Kyaukme isn´t one of the most popular places to stay when you visit the Shan State, with Hsipaw and Pyin Oo Lwin on the top of the list of the places chosen as a base point to explore this area. This northeast region of Myanmar is well known by the presence of different ethnic groups, generically denominated Shan people that include different tribes that in common have the same Chinese roots and the language, similar with Tahi and Lao.
But there are many reasons to stay and enjoy this town: is small enough to be made on foot, and with some interesting thing to keep you entertained for a couple of days: some sightseeing points, a nice market, lots of street-food… and a laid back vibe… where there’s always time for a smile and to pet a stray cat!
Despite the proximity to the surrounding villages, where predominates the Palaung, one of the tribes that make up the ethnic mosaic of the Shan state, the traditional colorful costumes of the Palaung women are not glimpsed in Kyaukme. However, in the faces of the people of this region we can note the Eastern features, distinct from the Bamar, the dominant ethnic group in Myanmar.
As a result of ethnic and cultural differences, the Shan State has been for a long time a name connected fights opposing the army to groups of the local population. These conflicts still going on, and are a mix of stand up for recognition and respect for cultural differences, as also a fight against the military dictatorship that ruled the country for 54 years. But now, despite the recent democracy, the conflicts are still going on, with these “rebels” groups controlling the region from the top of the hills.
But the daily life at Kyaukme starts early, while the first sunrays shine on the local food market, heating the chilly morning. This is a good opportunity to try some of the local snacks, a mix of Chinese with Burmese influence, but for that, you need to wake up early, as the market close around 7.30 a.m.
Along the streets, monks walk begging for alms, and despite the serious faces gazing the ground, the younger monks can´t avoid a curious smile when they look to the foreigners.
Where to sleep in Kyaukme:
As Kyaukme is starting to be an alternative to the more popular Hsipaw, there several accommodation options for foreigners.
The choice was to Northen Guest House, probably the most smiley staff in town. The building has character, with a well-preserved colonial charm. There are different types of rooms, some with shared bathroom and some without window.
- Double room with toilet inside: 21 USD
- Double room with shared toilet: 12 USD
Where to eat in Kyaukme:
But not much later starts another market, this one indoors selling a mix of traditional Burmese clothes and crafts with some Chinese imported products. On the streets around this building that occupy one block of the town grid, another market starts in the afternoon… street food is almost everywhere, and here is a good opportunity to try the traditional Shan noodles soup, that has a more Chinese touch compared to the other Burmese soups like mohinga.
Wi-fi in Kyaukme:
Cherry Pan Tea House, where most of the workers are kids, has the best wi-fi connection in town, if you don’t want to go for a more expensive experience of the Banyan Coffee shop.
On the other side of the street there’s another tea-shop with wi-fi…. but watch out that the tea in this kind of teashops is sweetened with condensed milk resulting in an extremely sweet drink that little has to do with tea. The coffee here is “coffee mix” an instant industrial drink made with sugar, milk powder (in fact a creamer without dairy) and a bit of coffee.
How to go from Mandalay to Kyaukme:
From Mandalay, you can get a direct bus at Pyi Gyi Myat Shin Bus Terminal. There are two buses leaving at the same time to Hsipaw that stop at Pyin Oo Lwin and Kyaukme. The best buses from Ye Shinn Express are more modern and comfortable.
The buses departure at 2 pm. The ticket cost 4000 kyats and the trip takes around 3.5 hours… but can be much more as the road pass by a mountain area with often traffic jams.
Pyi Gyi Myat Shin Bus Terminal is very small terminal, with basic conditions the make long waiting a bit hard.