People of Loikaw

The long neck Padaung or Kayan, a minority group that fled to the North of Thailand during the times of armed conflict in this part of then called “Burma”, is probably the most iconic of the nine major tribal groups in Kayah State.

Encounters with Vanishing Tribes and Traditions.

Kayah State is the smallest State in Myanmar, yet has the highest ethnic diversity of any of the States of the Union and is therefore one of the most interesting destinations to visit, not only within the country but within Asia.

Closed for over half a century, it only recently opened to foreign visitors, and finally is accessible by air, road or a combination of air (Heho), boat (crossing of Inle lake) and road (car transfer from Phekon jetty). There is hardly a more authentic place than Kayah State where ancient arts, cultures and traditions have been preservered in the absence of outside influence. It is therefore packed with ehtnic diversity and authentic ‘off the beaten track’ experiences.

The Kayan (aka “Padaung”), a minority group that fled to the North of Thailand during the times of armed conflict in this part of then Burma, is probably the most iconic of the tribal groups in Kayah. A lot of Kayan families are currently migrating back to the land of their origin, which is in Kayah State. The Kayan, nicknamed “Giraffe women” because of their prolonged necks that are stretched by wearing bronze rings that are added over the years from childhood onwards, are not the only ones using bronze rings as body adornment though.

Little is known about the Kayaw tribes that also wear neck, leg and ankle rings made out of an amalgation of metals. Other than among the Kayan, where mostly the older women still proudly wear their neck rings as a status symbol, the Kayaw have preserved their culture and traditions since generations until today.

This can be well observed when visiting their villages where young daughters, mothers and grandmothers are always dressed in their traditional clothing, no matter if at home, on the fields or during harvest celebrations. Apart from the Kayah, Kayaw, Kayan, Kayin and a sub-group of the Lisu called “Khi”, also other ethnic people such as Geba, Manu-Manaw, Yintale, Pa-O, Intha and Shan have settled in Kayah State. Loikaw Lodge is constantly working with local guides and tribes to ensure that visits are conducted with sensitivity, respect, and are beneficial to the host community.

It is only a 1 hour car ride from Phekon, a town located at the most Southern end of Inle Lake where traditionally Shan, Pa-o and Intha live. Crossing Inle Lake by boat until Phekon is probably the most scenic way to Loikaw.

Loikaw Lodge has its own fully-licensed in-house travel agency, Ancient Geographic Travels & Tours (founded in 2009) which has been exploring Kayah State since 2012, the year when the Government of Myanmar began to allow foreigners to visit Loikaw and surroundings.

In other words: in all the years and for almost six decades before, hardly any international visitor made it to Loikaw, let alone into the mountainous hinterland where the many ethnic minorities dwell. That makes Kayah State a perfect destination for the interested visitor, foreign or local – and Loikaw Lodge the perfect starting point for explorations off-the-beaten-track.