Hidden Tribes & Pagodas of Myanmar

Myanmar

Culture | Tribal

Discover ancient tribal cultures and traditions in hidden Myanmar

15 days £2,495 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro


NEW TOUR

Follow the opium trails of the Golden Triangle and meet the ethnic groups of remote Myanmar seen by few foreign visitors. Observe the different beliefs and customs of each tribe and learn about the history behind their century-old communities. Visit Yangon's illuminated Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset and marvel at Bagan's sprawling vista of ancient temples before heading to the beautiful hill scenery of the Kayah state. Meet the iconic long neck Kayah women and learn about their unique traditions including textile weaving skills. Drift along Inle Lake by boat and see the floating gardens and colourful markets. Visit the nearby communities of the Pa'O and Shan people and observe their agricultural lifestyle. Finally, interact with Myanmar's minority tribes and experience their distinct cultures. Learn about the spiritual traditions of the Akha tribe, witness the vibrant clothing of the Lahu people, and meet the cheerful black-teeth Eng Tribe.

Tribal tour extensions also available in western Myanmar.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Heritage walking tour of Yangon
  • Marvel at the magnificent temples of Bagan
  • Interact with the long-necked Kayah women
  • Floating villages of Lake Inle
  • Follow the opium trail of the Golden Triangle
  • Witness the Palaung tribe's agricultural lifestyle
  • Observe the unique traditions of Myanmar's minority tribal groups
  • Meet the 'black-teeth' Eng tribe
  • Learn about the spiritual traditions of the Akha tribe

Places Visited

Yangon - Bagan - Kalaw - Loikaw - Pinlaung - Samkar - Pekon - Inle Lake - Nyaung Shwe - Taunggyi - Kunhing - Mongping - Phang Lang - Kengtung

What's Included

Arrival & departure transfers
Ground transport with driver
Domestic flights (if relevant - refer to itinerary)
Accommodation
Meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
English-speaking guides
Entrance fees to sites & parks
Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Yangon

Arrive in Yangon. Meet our Travel The Unknown representative and transfer to your hotel. In the evening, experience Yangon at sunset. Visit the illuminated Shwedagon Pagoda and the night market. Try the local foods and draft beer, and enjoy a bowl of noodles for dinner. Overnight in Yangon.

Meal plan: Dinner

There are many colonial buildings scattered around Yangon. The buildings are evidence of the history of British rule. Downtown Yangon is known for the highest number of colonial period buildings in Southeast Asia. The most iconic of these buildings include the former Secretariat buildings, the City Hall, the High Court, the Strand Hotel and the former Inland Water Transport building. 

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Day 2 : Yangon - Bagan

Transfer to Yangon airport for your flight to Bagan. Be taken on a half day tour of Bagan by car and see the best known temples of the area. Climb a pagoda for an impressive view over Bagan and visit the temples of Ananda, Dhammayangyi and Thatbyinnyu. Your guide will also stop by any other temples you wish to visit. Overnight in Bagan.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Bagan is an ancient city located in central Myanmar and was the capital of the first Myanmar Empire. There were many monuments built in Bagan during this time but sadly were damaged by invaders and by the fleeing king who needed the materials for defence structures instead. The ruins today are a place of worship and, being one of the richest archaeological sites in South-east Asia, Bagan has been a popular tourist destination for almost a thousand years.

Bagan’s Temples are steeped in historical myths and legends. The 11th century bell-shaped Shwezigon Pagoda is one of four monuments built to replicate the Sri Lankan Buddha tooth- marks found in the north of the city. Legend claims a visit to all four tooth replicas in a day brings prosperity and luck. The Ananda Temple is a stunning structure of the Mon architecture built around 1105 by King Kyanzittha, while the 12th century Dhammayangyi is the largest structure in Bagan, built by King Narathu in architectural style echoing that of the Ananda Temple. Lastly, the 12th century Thabbyinnyu Temple, whose name means "Omniscience of the Buddha", was built by King Alaungsithu and was one of the first double-storey temples.

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Day 3 : Bagan

Today is free to explore Bagan at your leisure. A suggested option is to hire a bike and cycle around New and Old Bagan. Overnight in Bagan. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 4 : Bagan - Kalaw

In the morning, drive to Kalaw and check into the hotel. Overnight in Kalaw.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Kalaw is a hill town in the Shan State of Myanmar. It is located in Kalaw Township in the Taunggyi District. The town was popular with the British during colonial rule and used as a British hill-station. The town offers some of the best trekking in Myanmar and is surrounded by a tranquil forest. It has a variety of cultures thanks to large populations of Nepalese Gurkhas, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims whose descendents came to Kalaw to build roads and railways during British colonial rule. It was also the main setting of the novel ‘The Art of Hearing Heartbeats’ by Jan-Philipp Sendker. 

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Day 5 : Kalaw - Pinlaung - Loikaw

Drive to Pinlaung where you will be welcomed by a local family who will take you on a short walk to the ruins of an old wooden palace. There is also an option for a hop on - hop off train journey through the beautiful Shan hills, completing the route by car, train and mountain bike. Transfer to the railway station and catch a train to Saung Byaung. Meet our representative and drive to Loikaw. Enjoy a home-cooked typical Kayah dinner. Overnight in Loikaw. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

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Day 6 : Loikaw

After breakfast, visit the bustling morning market in Loikaw. Continue to Kasae Kum village and learn about the long neck Kayah women and how their neck-rings are made. Drive to Pemsong village and begin a "Trail of the Ancestors" trek (about 4 hours). Learn about the village ancestors and their beliefs in spirits, the importance of the totem pole and herbal medicines. End the trek in one of the Kayah villages where you will meet more long neck women. Drive to Loikaw and visit a traditional Kayah boxing training centre. In the evening, try some typical Kayah liquor or beer and Kayah sausages. Overnight in Loikaw. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Situated in the Karen Hills on the Pilu River, the remote and sleepy city of Loikaw is the capital of the Kayah state. Most of its interest lies in the surrounding countryside and the beautiful hill scenery. It is also a window into authentic tribal life, with distinctive tribal cultures dotted around outside the city. However, conflict between local Karen people and the army spanning back to 1967 meant that areas outside of Loikaw were out of bounds to visitors. It was only until 2006 that 2 areas were opened to tourism, with a few more opening within recent years. As a result, many of the tribal people have had very little contact with foreign visitors. 

The long neck women of the Kayah tribes have become an iconic image of their tribal culture. From as young as 5 years old, Kayah girls are given up to 10 neck rings to wear, with a new one added every year until she reaches adulthood. A grown woman can wear up to 25 rings, weighing a total of 5 kg. Despite its appearance, the neck itself is not actually stretched, but rather the weight of the rings compresses the shoulders and collarbones to make the neck appear elongated. The origin of this tradition is not fully known, though one theory suggests that they were traditionally worn as protection against tigers, which roam the surrounding areas and bite the necks of their prey. Now, they are worn as a symbol of beauty and upkeep of tradition. However, fewer women wear the rings today as many are unable to afford them, whilst younger women feel it would negatively affect their chance of employment outside of the region. Despite the Kayah women supporting themselves financially by selling local foods and handmade crafts, many have migrated to purpose-built villages in Thailand following poverty and conflict with the Myanmar military regime in the 1980s and 1990s. These Thai villages are a major tourist attraction, and the Kayah women earn their money by posing in photos. However, as a result many feel that, rather than their traditions being respected and supported, the long neck women have been turned into a tourist commodity outside of their home villages.

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Day 7 : Loikaw - Pekon - Samkar

Drive to the farming village of Hta Nee La Leh. Learn about their shrines and the animist traditions practised there. Stroll through the community before continuing by oxcart for a 30 min scenic ride to the 7 lakes. Enjoy a Kayah barbecue lunch. After lunch, drive to Pekon and take a private boat ride over the wide Pekon Lake to Samkar village (about 2 hours). If time permits, visit the Samkar monastery. Overnight in Samkar.

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

The little remote village of Samkar is located on the southern tip of Inle Lake and occupied by the Pa'O tribe. It was formerly off limits to foreign visitors but opened to tourism in 2003. Standing high on the outskirts of the village are the iconic ancient ruins of 'stupas' (Buddhist structures filled with holy relics and used to pray or meditate at) which are partially submerged during the monsoon season.

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Day 8 : Samkar - Inle Lake - Nyaung Shwe

Board a private boat and head north to Nyaung Shwe. En route, visit the Hmawbi temple ruins and other famous sights on the lake. Spend the day exploring Inle Lake by private motorboat and visit the floating gardens. See some of the famous leg rowers and enjoy some tea at a local family's house. Explore a colourful market frequented by the nearby Shan and Pa'O people. Visit a local cheroot factory where Burmese cigars are made, the floating tomato gardens, Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda and an Intha house. Enjoy a traditional Intha lunch. There is also an optional visit to a weaving factory. Overnight in Nyaung Shwe.

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar. The 70,000 people of Inle Lake, the Intha, live in four cities around the lake and in small villages along the lake's shores, and on the lake itself, building their houses on stilts and travelling across the lake using their unique style of leg-rowing. The locals bind together water hyacinth to cultivate floating gardens that drift around the waters. The lake is also home to over twenty species of snail and nine species of fish not found anywhere else in the world. 

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Day 9 : Nyaung Shwe

Today is free to relax or explore the town at your leisure. Overnight in Nyaung Shwe.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Situated just North of Lake Inle, Nyaung Shwe is a vibrant town with numerous shops, restaurants and a market. Long boats are moored in the marina, and take travellers along a river channel to Lake Inle to explore the area by boat.

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Day 10 : Nyaung Shwe - Taunggyi - Kunhing

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.  

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Day 11 : Kunhing - Phang Lang - Mongping

After breakfast, begin a 2 hour Palaung farm walk, passing through different communities to see their agricultural lifestyle. Continue by car to Phang Lang. On arrival, start a trek to a small Shan community along the riverside and board a motorboat for a short trip over the Thanlwin River. Trek towards Nam Wat Shan villages (about 2.5 hours). After lunch, continue by foot or 4-wheel drive to the main road to travel east. Drive across the border into Eastern Shan state and cross the only bridge of the Thanlwin River in this part of the Shan state. Drive up into the mountains and pass the traditional Shan villages and impressive views over the hills. If time permits, walk through the Shan or Lahu villages en route. Arrive in Mongping and transfer to the guesthouse. Overnight in Mongping. 

Please note that occasionally Thanlwin River is too high to navigate by boat and this part of the journey may have to be continued by foot instead.  

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

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Day 12 : Mongping - Kengtung

After breakfast at a local market, start a heritage walk through the centre of town and go on a scooter tour to explore the surrounding communities of Mongping (1.5 hours). Drive towards Tongtar. After lunch, trek to a small Shan village (about 1.5 hours) where you will board a traditional bamboo raft to float down the creek on (1 hour). Return to the car and continue through the mountains with views over the terraced paddy fields, stopping at Akha and Lahu villages along the way. Arrive in Kengtung and check into the hotel. Overnight in Kengtung. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

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Day 13 : Kengtung

Transfer to Pin Tauk and visit 3 local villages with Lahu, Akha and Eng tribes. Meet the locals and learn about the different minority people in the area. In the evening, return to Kengtung. Overnight in Kengtung. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

There are an estimated 100,000 Lahu people in Myanmar, while tribes are also found in Vietnam and Laos. Despite their independent hunter-warrior tradition, they have a friendly and easy-going reputation. The Lahu are divided into 5 main subgroups: Lahu Na (Black Lahu); Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu); Lahu Hpu (White Lahu); Lahu Shi (Yellow Lahu); and Lahu Shehleh. Each group is represented through the colour used in their traditional clothing. As with many minority tribal groups, the Lahu are threatened by the changes modernity poses on their culture, though through the upkeep of traditions, they are fighting to keep their cultural identity. 

Originating in China before migrating to Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, the Akha hill tribe is a very spiritual one, with their lifestyle and traditions revolving around their strong belief in spirits. Gates and barriers decorated with intricate carvings can be found outside their village, warding off any foreign evil spirits from entering. Should the gates fail to keep the spirits at bay, the roofs of their houses are also decorated with carvings to protect the household and its dwellers from evil. The more carvings used, the stronger the protection.

The indigenous Eng tribe is unique to Myanmar. Commonly known as the "Black Teeth Tribe", black teeth are viewed as attractive whilst also signifying if a woman is engaged or married. In order to achieve the look, the Eng women chew on tree bark and betel leaf mixed with tobacco and areca nut. Black lipstick made from charred tree bark is also often worn to emphasise the black colour.


Kengtung is the second biggest city in the Shan State and sits in the centre of the Golden Triangle (the production region of opium between Northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar). With it's close proximity to other countries, it's diverse culture is highly influenced by the hill towns of China and Thailand. Although a busy market town for surrounding villages and trading with neighbouring countries, the atmosphere outside of the marketplace is quiet and somewhat isolated, with the city surrounded by picturesque hills. Within these hills live the minority tribal groups, including the Lahu, Akha and Eng people, where overnight stays are not permitted, making Kengtung the ideal place to rest between day trips to the tribes. 

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Day 14 : Kengtung - Yangon

The morning is free to rest or explore at your leisure. After lunch, transfer to Kengtung airport for your flight back to Yangon. On arrival, meet our representative and transfer to the hotel. Overnight in Yangon. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 15 : Departure

Transfer to the airport at the appropriate time to catch your flight home. For later flights, optional day activities can be suggested. 

Contact us about tribal tour extensions in western Myanmar (e.g. Chin tattoo tribes)

Meal plan: Breakfast

Accommodation

Accommodation

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Yangon Heritage

Yanon Heritage Hotel is situated in Yangon, near to many of the city's most iconic sights such as the Sule Pagoda and Bogyoke Market. The restored heritage property has been decorated in a colonial style. The bedrooms similarly display this quaint decor, whilst also being fitted with modern amenities to provide a comfortable stay. The restaurant can be found on the 4th floor of the hotel, where guests can enjoy views across the city.  

Visit hotel's site
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Zfreeti Hotel

Zfreeti Hotel combines ancient Bagan culture with a contemporary architectural style. The spacious bedrooms are decorated in a simple fashion and are fitted with modern amenities. Guests are invited to make use of the hotel facilities that includes a swimming pool, poolside bar and rooftop dining area. The restaurant menu features a combination of traditional Myanmar and international cuisine options. 

Visit hotel's site
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Dream Villa Hotel

Dream Villa Hotel is located in Kalaw. The bedrooms are decorated in a traditional style, whilst also providing guests with access to modern comforts that include satellite television and wifi. The on-site restaurant offers a variety of national and international dishes to guests. 

Visit hotel's site
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Min Ma Haw

Min Ma Haw Guesthouse is located at the heart of the town of Loikaw. The quaint wooden guesthouse are decorated in a traditionally simple style. They provide guests with basic facilities for a comfortable stay. 

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Little Lodge

Little Lodge is nestled in the forests of the Samkar region. The lodge is run by the local Pa-O tribe, who live in Samkar village, and has been designed in a traditional Shan style. The bedrooms each have a private balcony that offers guests picturesque views across the surrounding countryside. The on-site restaurant serves a selection of local dishes, along with idyllic views of Lake Inle. 

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Ann Heritage Lodge

Ann Heritage Hotel is set in an idyllic rural location, beside the iconic Lake Inle. The hotel has been built in a traditional style, with wooden walls and simple furnishings. The restaurant serves a variety of cuisine options. Other facilities include a swimming pool, fitness suite and spa.

Visit hotel's site
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Kunhing Homestay

A homestay in Kunhing provides travellers with the unique opportunity to reside with the head of the village. The house has basic facilities, which complements the rural and remote setting of Kunhing. The homestay provides guests with the opportunity experience authentic culture and sample traditional local dishes. 

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Mongping Homestay

A homestay in Mongping provides the traveller with a real insight into local village culture. It will be equipped with basic facilities, necessary for a comfortable and authentic experience. Guests will have the opportunity to experience the day to day life of locals in the village of Mongping. 

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Princess Hotel

The Princess Hotel is located in Kengtung. It has a simple decor, which provides guests with comfortable accommodation to relax after a day of exploring the region. The on-site restaurant serves a fusion of national and international cuisine options. 

Extensions

Hidden Tribes & Pagodas of Myanmar (15 days)

Discover ancient tribal cultures and traditions in hidden Myanmar

Classical Myanmar (10 days)

Buddhist culture & rural village life

Mystical Myanmar (17 days)

Glittering temples, ancient culture & breathtaking beauty

Reviews

This was our second tailormade trip with Travel the Unknown and we loved our first time travel in Myanmar (Burma). The amazing attractions together with the wonderful and friendly people of Myanmar and the delightful, adaptable guides made it a trip we will never forget.

Rainer & Shanti Huebner , Tailormade Myanmar
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