Most travellers in Myanmar stick to the same route of visiting Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake. Travelling to some more remote areas can either be a logistical hazzle (i.e. if you want to visit the coast) or requires specific governmental authorisations.
So Kyaukme was not originally on my bucket list. Luckily though, a fellow traveller we met in Yangon told us about this amazing motorbike trip he went on and my German friend Laura and I just knew we had to go there as well.
Kyaukme is a super small town in Chan state, with only two accomodations for foreigners (in Myanmar, hotels need special licences to host foreigners). We stayed at the Northern Rock Guesthouse, which was recommended to us by our travelling friend.
Upon arrival, a small local bus took us from the busstation into town. We had no idea where our guesthouse was and how to make ourselves understood, but we somehow managed to arrive there. The guesthouse is managed by a very nice local doctor and his family and while it’s far from being fancy, there really is no reason to complain.
The first thing we were really surprised about was the excellent level of English spoken by the locals in our guesthouse. We didn’t expect this from the countryside, as English is not spoken at all in Myanmar, not even in the the big cities. This is due to many decades of military rule, who didn’t bother investing too much in the people’s education.
We soon found out who was behind all of this: It turned out that a guy named Joy was not only our man when it comes to exploring the completely remote villages around Kyaukme by motorbike with us. He is also giving English lessons to the locals because – as opposed to the government – the local youth has well understood that speaking English (and Mandarin) is the key to a brighter future and better employment. Laura and I were more than impressed and even more eager to start our trek with this cool guy.
You can either drive on your own or just sit in the backseat. I do recommend going solo only to really experienced drivers. There are no roads and you will be driving up and down in the hills and in the woods the entire day. The trip was very exhausting even from “just” sitting in the back and while I would have never be able to drive on my own.
We spent our first day in Kyaukme just hanging out, walking around, eating and generally recovering from our hangover from the day before and the allnighter we pulled before taking a super early bus. The next morning, we were finally good to go on our two-day adventure.
Joy, Harry and another guy I forgot the name of came to pick up the three of us early in the morning (we invited another solo traveller we met in the guesthouse to join us for the trek), we went to the market to buy food and snacks for the next two days and then it was finally time to hit the road.
Our first stop was for a short hike up a hill, from which we had a nice view. And then, the really cool part started: We stopped by in a small town next to the hill and had tea and fruit with a local family. Joy didn’t arrange for this tea break – this is just how Myanmar works: People will be happy to share whatever they have with whoever is knocking on their door – and even if that is just some tea and a Papaya.
And this was pretty much what we did for the next two days: We drove from one village to the next, visiting pagodas and monasteries from time to time and stopping for food and tea with the locals. Many of the villages we visited are impossible to reach without a motorbike (as in: there are no actual roads for cars) and I am not sure that all of them are even on the map.
We spent the night in one of the mountain villages who lives off its tea plantations. We were kindly accomodated by the “manager” of the tea pickers and his family, where we had a delicious dinner and slept among the tea leaves laid out to dry on the attic. Perfect for the tea addict that I am.
While Myanmar is a country still relatively untouched by tourism (compared to neighbouring Thailand, for example), the villages of Shan state really are pretty much unexplored territory (Joy also makes sure to varies his tours every time). It’s not uncommon to stumble upon kids who have never/rarely seen a foreigner and while the countryside certainly was pretty, it was the people we met who made this trip so special.
Kyaukme – Good to know
When you arrive in Kyaukme, ask your way through to the guesthouse. The city center really is not that big and you should be able to find it within a few minutes.
And once you’re there, just ask for Joy. The hotel will arrange for him to drop by and you will be able to arrange a trip for however many days you want. Booking ahead might not be such a bad idea though, especially if you are visiting Myanmar in high season.
Also, everything you will need for the duration of your trip has to fit in a small backpack. Bring a sweater for the evening and wet wipes (I already mentioned that this is probably the single most important thing when traveling Myanmar). However, do not even bother to bring a towel, as you certainly won’t shower.