Kyaingtong, also written ‘Kengtung’ and pronounced ‘Cheng-dong’, is the hub of Myanmar’s ‘Golden Triangle’ region. Long one of the world’s principal opium growing centres, it remained off-limits to foreigners for decades, but is now easily and safely accessible again, thanks to the end of the conflicts between local drug barons and the government that ravaged the area.
The town’s colourful markets, pagodas and ethnic Tai inhabitants make it among the most appealing in Myanmar, but the main incentive to make the journey to this remote, eastern fringe of the Shan Plateau, is to visit the surrounding hill villages, where minority people maintain their traditional ways of life to a degree that’s exceptional in modern Southeast Asia.
Circuits lasting a day can be conducted from Kyaingtong by car and on foot, combining visits to villages of the Enn, Akha, Palaung, Loi and Wa tribes, each of whom wear their own distinctive forms of dress. With more time, you can also trek deeper into the hills, overnighting in the villages themselves for a more intimate experience of this fascinating region.