villages was clean, organised and interactive with systems in place for water storage, washing, toileting and sleeping. It was comfortable, pleasant and above all a fantastic inside look into local Shan culture and the chance to be part of it, even for a few days.

All images by Joanne Lane,