The Loikaw Loop
Flying into Heho, one is greeted by flat green plains and busy agriculture. Driving up to Kalaw, this gives way to rich green hills and picturesque Pa-Oh villages – ripe for treks of various lengths and difficulties. An ex-colonial hill station, Kalaw has some attractive (if dusty) architecture, a quaint train station (marking the start or end of the excellent Kalaw-Shwenyaung train journey), and is home to the rather excellent Amara Mountain Resort.
From Kalaw, head south into previously off-limits territory. Down through the towns of Pinlaung and Pekou (the latter was the birthplace of Pascal Khoo Thwe, author of Land of the Green Ghosts – required reading for any visitor), you will witness the landscape, and locals, change throughout the journey; from the busy, business-like Pa-oh, through Elephant Mountain to the rustic areas of the Kayah and Padaung. A cultural shift is also visible as Buddhist shrines give way to dilapidated churches, leftover from successful Missionary activity in the previous century.
Arriving in Loikaw you will find a pretty, green, town with at its centre a bustling market and the impossible-looking double-crag-stupa of Taung Zedi. The main attractions lie outside of the city, however; just an hours’ drive plains give way to lush green hills and quickly you find yourself way off the beaten path. Trek or drive in to a number of Padaung villages, stopping for chat (and dram of local wine) with the locals. The locals in this case are the fabled long-neck Padaung ladies; as modernity creeps in this tradition is dying, and only a handful such ladies remain in each village. Visit soon, before concrete and coach tours spoil the area forever.
The highlight of the loop comes the following day, via an enchanting boat journey through the lakes of Pekou and Sagar, and finally into Inle. Pekou is wide and flat, but at Sagar the waterway narrows. Rural life draws in from on either side – oxen grazing in paddy fields, wooden carts propped under trees, and a smile and wave from every passing family. With a number of stops along the way to break the journey, you will arrive at dusk as the sun sets across Inle Lake, just in time to retire to your lakeside resort and enjoy some well-earned comfort.