Shan is Myanmar’s largest state in eastern of the country, encompasses a beautiful plateau of rolling highlands, lakes and forests. That’s extending west as well as east from its administrative capital of Taunggyi, for 350 km to Loas and the notorious “Golden Triangle“, nearly as far north to the Burma Road and the Chinese border and south a lesser distance to the tribal states of the Kayah and Kayin. The main attractions in Shan State are Inle Lake, hill tribe trekking from Kalaw, five day markets, Kakku, Pindaya Caves, Kengtung, trekking from Hsipaw and Gokteik Viaduct.
Inle Lake is the top attraction of Shan State, in the country hilly northeast, has cooler climate and picturesque setting in the lap of Shan Hills. The regular trip is taking boat trip to ruined ancient stupa complexes, hot springs, floating gardens and the idyllic stilted villages of the local Intha(fishermen) people. The image of an Intha standing at the stern of a flat-bottomed canoe, rowing with one leg past a backdrop of mist-shrouded mountains over the shimmering waters of Inle Lake is one of Myanmar’s most iconic one. The region holds plenty of other compelling destinations of Kaung Daing, Ywama, Phaung Daw U Pagoda, Inthein and Nga Hpe Kyaung(Jumping Cat Monastery).
Trekking from Kalaw
Lying on the western rim of the Shan plateau is Kalaw, 70km west of Capital Taunggyi, was once a favourite hill station retreat for British officials and their families during the hot season, considering its beautiful setting amid bamboo groves, orange orchards and pine woods. Varieties of trails thread through the green, forested hills around Kalaw, but the ones most commonly followed by foreign visitors are those leading to leading to Inle Lake. Passing numerous Buddhist pagodas and villages of the Palaung, Danu, Pa-O and Taungyo tribe, the routes take between two and four day to cover, and usually wind up at the ruin stupa complexes of Inthein. From which you will be transferred back to your Hotel by motorboat. Trek can follow stretches of surfaced road, winding over ridges into lush valleys, across patchworks, orange groves and rice paddies.
A lush forest of ancient stupas rising in spectacular style from a valley on the far side of the mountains from Inle Lake is Kakku, the archaeological site, 42km south of Taunggyi. There are said to be 5,257 particular pagodas arrayed in row. Some date from the Bagan period (11th – 13th centuries), but others may even have their origins in the distant Mauryan Empire of the Indian ruler, Ashoka.
Pindaya located a three to four hour drive from northwest of Inle Lake (Nyaung Shwe), is popular across Myanmar as the site of the extraordinary “Shwe U Min Cave Temple“, a magnificent, enigmatic complex of limestone grottoes crammed with around 9,000 Buddha images. Differing in size and style, the figures were mostly installed the 16th and 18th centuries, and are made of gold, silver, marble, lacquer, teak and ivory. The southernmost Pindaya cave can be entered and extends for about 490 feet along a well-worn path. It is known for its interior which contains over 9,000 images of Buddha. Some of the older statues and images in the cave have inscriptions dating to the late 18th century, or early Konbaung period, and the earliest one dated from 1773. There may be some images without inscriptions that are older, but based on the style elements, Than Tun believes that none of them is older than the early 18th century and even suggests 1750 as the earliest possible date. Although most statues are of late 18th and early 19th century, many other statues and images have been placed there on an ongoing basis by different donors throughout the cave’s history up until the present time, from lay people to the ruling authorities. The collection as a whole forms an impressive display of Buddhist iconography and art from early Konbaung era to the modern period. No other place in Burma displays such a range of style, not only in the images, but also in the ornamental thrones and reredos which surround the images. Within the cave, there are about seventy unique images of the Bhisakkaguru tradition dating to the late 18th century. They are unique in that the styling of hair, eyes, nose, ears, robe are different from most other images from Burma. The salient feature of this type of image is the holding of a seed in the upturned right palm. Than Tun reports that such images are found nowhere else in Burma, and based on Buddhist iconography, that these images are from the Mahayana tradition, and the conjecture is that the Pindaya cave at one time served the Mahayana Bhisakkaguru cult.
The Walled City of Tung, Kengtung can seem an anti-climax after the epic overland journey to reach it, but improves rapidly on closer inspection. Laid out around Nawng Tung Lake, its medieval centre preserves a taste of old Asia, with wealth of striking Tai Khum temples and markets frequented by many hill tribes who inhabit the town’s rugged hinterland, including the Akha, Palaung, Kachin, Lahu, Pa-O, Shan and Wa. A group of impressive 19th century Buddhist sites is clustered in the centre of the town. The Maha Myat Muni boasts an interior richly decorated with gold paintings on a red background; the even more spectacular Zom Kham is a tall, gilded stupa topped by a golden “hti” that’s inlaid with precious stones. The monument is believed to date from the 13th century migration from Chiang Mai’s Lanna Kingdom.
An old mountain valley town on the sinuous Tu River is Hsipaw, was once the administrative centre for the state of the same name, one of nine formerly ruled by Shan princes. The town is noted for its haw, or European style palace, where the last sawbwa, Sao Kya Seng and his Austrian born wife, Inge Sargent lived. The majority of travellers who make it as far northeast as Hsipaw tend to come in order to trek to hill tribe villages in the area, which are far less frequented and accustomed to foreigners than the country around Kalaw. For those travelling independently, trips of varying lengths, from day hikes to full-on expeditions lasting a week or more, may be arranged through local hotels and guesthouses.
The highlight of the rail journey start from Mandaly to Lashio is the Gokteik Viaduct, completed in 1903, loomed linking between Wetwun village, Naungcho and Kyaukme. The Viaduct is magnificent steel bridge spanning a 300 meter deep river gorge, which is stunning the giant steel girders stand out from the dense jungle like silver latticework, set against a craggy, ochre mountain face.