Kayah State, Myanmars smallest yet perhaps most diverse state, is situated in the east of the country just south of Shan state and bordering Thailand. It is a truly off-the-beaten track destination with beautiful pristine landscapes and a huge variety of ethnic minorities inhabiting its hills and valleys. The region has faced decades of political turbulence and was long closed to foreign travelers but this has all begun to change recently and now the area is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of Myanmar’s most authentic and rewarding destinations.
The sleepy yet charming state capital of Loikaw is the main gateway to the region and from here many fantastic day treks can be made into the surrounding countryside. For now, only a limited number of areas and villages are accessible to foreigners and no overnight stays are allowed outside of Loikaw. However, we are optimistic that the region will begin to open up sooner rather than later as tourism interest in Myanmar and Kayah state grows.
As travel pioneers, Discovery Treks has partnered up with a local Community Based Tourism (CBT) initiative to take guests on trekking trips into the picturesque countryside and visit minority villages where you’ll have ample opportunity to learn about local cottage industries and crafts making. Check out our Kayah State Trekking tours to find out more.
Loikaw is the capital of Kayah State in Myanmar. It is located in the Karen Hills area, near the State’s northern tip, just above on the Pilu River.
The Kayah (Karenni) ethnic group forms the majority of the towns inhabitants, and the territory was named for the bright crimson head wraps and shawls of the Kayinni, or “Red Kayin” people. The town bursts with color as many ethnic minority groups proudly wear their traditional dress.
Another ethnic group, the Padaung people, are known for the circles of thinly pounded brass necklaces used to elongate the necks of the women, though the practice has become less standard in the younger generations.
The town itself is scattered around the Thiri Mingalar Taung Kwae pagoda perched high up on a limestone monolith which affords great views of Loikaw and the surrounding mountain ranges, especially at sunset. Further to the south is the little visited Emerald Tree pagoda where the vista spreads over the old and new parts of town. From here, it is evident to see where the much more verdant hills of Shan state and the arid lands of Kayah meet at Loikaw
The centerpiece for most visitors to Loikaw is the Taung Kwe Pagoda, which comprises a number of white and gold monuments sitting on top of limestone outcrops which jut dramatically from the surrounding plains. They are interesting and fun to wander around and provide a different experience to other pagodas in Myanmar as well as offering panoramic views of the distant plains, hills and mountains.