Kyaing Tong (pronounced Chyaing Tong and sometimes spelled Keng Tung) is located in the Shan State and it is known for its unique landcape and ethnic tribes. Many people choose not to put Kyaing Tong on their Myanmar itinerary, however, this area is really unique and in our opinion, worth the visit.
What are the top attractions of Kyaing Tong
Visit the colorful ethnic tribes
We arrived here especially to visit the local villages which for most people is the highlight of their visit here. The tribes of Kyaing Tong are extraordinary since many of them still maintain their cultural heritage such as dyeing their teeth black, wearing their traditional jewelry, smoking special pipes or wearing their huge silver belts.
This destination started welcoming tourists only in recent years and you would need to take a special domestic flight to get here (as well as make sure you obtain a special permit that a local agency can help you with). The conditions in the area are very simple and there aren’t many restaurants suited for the Western palate, although we did manage to find a great coffee shop here (just check the recommendations in TripAdvisor – all three of them). Therefore, we would only recommend this town to people who are truly interested in seeing the local inhabitants of the area.
Our day began with a hike through the mountains on our way to visit some of the local tribes of the area. Climbing the relatively steep hills, and looking around we could see the yellowish rice fields that had already been harvested and some typical scenery for the area. Please consider the fact that tourism has already started to put its mark on these ethnic tribes. There are small “stores” on the way to some of the villages that sell the local hand-made artifacts such as wallets, jewelry etc. Our guide warned us in advance that while entering the village we will be accompanied by groups of the women who shall literally shove their hand-made artifacts in our face and beg us to buy one or a dozen of their bead necklaces, pipes or bags. He asked us to wait before buying any items from one of the women, because once we buy an item, the other ten women would try their luck and not in a very polite manner. This is a serious problem that the guides are well aware of. They are constantly asking the women to wait with their “in-your-face-selling” technique till the end of the visit but the women usually fail to understand.
One of the highlights of our visits was to be invited to two of the local houses and there we could learn about their daily lives in a more relaxed atmosphere and take some pictures (with better light conditions and without things being shoved in our faces). At the end of the visit we bought a few items from 3-4 women and everyone was happy. We had such a lovely time with our hostess and it was such a special experience to drink tea, nosh on peanuts and the sweetest papaya we’d ever eaten and have a laugh with this special family. A good idea is to bring with you some small gifts for the local women and children (not candy that will cause teeth damage) such as crayons, stickers, hair pins or any kind of toys. To our surprise, the hit of our “goody bag” was the most simple plastic spring toy and the blow ball pipe which was a huge success among the women and the kids alike (once we showed them how to use it, the entire village heard the cheers of joy). You can also collect the toiletries from your hotels and give them to the women. They will gladly accept it with a smile. On the our way back we stopped at one of the lookouts overlooking the amazing views and enjoyed a typical picnic in the open air with snacks we bought earlier in the local market.
The colorful Kyaing Tong Market
Another attraction in the area is the local market which is considered to be one of the best in Myanmar, and rightly so. In our opinion the best markets can be found in Mandalay but this one is also huge, authentic and has its own special charm. While strolling around the endless colorful stands, tasting unfamiliar fruits and veggies, trying to chat with the locals and snapping pictures at the same time, we also met many monks who came to buy fresh produce. A good idea is actually to come here before your hike to the local tribes and buy some snacks so you could enjoy a picnic in the beautiful scenery of the mountains while hiking to the tribes. We can recommend the sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf which was delicious.
Rice Wine Factory
Another thing to do is Kyaing Tong is to visit a local rice wine factory. Our guide took us to a small family-owned local “factory” which was nestled amidst small natural woods of bamboo. After playing around with the kids we had a taste of the home made rice wine. You’d better prepare yourself – it is really STRONG!
The Kyaing Tong area is quite special, especially for travelers who love culture and photography. It is a bit secluded and less touristic than other parts of Myanmar and therefore, it is not on everyone’s bucket list. We hardly met any tourists here and we certainly learned a lot about the people of this area. We also happen to stumble upon a local festival and had a chance to fly candle-lit sky lanterns. If you couldn’t figure it out by now, we loved our time in the area.