The sleepy capital of the Kayah State, Loikaw’s main appeal is its various hill tribes which dot the surrounding hillscape, most notably the ‘long-necked ladies’ of the Padaung tribe. Despite such a rich cultural offering, Loikaw remains little visited by western travellers, offering a wonderfully authentic experience of rural Burma and its hill tribe cultures.
The tiny Kayah State is home to a disproportionate number of Burma’s ethnic groups, with the hills surrounding its capital of Loikaw no exception. Around eight hours south of Inle Lake, Loikaw’s relatively remote location has helped the town remain so untouched, and is particularly suited for those with a cultural interest wanting to explore Burma away from the common tourist trail.
Days will largely be spent visiting the hill tribes that inhabit the surrounding hills, of which the Padaung Tribe are perhaps best known. Located in the village of Pan Phet, the Padaung tribe are recognised for their tradition of wearing gold or copper coils around their necks, shins and wrists as a sign of wealth. Many of the elder members have never encountered a tourist, and interacting with the village members offers an unparalleled insight into the life of Burma’s hill tribe communities.
Within the town itself, the hilltop pagoda Taung Kwe dominates the low-rise landscape. Consisting of a number of white and gold monuments atop a limestone monolith, it is a refreshing contrast to many other of Burma’s religious shrines. To the south, you will find the little-visited Emerald Tree Pagoda, offering fantastic views over Loikaw and beyond.
Only recently having opened its doors to foreign travellers, those travelling into and around the Kayah state may have to pass through a number of checkpoints, and some areas can only be visited as part of an organised tour. Still largely undeveloped in terms of tourism, accommodation options are limited, but the cultural reward is well worth the night or two without modern luxuries.