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Published on September 11, 2019

KENGTUNG: Shan State, Myanmar


By Jaffee Yee

Kengtung is a quaint, historical town in the Eastern Shan State of Myanmar just 3.5 hours away by car north of the Thai-Myanmar border at Mae Sai and Tachileik.  It’s an ideal destination for any international visitor to Chiang Rai who has a few more days to extend the journey beyond the border to an exotic cool place literally during the winter months by going green without flying.  Visa is not required for anyone willing to join an organized tour with the exemption for those visa free passport holders that include Singaporean, Japanese, Hong Kong and Macau citizens.

Due to it’s remote location and the closure of the country to the outside world for about half a century, not much development has taken place here but it is about to change in catching up with the modern world as evidenced by the new lifestyle and the opening of more new café.  The attractive town still maintains its old world charm but may gradually diminishing before long. Time to visit now before it’s changed.

Kengtung is called Chiang Tung by Thais as it is one of the ancient towns during the Lanna period during the 13th century along with Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rung (Jinghong) and Chiang Thong (Luang Prabang).  The rulers then were called Saopha or Prince and during the British colonial era, Shan States were referred as Princely States.  The people living in Kengtung town today are mostly Tai Yai or Shan and most of them speak a dialect similar to Thai and their custom and culture are quite similar to that of northern Thailand.

The highlight of a visit to Kengtung for most people is the Central Market. It is a big open market where one can easily buy anything imaginable. Among all the cooked food available, a good place to try the famous Shan noodle and the Muslim shop near the entrance is highly recommended. Best buy for visitors is probably local handicrafts, wild tea leaves, avocados and local fruits.  Other highlights include visiting some of the 126 Buddhist temples and pagodas, the old Catholic church, Shan Village, cultural museum and the standalone big old tree. A walking tour and sunset dinner in one of the restaurants by Naung Tung Lake is highly enjoyable. BYO (bring your own) duty free wine bought in Tachileik to any of the eateries with no corkage charge.

Trekking to the various hill tribe villages is highly popular for adventure travelers. The major ethnic groups can be found are Akha, Enn (Black Teeth), Lisu, Karen etc.  During the cool months from December to February, a full day trip to the Loi Mwe hill station is highly recommended. The legacy of the British era such as the church and stone houses with chimneys are scattered over the hill dotted with beautiful pink Himalaya sakura blossoms and red poinsettias surrounded by a tranquil lake.

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