The Golden Triangle town of Kyaing Tong is an interesting town with a fascinating morning market, comprised of many ethnic tribes from the surrounding hills. It’s nestled in a mountain valley and built around a small lake. Numerous old Buddhist temples and crumbling colonial architecture are part of its charm. The town has been inhabited for at least 800 years by Shan, Thai Lue and Khun, who make up the majoirty of the population. Shan, rather than Burmese, is the dominant language. Kyaing Tong is a cultural and trading crossroads, near the borders of Thailand, China (the Mong La crossing is a two hour drive) and Laos.
Trekking in the little trekked Myanmar Golden Triangle is the main reason to come here. Numerous treks are available that require different levels of fitness and determination, from easy to moderate to extreme. The elevation averages around 4,000 feet. Your choice of treks will depend on who and what you want to see or photograph, and how much time you have. (Luminous Journeys photo travel and tours get off the beaten path here at least once a year). The various tribes include the mysterious “N”, or Eng, Akhu, Akha, Loi & Palaung. There are 135 different ethnic groups in Myanmar, and nealy half of them live in Shan State! Not surprising when you consider that Shan is easily the largest by land mass.
Numerous treks are possible to numerous villages, taking anywhere from hours to a week. Not so long ago this was a rebel black zone and off limits. Poppy fields have been replaced with tea, and peace treaties signed and sealed. The only guns you will see these days are slung over the shoulders of Akha and other men, usually homemade muskets used for hunting. In Thai Lue villages communities still live in longhouses. Inside the houses are partitioned by hanging cloths separating cooking and sleeping areas. Under the longhouse chickens cluck and pigs grunt, eating anything they can get their snouts on. Meat and tea are cured inside, with copious numbers of cheroots being smoked. Everyday is a smog alert day inside a Thai Lue longhouse!
The soil of the area is very fertile, abundant with flowers a wide variety of fruit orchards, with rubber plantations to boot. Highlight times to visit include the celebration of the Shan New Year in early December, where the town is full of singing, dancing, drinking and beauty competitions! Also celebrated with abandon, is the Burmese New Year, called Thingyan. This occurs mid-April and includes 3-days of buffalo drum beating by slightly drunken young men high on the local hooch. The ceremony culminates with a procession of everyone marching to the river to get wet and wild with watery fun.