Kayah’s various tribes and clans, coupled with its remoteness and incredible ethnic texture has endowed the state and its populace with a fascinating heritage of historical intrigue.
Kayah, Myanmar’s smallest state, is packed with diversity and potential for ‘off the beaten track’ experiences. Closed for over half a century, the state was recently opened to visitors, and is now accessible by air and road. One of Southeast Asia’s last frontiers for inspiring, authentic travel, Kayah’s tranquil yet appealing capital, Loikaw, is usually the base for visitors. whereas local villages and hamlets offer the perfect opportunity to understand the traditional, tribal way of life.
Known as Karenni State until late in the 1950s, Kayah borders Shan State to the north; Thailand to the east; Kayin/Karen State to the south; and Kayin State to the west. It is quite probably the most culturally diverse state in Myanmar.
Visitors will find Kayah’s lush landscapes and weave of cultures visually enchanting but what truly sets the destination apart is the opportunity to experience the endearing warmth of the people, their sense of humour and passion to share their rituals, crafts and music.
Handicrafts play a key role in domestic, artistic and spiritual life. Unusual musical instruments are crafted from bamboo and other woods. Skilful villagers produce woven bamboo items like baskets and purses, use natural dyes and weave traditional fabrics on the loom. Visit local workshops to explore how indigenous products are made and purchase souvenirs.
Many items are for sale, while others (like the frog drums) are considered highly sacred, and only played on special occasions.
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Whether you enjoy visiting established, cultural sites; or heading “off the beaten track” to explore market towns and villages, rubbing shoulders with local folk; Kayah’s colour and diversity will keep you interested. The joy of Kayah is its simplicity, authenticity and rich ethnicity. Village tribes delight in sharing their traditions with visitors.
The capital of Kayah state, Loikaw (named by the Shan people) describes the dividing point between two mountains: Shwe Taung and Thiri Mingalar Taung. Loi means mountain and Kaw means separate. The town’s most iconic site is Taung Kwe Pagoda, also known as Broken Mountain, which offers stunning panoramic views of the urban area and surrounding mountains. The reclining Buddha, the colourful, bustling market, the museum, churches and traditional craft and product workshops are also worth visiting.
Breathtaking, unspoilt views, especially in the south, offer enriching experience to visitors. Kayah’s landscape is a tapestry of fields, rolling hills and lush forests. Visitors can now enjoy soft adventure trekking, accompanied by local guides. These inspiring people have lived with the forest since childhood. Their deep knowledge of wild foods, natural dyes, herbal medicines, and local legends helps to bring the relationships between nature and local people alive, adding insight to adventure. Additionally there are scenic lakes, waterfalls and caves to visit many of which remain very rural and untouched. There a number of natural and embellished caves worth visiting around Kayah State.
Aung Tha Pyay Cave is located near Htee Se Kha Waterfall and features 10 sitting Buddha statues. Kyat Cave 19km from Loikaw is an impressive limestone and dolomite cave where ancient wooden coffins can be found. The highly sacred Lwel Ta Mu Cave has 15 pagodas and 254 statues.
Tourists can choose to simply enjoy local hospitality or delve deeper into its unique history by taking part in community-based tourism activities. Developed in select villages, they aim to enrich the visitor while also sustainably preserve the indigenous cultural heritage.
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If you visit during April you can witness the state’s most important festival “Kayhtoboe Tagundaing”, during which traditional offerings are made to the spirit guardian to request “peace for the region, fair weather and a successful, bountiful harvest, free from all dangers”. In October “Kawhyin htoke” festival (glutinous rice wrapping) takes place. Kayah’s cuisine is simple, fresh and healthy. Be sure to try local dishes including the Kayah sausage seasoned with Kayah pepper harvested in the surroundings of Demoso and Pan Pet villages coupled with some millet wine (known locally as “rice wine”).
A treasure trove of traditions and customs awaits discovery in Kayah State.