Discover The Undiscovered In The Tribes Of Myanmar Tour

Author: Srikanth Krishna on Sep 25,2018

Myanmar's landscape is a patchwork of tradition with over 100 tribes stitched together by their welcoming smiles and intriguing customs. Much of the country is untouched and untamed and offers an immersion in lifestyles that are almost entirely unknown to the world. This unique journey of discovery takes you to the Shan and Chin states, where eclectic tribes live side by side in the jungle. From tattooed faces to stilt villages and flamboyant hats, explore Myanmar's evocative cultural tapestry.

Tour Highlights

  • Immerse yourself in the world of ten different Myanmar tribes, all of them fierce protectors of ancient traditions

  • Travel by boat to the stilt house villages of the Intha people, who reveal a unique way to fish and take you on a cooking lesson

  • Admire the ways of the Akha, remote hill tribe people with astonishing headdresses and endearing smiles

  • Discover the cultures of the Lahu and Loi, remote Buddhist people who have rarely been documented by the West

  • Walk into the lush landscapes of Shan State, stopping at Palaung and Danu villages to hear very open tales of Myanmar's political landscape

  • Explore the evocative temples of Mrauk U, lost Buddhist sentinels wrapped through the jungle of Chin State

  • Spend a day with the mysterious tattoo tribe people of western Myanmar, where geometric tribal patterns are etched onto the faces of locals

  • While most villagers don't speak English, they're very open to communication, and you travel with specialist guides and translators who are from a minority tribe

Tour At A Glance

(Day 1): Yangon – Relaxed Welcome to Myanmar

(Day 2): Kengtung – Immersed in the Cultures of the Akha, Lahu, and Wa Peoples

(Day 3): Kengtung – Exploring an Ancient Loi Village

(Day 4): Kengtung to Pindaya – Hill Tribes at the Market and Onwards Across Shan State

(Day 5): Pindaya – Palaung and Danu Villages Leading to Iconic Buddha Caves

(Day 6): Inle Lake – The Stilt House Villages of Inle

(Day 7): Inle Lake – A Cooking Course and Immersion with the Intha People

(Day 8): Inle Lake – Pa-Oh Villages in the Hills

(Day 9): Heho to Sittwe – The Complex Stories of Chin State

(Day 10): Mrauk U – Mysterious Temples Frozen in Time

(Day 11): Mrauk U – Three Tattoo Tribe Villages in Chin State

(Day 12): Mrauk U to Yangon – Departure

Tour Description

Myanmar's landscapes dance with complexity. Geometric tattoos cover the faces of remote villagers as leg-rowing Intha fishermen occupy stilt houses, and flamboyant headwear dominates remote jungle villages. Myanmar is a country of over 100 tribes, most of them small minority groups that have survived on the very fringes of Myanmar's governmental regime. With the country closed to the West for so long, many tribal groups have gone unnoticed and undocumented. Their cultures stoically protect tradition, and untouched lifestyles are found across the remote states of Myanmar. They offer an indelible immersion in a surreal realm, one that takes you back in time and always unravels a particular beauty.

Myanmar's tribal villages are endearing in their welcome, and the locals are keen to interact. Unlike some places in Asia, these areas are not oversaturated with tourists. Many of these villages have only been visited by a small handful of foreigners, and you receive a warm welcome that has always been reserved for visiting strangers. Not only was Myanmar closed for political reasons, but most of the villages on this itinerary were impossible to access due to logistical travel challenges. These logistics have eased as the country slowly unwraps itself to the world. On this unique 12-day journey, explore the two states where tribal cultures have survived mostly untouched. Green mountains cascade across Shan State, a place of remote hill tribes and lively markets. Chin State is dominated by thick jungle, home to complex tribes with unique traditions.

Few of these villages offer accommodation, although it is possible to spend the night as a guest at the home of the village chief. Usually, you will stay in an enchanting town and take day trips into the surrounding landscapes. After a night in Yangon, spend a couple of days around Kengtung, in the far east of the country.  This area is enveloped by a myriad of different hill tribes, like the Akha, Lahu, and Loi people who come together to a vibrant market and are also seen deep in the hills. Continue to Pindaya, where Palaung and Danu villages are scattered around caves filled with Buddha images. You will hear very poignant stories from locals keen to spread a new story and challenge the exported narrative from Myanmar's government.

Inle Lake provides several luxurious days of culture and serenity. Some of Myanmar's finest accommodations are found here, and there's a beautiful view over the water from your verandah. Inhabiting parts of the lake are the Intha people, who live in stilt villages on the water. Fishermen row with their legs and the local women invite you to a cooking lesson. You'll also discover Pa-Oh villages among the iconic rice paddies around the lake. You will then fly to Sittwe, a captivating town with Rakhine locals smeared in thanaka decoration. Up the river is Mrauk U, where the baffling ancient temples of the Arakan Kingdom wrap themselves across the jungle. You will be in the Chin State, which is mostly out of bounds to foreigners but with this itinerary, you will have unique permissions to visit a series of Chin tattoo tribe villages around Mrauk U, alluring destinations only accessible by river.


Tour Price

Our private tours typically range from $500 - $1000 per person/per night depending on chosen hotels and room categories, vehicles used, types of tours, flight cost, time of year and other factors. Make an inquiry for a customized trip quote.

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Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Yangon – Relaxed Welcome to Myanmar

Yangon quickly introduces you to Myanmar's complexity. Parts of the city are wrapped in history as colonial buildings decay in an old-world enchantment. Golden Buddhist temples dominate the skyline as illustrations of the country's religious background stand out as the streets are filled with wandering pilgrims. Chinese markets, Indian tea shops, and decadent waterfront hotels cover the streets as every angle of the city is slightly different, although all are filled with a fevered vibrancy. You will be picked up at the airport for transfer to the country's leading hotel, where an afternoon high tea provides a gentle way to re energize. In the late afternoon, your guide will take you around the city's premier landmarks to culminate with a sunset visit to the towering Shwedagon Temple, Myanmar's most important Buddhist structure.

What's Included: accommodation, airport transfers, high tea, tour

Day 2: Kengtung – Immersed in the Cultures of the Akha and Lahu People

Fly north to Kengtung, where traditional wooden houses line the town, and locals rest on their terraced balconies. You'll travel to the Hokey In area and wind uphill to an Akha village. Women in silver headdresses will welcome you, their shimmering decoration complemented by intricately woven dresses. These unknown people are spread across the hills of Myanmar and Thailand, disparate villages survive and stoically protect their traditions. Enter the village and meet the locals to enjoy tea and lunch with a group of people filled with an infectious enthusiasm.

Return to Kengtung and stop at a Lahu village, where silver ornaments adorn the neck of many women. There are many tales to hear, from shamans that predict luck using a chicken bone to blacksmith skills passed down over many generations. Then onwards, stop to meet a Wa tribe, a people that will entertain with stories of spirits, buffalos, and rice wine. Throughout this itinerary, you will be accompanied by specialist guides who hail from a minority tribe to offer insight and perspective. On many days, you will visit the village of the guide for a personal look at life in the hills.  While most villagers do not speak English, they are always eager to share stories, and the guide will translate. They people are open, and it's possible to speak openly about Myanmar's past, present and future.

What's Included: accommodation, airport transfers, tour, breakfast

Day 3: Kengtung – Exploring an Ancient Loi Village

Tribal villages dot the serene mountains around Mong La, an area that has rarely been visited by tourists. You must travel on foot to reach the villages, and your journey winds past beautiful wooden monasteries filled with paintings that depict Jakarta scenes. Ancient Buddha images line the trail and share the space with ox carts which are led by tobacco-chewing men. Spend two hours walking and stop at two Loi villages where people live in long wooden houses and are very keen to welcome visitors. Sit cross-legged on the floor and share a round of steaming tea, the essential introduction for all parties. A small crowd of locals will guide you to the villages' monasteries, impressive wooden structures that radiate a surreal tranquility. Then it's back to Kengtung, a border town packed with influence from across Asia.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 4: Kengtung to Pindaya  – Hill Tribes at the Market and Onwards Across Shan State

Some 34 tribes make up the Shan State, an area that remains mostly off bounds to foreigners. The main reason for the travel restriction is an ongoing conflict between the military government and small rebel armies that seek to defend their homeland. Kengtung Market is a hive of activity with people from many ethnic groups that come to trade before they return to their remote jungle villages (which are not accessible to foreigners). Exuberant colors fill the hall; eclectic traditional dress dominates corridors of fragrant stalls of garlic, chili, cabbages and more. Endless piles of goods spill off bamboo mats as traders' shouts waft in echoed harmony. It's always an evocative place to lose yourself amidst local life, without a tourist trinket in sight. In the late morning, fly to Heho and transfer to Pindaya, a quaint hillside town in the depths of Shan State.

What's Included: accommodation, domestic flight, transfers, tour, breakfast

Day 5: Pindaya – Palaung and Danu Villages Leading to Iconic Buddha Caves

It's claimed that Buddha images have filled the Shwe Oo Min Cave for 2,300 years. Minuscule carvings reveal intricate details while towering figures hide in gloomy caverns. Buddhist pilgrims add to the 9,000 statues on a daily basis as they bring their unique offering to enhance the mystique. Deep in the grottoes, find marble statues that glow and old wooden carvings in a state of slow decay. After the muggy interior, just outside the entrance, there's a delightful monastery with a rarefied air that immediately makes you connect with preconceptions of Tibet.

After the morning visit to the caves, spend the day with the Palaung and Danu people. Radiant faces glow beneath resplendent headdresses as their clothes provide a fitting contrast to the deep red hue of the roads. Locals with red stained teeth spit out betel nut juice while palm huts reveal amateur distilleries. You're likely to encounter various members of the local tribal armies, poorly equipped soldiers who are happy to stop and discuss life in Shan State. The narrative is complex, and it's rarely been documented in the West. It isn't dangerous; in the time of danger, local armies set up roadblocks to ensure nobody ventures into an unsafe area. Return to Pindaya and spend the evening exploring a quiet town.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 6: Inle Lake – The Stilt House Villages of Inle

The villages of Inle Lake rise in the water, collections of stilt houses that have canals as roads. Gondoliers navigate these lanes with a unique leg-rowing technique that's as effective as it is baffling. Fishermen cast spherical nets in poetic harmony as they perch on the edge of wooden canoes to seek out tonight's dinner. You will spend your evening at the lake where a short boat tour offers dreamy aesthetics of local life on the water. Inle Lake has long been a luxurious hangout for the country's elite, and the lakeside accommodation provides a serene base for the next few days. With a backdrop of rice paddies and rolling hills, this is a destination that can blend exotic escapism with cultural immersion.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, tour, breakfast

Day 7: Inle Lake – A Cooking Course and Immersion with the Intha People

It's the Intha people that have tamed this lake, their perfect precision with canoes and fishing nets inform their lifestyle on the water. Today you are invited into their stilt village to cook, but before the fragrant smells waft across the lake, you will need ingredients. You will take a boat to the rotating lakeshore market, where wooden tables are packed with mountains of spices and vegetables. Atmospheric calls merge with the steam from tea stalls as you collect your colorful produce. Prepare a series of dishes in the stilt house as you occasionally gaze out the window onto the open lake view. While the houses are small, they are filled with charm, especially when the whole family shares in the meal you've prepared. The evening is at your leisure on the lake.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, cooking class, breakfast, lunch

Day 8: Inle Lake – Pa-Oh Villages in the Hills

Villages are scattered around the foothills of the mountains, each face towards the lake and most overlook rich sweeps of rice paddies. There is an enduring peace and tranquility here, enhanced further by the ritual of drinking tea at every village you visit. Today you can travel on foot or by bicycle to head past the children that are riding buffalos to the tiny villages of the Pa-Oh people. Or, you could travel by car and head higher into the surrounding hills. Out of all the tribes you will meet on this trip, the diligent and religious Pa-Oh are the closest to the ethnic Burmese of the country. They offer a warm reception and encourage you to linger longer over the friendship of a cup of tea. Today's tour is flexible and can last a morning or the whole day, dependent on how many villages you'd like to visit.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 9: Heho to Sittwe – The Complex Stories of Chin State

Compelling and confusing, Sittwe commands a delightful position along the Bay of Bengal. Waterways spill in every direction, and crumbling colonial architecture winds its way around flourishing palms. Sittwe is the gateway to Chin State, Myanmar's most diverse and complex region, home to over 50 different tribes, many facing a battle for survival. The Rakhine are most prevalent, and their thanaka-stained faces greet you all across the town after the flight from Heho. Spend the afternoon on a guided tour of the town to dip into colorful markets, admire the crumpled remains of British rule, and stop for an energizing cup of tea along the quiet, dusty lanes. While there's a bustle about parts of Sittwe, you'll immediately feel that you've entered a more remote part of Myanmar. Very few tourists come out this way, and travel across most of the region requires special permits, which makes it all that little bit more enticing.

What's Included: accommodation, domestic flight, transfers, tour, breakfast

Day 10: Mrauk U – Mysterious Temples Frozen in Time

Bizarre temples hide amongst the trees of Mrauk U, the relics of the Arakan Kingdom draped amongst thick jungle landscapes. For 350 years and some 49 kings, Mrauk U was the capital of an empire that covered most of modern-day Myanmar and Bangladesh. While it looks like a one-horse Burmese country town, it's surrounded by some 700 temples, ranging from the fortress-style dominance of Shittaung and Htukkanthein to atmospheric prayer corridors lined with mythical sculptures; like a three-headed elephant or monsters dancing to local musicians. While Bagan is Myanmar's famous temple destination, Mrauk U also has the charming sense of a world frozen in time; boy monks praying in a pagoda from the year 1650, murals to distant kings on dusty lanes, and alluring temples hidden in the jungle. Today you'll take a ferry up the river to Mrauk U where an afternoon tour reveals the mystique of the temple complex.

What's Included: accommodation, ferry, tour, breakfast

Day 11: Mrauk U – Three Tattoo Tribe Villages in Chin State

For centuries, Chin village women had their faces tattooed with a mix of soot and buffalo liver to create a geometrical mark of identity amongst competing Chin tribes. While the practice was made illegal in the 1960s, you will still find old women covered in lines. The villages are only accessible by boat, and today you travel along the Lemro River and stop at three places along the water. Tattooed faces are just a small part of their culture, and you will find that Chin State groups have protected tradition even fiercer than those in Shan State. It's a relaxed day in the villages, the inevitable tea being shared and the guide ensures that you can communicate with the locals. In places that have rarely seen foreigners, there's eagerness to interact and find out what happens in other worlds.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 12: Mrauk U to Yangon – Departure

Your journey concludes as you depart to Myanmar from Yangon this evening. Take the ferry back to Sittwe as you curve past the palm villages of the riverside. From Sittwe, there is a domestic flight to Yangon for easy connection with your international departure.

What's Included: ferry, domestic flight, breakfast


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