Drive towards Taunggyi and arrive in Ho Pong valley. Visit one of the colourful markets and browse the local foods, tools to work on the fields, longgyi (traditional sarongs) and other goods traded between Thailand, China and Myanmar. Continue into the heartland of the Eastern Shan state and enjoy a simple Shan lunch in one of the former Shan palaces en route. After lunch, stop for a short village walk through Pa'O and Shan communities. Arrive at one of the traditional Silver Palaung villages and observe the traditional costumes of the local men and women. Overnight in a local village.
Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner
With a population of nearly 600,000, the Pa'O are the 2nd largest group in the Shan state only after the Shan itself, which has an estimated population of 4 million. Originally animists, the Pa'O and Shan believed that spirits are present in both living and non-living things, influencing and being influenced by our actions. However, the majority of both groups are now Buddhist, with animists being the minority. The distinctive traditional clothing of the Pa'O reflects their belief that they are descendants of dragons, with 4 layers of black clothing representing scales and brightly-coloured turbans and scarfs representing the head of the dragon.
The meeting point of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, the Golden Triangle is considered one of the world's busiest drug trafficking regions. Opium poppies have been used medicinally in the Shan State for centuries, though Myanmar gained notoriety as a prolific opium producer in the 1920s, with its drug trade growing to be worth $16.3 billion in 2006. In an attempt to combat the trade, poppy-growing was made illegal in Myanmar in 1959, though better transport infrastructure and consistent production in poorer regions have recently resulted in fears surrounding its re-growth. However, with beautiful lush jungles, misty mountains, sprawling rice paddies and fascinating hill tribe villages, there is much more to the Golden Triangle than its unlawful reputation.
The Palaung group is one of Myanmar's most ancient indigenous tribes, though military oppression has caused many members to flee from the Shan State to refugee camps in Thailand over the past 20 years. The Palaung consists of several smaller groups, including the Silver Palaung, all of which speak their own language. They are traditionally an agricultural community, with their main source of income deriving from farming rice, grains, tea and opium poppies. The Silver Palaung has a very distinct dress, with women wearing bright red skirts wrapped in a sarong-style and heavy silver hoops around the waist. These hoops are believed to provide protection and symbolise the legend of an animal trap which accidentally ensnared a visiting angel.