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How to Plan a Trek in Myanmar

How to Plan a Trek in Myanmar

By Wendy Updated Sep. 7, 2023

With the country just having opened up in recent years, trekking in Myanmar has become a new possibility for tourists. For the moment, however, a large portion of Myanmar remains relatively untouched by the heavy footfall of tourism, due to the poorly developed transportation network. Trekking in Myanmar offers a great opportunity to discover aspects of local life unseen by large travel groups.

The whole country is home to rustic and beautiful trekking trails, from the Myanmar-China border in the north to the ocean in the south. Although trekking can be arduous, the reward for giving up Wifi and Starbucks for a couple of days can be surprisingly rich.

Breathe in the pure air of a remote village in Kalaw, or be greeted by chirping birds as you trek up to Phongan Razi and witness local women doing their morning laundry by the Namlang River in Putao. No matter whether you are a hardcore trekker or just an amateur, the country has something special to offer when you travel by foot. If your Myanmar trip is intended to help you experience something different, our insider trekking guidelines will facilitate just that: a great experience that you'll be talking about for a long time afterwards.

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Why Trekking

Enjoy the novelty of reaching the previously unreachable

With more tourists pouring in, Myanmar is experiencing a kind-of springtime as a generally-loved travel destination. That said, most of this large country still remains unreachable, as road conditions are not always friendly to large vehicles.

This is precisely the situation pertaining to many remote hill tribes, for example in the northern mountainous part of Myanmar. Traditions, laid-back lifestyles and pristine landscapes avoid being overwhelmed by an inrush of tourists and for the time being, get to survive.

Putao, a popular yet hard-to-reach trekking destination, is situated in the far north of Kachin state. Trekkers to this region are required to obtain an MTT Permit (Permit of Myanmar Travels and Tours). Though restricted by law, and in terrain surrounded by mountains and dense forest, a trek in Putao provides a great view of the Himalayan Mountains in the far distance.

Nature there is well-preserved and there are opportunities for close encounters with friendly locals, whose lifestyle remains relatively untouched by the outside world. Trekking in Putao is relatively safe, as our local trekking tour guides are obligated to lead the tours only on the main trekking trails, and through authorized villages and areas.

More advantages than expected

Go where no one has ever gone before. Every sense comes alive when you are on the road. This is true both physically and mentally. Your trip through Myanmar may be mostly by car; but it'll still be good to see how far you can go on foot. Your metabolism will be boosted after trekking through jungles and fording streams. Allow yourself some moderate challenges, and this will benefit your daily life after returning home.

Find yourself awe-struck as you set foot in a different realm. Submit to contemplation as you observe what the Creator has given and how a people with different skin-color make a living. Women in Chin state, in the northwest part of Myanmar bordering India and Bangladesh, have been used to tattooing their faces as part of their identity. Sneak a peek at this outlawed act, no longer practiced, during your Myanmar trek.

Travel responsibly

Life impacts life, and so does every step you take on such a trip. Certainly, driving an SUV into the jungles of Putao sounds cool, but it is not necessarily friendly to the villagers and the environment they live in. Trekking helps minimize pollution that is easily caused by carloads of tourists. What's more, beautiful things like the innocent smile of a village kid, old-fashioned farming techniques and ancient traditions, will be kept intact without being disturbed by large travel groups.

Asia Highlights employs local people to be your trekking guides and porters. Most of our local guides were born and raised in small villages. For example, our tour guide Mr. XX was born in a tribal village near Inle Lake and has worked as a trekking guide for over 10 years. It has often taken tremendous effort for our guides to become educated and we wish to ensure that they enjoy the fruits of their labors. With a similar understanding of the importance of responsible travel, they will carry on our vision during your trekking trip.

Despite Aung San Suu Kyi's election triumph, let's not forget that the military in Myanmar still have a strong influence on tourism and other industry there. We believe money should be channeled back into the local communities. Asia Highlights hires local agents who have little connection with the military regime or its associates. Between one and three local villagers will accompany you as porters on your trek. We treat them with respect and proper training for operating tours; and this cannot be done without your support.

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Tips for Planning a Trek in Myanmar

When is the best time to trek in Myanmar

As most of the popular trekking routes are in mountainous areas, namely in the northern part of the country, the best time to trek in Myanmar will be Octoberto next April. At this time of year, nature produces lovely colors and the climate is mild.

January to March might be particularly interesting, allowing you to trek up the snowcapped mountains to villages where people have just started their annual planting season. During the rainy season from May to September, the muddy paths are slippery, so could only be considered by experienced trekkers with a heart for adventure.

How fit do I need to be to trek in Myanmar

The answer is not necessarily very fit; you can choose a route according to your fitness. Bear in mind that the footpaths are often muddy, rugged and not well maintained, and we don't usually encourage people with young babies to trek. Nevertheless, senior travelers with good mobility might like to try trekking a relatively easy route.

For first-timers or occasional trekkers, a 1-day trek in Kalaw or Pindaya would be a nice supplement to an ordinary Myanmar trip. If you consider yourself up to it, plan a 3-day trekking journey in Chin state, home to Mt. Victoria; or in Hsipaw and Kyaukme, which are easy to access from Mandalay. Putao and Kengtung, with a rich combination of natural vistas, hill tribes and overnights in remote monasteries, have their share of trekking enthusiasts who trek there anything from 1 day up to a week.

Is it possible or safe to trek alone

Even if you regard yourself an introvert who prefers to traverse the trails alone, having a trekking guide has benefits you might not imagine. What's more, let's face it, you are not a local and all your knowledge about trekking in Myanmar is gleaned from the internet. Such knowledge might be found wanting when you're actually on the trail. You'll be glad of a reliable guide who knows where to turn or when to take a break.

The trekking tour guide, who knows his/her way around the terrain, can be your Huckleberry Finn for adventures in a totally different lifestyle and region. He/she will tell you, for example, how a seemingly useless plant is used in the daily diet of local people; will take you away from the main road to a unexpectedly-enlightening viewing spot; or will invite you to a local wedding ceremony or to the house of his/her grandma.

When it comes to safety, some travelers are apprehensive; we have never heard reports, however, of our clients being exposed to danger of any kind. This is as true for our trekking trips as for other tours. Such tours are conducted only in areas authorized for tourism. As for general safety concerns, such as diseases, scams and culture shock, you will be fine if you travel with an experienced guide.

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What to bring for my trekking trip in Myanmar

Here is a check-list of things to bring for your trekking trip in Myanmar:

- Sunblock: an all-season must for trips to Myanmar; you can also try out the local sunblock, Thanaka.

- Sunglasses and hat: we'll not walk for long periods in broad sunlight; but it doesn't hurt to bring these items anyway, does it?

- A good pair of walking shoes: occasional showers in the highlands might create muddy paths; a pair of comfortable, good-grip shoes is needed.

- A light jacket: on an 8-hour trek or a multi-day journey, you will experience temperature changes within the space of a day. It can get very chilly during the night, so it's better to have a light jacket with you.

- Some snacks: chocolate bars, or dried fruit and nuts recharge you in a jiffy.

- Water-proof bag: for keeping your valuable stuff, such as passports, wallets and camera safe from the rain, streams and possibly even your own sweat.

- Quick-drying clothes: it might rain, you might walk across a river and you will definitely sweat, so you need to wear something that dries up quickly, to stay cool and comfortable.

- Wipes and tissues: to clean your face, hands and feet (when you are going into a temple, you will need to remove all footwear).

- Bug spray: an absolute must if you are trekking in the woods or staying overnight in a local house.

Also, for the sake of responsible travel, we have a short rundown of what not to bring:

- Plastic bags or bottles: before you start out, your trekking guide will give you two bottles of drinking water each. Once finished, the bottles and other garbage will not be tossed away, but gathered together in one bag carried by the porter.

- Alcohol: to stay happy, you won't need any booze.

- Plastic bags or bottles: before you start out, your trekking guide will give you two bottles of drinking water each. Once finished, the bottles and other garbage will not be tossed away, but gathered together in one bag carried by the porter.

- Sweets: it's ok to pack some candy just for yourself, but don't think it's a good idea to give it out to local children. Doing so would teach them to expect things from foreigners and too much candy would rot their teeth, while they don't have a dentist in the village. If you do wish to give presents, pencil sharpeners might be a good idea, so the children don't have to sharpen their pencils with knives.

- Any items to be discarded that do not decay naturally.

If your mind is set on adding a trekking trip to your Myanmar travel plans, talk to our travel advisors, and they will help you design a route tailor-made for you.

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Visit Myanmar with Asia Highlights

We provide tailor-made tours to Myanmar. Tours typically start or end in Yangon or Mandalay and last approximately 9 days; visiting Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake.

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