A town of many pagodas

Loikaw is the capital of Kayah State, one of the least visited but more picturesque places we’ve found in Burma (Myanmar). The state is home to mountain-top pagodas, volcanic lakes, mysterious caves and a vast array of ethnic groups, including the Padaung – female members are often referred to somewhat disrespectfully as the “long necks” due to the golden rings traditionally placed around their necks from a young age. Bordering Thailand and rich in rivers and teak, this area has a long history of conflict between the Burmese junta and local ethnic military groups who have competed for control over the natural resources and fertile lands. In fact, until very recently, the state was off limits to foreigners and was only accessible with special (often multiple) permits.

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Plenty of temples to explore.

Today, with a cease-fire in effect and no foreseeable threat in sight, the Burmese government has lifted the need for permits for Loikaw city and the immediate surrounding area—though most of the remainder of the state remains off-limits, ostensibly due to old land mines. As a result, travellers are now trickling in, eager to catch a view of the stunning natural scenery and sights. They are often surprised to find here decent infrastructure, which is lacking almost everywhere else in Burma. In Kayah State the food seems to be better, the roads are smoother, the standards of hotels seem to be higher, and the internet is decent. Really!

Foreigner-friendly guesthouses are scattered throughout Loikaw city and each has their own pros and cons, but in general they tend to be better value for your dollar than other areas in Burma. Restaurants are also sprinkled around town, and many offer multiple styles of food, including Thai, Chinese, Burmese and Western. Prices are reasonable, and their river fish and prawns can be extremely tasty.

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