I made a two-day trip to Loikaw in Kayah State from Yangon two years ago. I added some information that I could gather here so that this post is helpful somehow for someone who wants to visit Loikaw.
Previously also known as Karenni, Kayah State is located in the east side of Myanmar between Shan and Kayin States. Due to conflicts between the national military and ethnic armed groups, it was not possible for travellers to visit Kayah in the past. Now, after ceasefire, Loikaw and surroundings are open to travellers. However, the foreigners still need permission and a tourist guide to go outside of Loikaw, although they can go around in Loikaw freely. One of the reasons is due to land mines still remaining in the rural areas. Kayah State is popular for its distinct tribes. There are 10 tribes in Kayah including Kayah, Kayaw, Kayan (or) Padaung (long-necked women tribe), Pa-Oh, Lisu, ect. And also, Kayah is also known as Ngwe-Taung (Silver Mountain) country among locals. It comes from a mythical story about Kinnari-Kinnara, the mythical half-human, half-bird creatures. In the story, it says Kinnari-Kinnara lived on the Silver Mountain long long ago and the Kinnari King had 7 daughters, who usually came down to 7 lakes to take bath. Therefore, when you go visit Kayah State, you will see signs with Kinnari-Kinnara logos, and also you can see Knnari-Kinnara paintings or statues in other parts of Myanamr.
If you are driving your own car, it will take about 9-10 hours from Yangon via Bago and Taunggu and, from Mandalay, 8 hours via Naypyidaw or 8.5 hours via Kalaw.
By Express Bus, there are buses leaving in the evening from both Aung Mingalar Highway Station in Yangon or Kywel Sel Kan Highway Station in Mandalay. It takes about 13 hours from both cities to Loikaw and will cost around 12-15 USD. If you want to continue to Nyaung Shwe, Inle from Loikaw, there are buses leaving in the morning from Loikaw, which take about 6 hours and cost about 6-7 USD. Or, if you want to go to by long-tailed boat, you have to go to Pe-Kon from Loikaw and then, take a boat to Nyaung Shwe from Pe-Kon. The private boat will cost about 80 USD. But, if you take the public one, it will be cheap. (I don’t know the exact fare but it will be one digit USD.)
By Flight, it takes about one hour and there are two airlines (Myanmar National Airlines and Air KBZ) flying from Yangon. I went to Loikaw by flight. I flew to Loikaw early in the morning of Saturday and came back in the morning of Monday.
If you do not go to Loikaw with your own car, it would be the best to go around with a private car with a driver. You can hire a taxi or tuk-tuk. Since the town is small, you can go around with a bicycle or motorbike if you are only visiting in the town. If you are going to Demosoe which is 20 minutes drive away, you can still go with motorbike. But you are visiting to the villages, you will definitely need a car as villages sit on the mountains (some place may even need 4WW). And also, it is better to visit those villages with a tourist guide who can speak the local languages. It is a must for foreigners to have a guide to visit outside of Loikaw. Even for Myanmar citizens from other parts of the country, it is better to have a guide because local tribe do not speak Burmese. It will cost around 30-80 USD per day for a car with driver depending on what type of car and where you are going to, and it will cost 35-50 USD per day for a guide ( the prices can change depending on low or high season). I went around with a guide and a driver in Toyota Probox. I had put my guide facebook account in case. Her name is Mary and she can speak fairly good English. https://www.facebook.com/nadar.smith
There are about 30 hotels, motels, inns and guest houses all together. They can help with hiring a car or a guide. The hotel prices will range from 40-85 USD and the inns and guest houses offer cheaper prices. Please have a look at the following link to get an idea about the prices. Loikaw Hotel Prices
I had listed the places that I visited.
I flew with Air KBZ. I left around 8am and arrived at Loikaw Airport around 9am. My guide and the car driver were waiting for me at the airport. First of all, I checked into the hotel and left my luggages.
1.Demoso Myo Ma Market
Demoso Market is a must-visit place because the people from surrounding areas come to the market to sell their produce. You will see almost all tribal people Kayah, Kayaw, Kayan, Lisu, etc at the market without needing to go out to the villages and also you can explore the local food at the food stall. Usually, the people leave around lunch time and so, it is the best to go there early if you want to see all these people. Demoso is about half an hour drive away from Loikaw. The thing which caught my interest in the market was the dried frogs. You can see people selling alive frogs, birds, local rice wine (called Khaung-Yay), fresh vegetables, and so on.
2. Pan Pet – Kayan Village
Kayan tribe is also known as Padaung tribe. They are well-known for their long-necked ladies with brass coils around their necks. Kayah is the origin of these people. They prefer to be called Kayan as Padaung was the name given by Shan people when Shan people ruled the State in the past. Pan Pet is situiated in Demoso area, a bit further up on the mountain. When you go to the village, you will first see a place, where the souvenir shops are lined up. You can try wearing the brass colis and take photos with the sellers.
If you go further into the village, you will see some houses selling their weavings and souvenirs at their houses. We went to a house where a lady sold her weavings and some hand-made souvenirs. With the help of my guide translating for me, the lady taught me how to make threat from cotton balls. She also showed me how she played guitar which was the old one with four strings and violin that was hand-made by her husband. I tried to imitate how she played and the moment was filled with giggles. And her husband came out of the room and joined us. He played violin, I played guitar and the lady sang a song. They offered me their rice wine too. Those moments were precious.
We then went to a lady called Mu Pran who made musical sound with leaves. She is also a fortune teller. This is how she did. She used the dry twig from a nearby bush tree and made small sticks from the twig. Then, she asked me to think about three things that I wanted to asked and then, to pull out the three small sticks from her hand one by one. And then, she said her predictions about my three things. What she said was true. I am not sure if I asked her easy questions.
After that, we went to another lady called Mu Shant. We ordered lunch from her before we went into the village. So, when we finished visiting the village, she finished cooking and the lunch was ready. All the dishes were vegetables such as peas, roots, leaves and nuts. Simple but tasted good.
There are few elephant camps around Loikaw. The one I visited was on the way back from Pan Pet to Loikaw and it is situated near the base of the mountain. There were three elephants and one little monkey. If you are going there and want to feed them, you have to buy some bananas or vegetables beforehand you go there. They don’t sell food for elephants. I did not have plan to go there in the first place. We just went there because we saw the sign saying “To the elephant camp”. So we were not prepared and did not buy any food for them. We just fed them with some food that we had in the car.
4. Ngwe Taung Dam
Ngwe Taung Dam is located on the way from Loikaw to Demoso. A good place to sit down and rewind. The fresh breeze coming across the water will cool you down.
5. Umbrella Pond (Htee Pwint Pond)
The pond is located in the middle of the rice fields and a small stupa is beside the pond. The pond is called Htee Pwint (means opened umbrella) because the mud from the base comes towards the water surface and looks like umbrella. They come and go. They can appear anywhere in the pond at any time. I don’t know how it happens. But the locals believe that if you make a wish when you see Htee Pwint mud, the wish will come true.
6. Daw Ta Ma Gyi – Kayah village
I didn’t have much time to spend there and so, we only went to visit a house where a Kayah lady lives. She was wearing her traditional clothes and she said she wore it everyday even in this modern time. The Kayah clothings are made with red, black and white colour mainly. She also wore the silver earings, braclets, necklaces and also black rings around her knees.
7. Seven Lakes
These are the lakes where the mythical story said Kinnare-Kinnara took bath. There is a wooden shelter like building where the snacks and food were sold. I tried Kayah sausage, the steamed vege wraped with a banana leave and fried dried frog there. It is a nice spot to go for a picnic.
8. Thiri Mingalar Taung Kwel Zayde (Pagoda)
Taung Kwel means broken hill. Taung Kwel Zayde is the hilltop pagoda with the cluster of nine stupas on the top of nine limestone outcrops. It is the most famous site in Loikaw. I went there around sunset time. The view from the top over the whole town of Loikaw and the mountains far away was quite a nice view. You can climb the steps to the top or take the elevator. I went there again in the next morning to see the view in day time.
9. The clothing shop at Taung Kwel Zayde
There were few souviner shops near the parking at the base of the hill. I bought a Kayah traditional dress. The lady at the shop sewed the longyi on the spot, adjusting my size.
Then, I came back to hotel, had my dinner and rest.
10. Thiri Mingalar Pon Monastery
The monastery was previously Shan manison house. When Shan people ruled the state in the past, the Lord lived in this house. Now, it had been changed to the monastery. The photos and the furnitures of the Shan Lords were still kept and maintained at the monastery.
11. Kyet Cave
Kyet Cave, also known as Yarsu Ku, is located 15 km away from Loikaw. It is a natural limestone cave. Kyet means evil spirits or ghosts. The cave is called Kyet Cave because 2-15 feet long wooden coffins were found in the caves. Some coffins can be found 20-30 feet above the ground on the wall of the cave. It is said the human bones were found 70 years ago. But no human bones nowadays, only decayed coffins. There is a monastery outside the cave. The cave was lit upto 1500 feet from the enterence, by generator run by the monastery. You could ask the monk to run the generator while you were in the cave, by donating money for gas to run the generator. Or you just take your torch and explore the cave. (P.S – this experience was two years ago.)
12. Kayhtoe Bo (or) Kayah totem festival
In a village on the way back from Kyet Cave to Loikaw, you can see the totem poles erecting from the ground. The poles are white-washed and have crown-like decorations at the top. Each pole has its own meaning and significance. That place is the Kayhtoe Bo or Kayah totem festival ground where Kayah people from villages come together to celebrate the totem festival once a year in April. This animist tradition is the vital part and the festival is the most important festival for Kayah people. I was told that women can’t go near the poles in the other time apart from the festival time. So, I just took photos from a bit far away.
13. Kinnari-Kinnara weaving workshop
The workshop is the machine-woven workshop in Loikaw and you can buy Kayah traditional clothings as souvenirs or gifts.
14. Htee Sel Khar Waterfall
Htee Sel Khar Waterfall is situated near Kayah-Shan border about 45 min drive away from Loikaw. Although it is in Kayah State, the incomind road to the waterfall comes from Shan State side. So, you have to drive pass the border and then, come back into Kayah State. It is a beautiful waterfall with an allocated swimming place.
15. Aung Tha Pyae Cave
It is located on the way to Htee Sel Khar Waterfall and about 20 min drive from Loikaw. It is a natural limestone cave with large stalactite and stalagmite formations. Like the many other caves in Myanmar, you will see Buddha statues in the cave. You will also see the bee nests hanging on the wall outside the cave.
After that, we went to the other hilltop pagodas in Loikaw, smaller and less touristy than Taung Kwel Zayde, and we spend our evening by enjoying the sunset view. Next day in the morning, I came back to Yangon.
There are other places which I didn’t manage to visit.
You can find decent restaurants which offer delicious traditional food in Loikaw. Here are few I know. But there are other good restaurants/food shops and also, Shan noodle shops are worth to try.
Thank you for reading my post. I hope this can give you some idea about Loikaw and surroundings.