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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
 
 
 
TRAVEL & TOURISM
 

Update January 21, 2017

Kengtung in Myanmar; the heart of Shan State’s tribal diversity

A city that offers stunning natural beauty and unique cultural experiences

The scenic Naung Tong Lake in Kengtung, Myanmar is capped by the golden glow of Wat Jom Kai.

By Shana Kongmun

It is easy to become a little immune to the charms of ethnic tribal groups when living in Thailand; there are many and the tourist industry around them fairly developed. However, a visit to Kengtung in eastern Shan State in Myanmar will change your view on ethnic tribes in the region and open your eyes to the diversity of the different groups.

Kengtung should be on your list of places to visit for those seeking something different and off the well-beaten tourist track but not afraid to forego luxuries. This charming town is set in the high plains of Eastern Shan State in Myanmar and is ringed by picturesque mountains. The bumpy four-hour bus ride from Tachilek offers spectacular scenery and images of a rural lifestyle fast disappearing. Stop at the tiny town halfway and find a great selection of silkworms to munch on, if bugs aren’t your thing there is also fruit and Shan noodles. Arrive in Kengtung before sunset and enjoy the spectacular view of the sun setting behind the mountains.

The gold pagoda of Wat Jom Kai dominates the skyline in this small town, built in the 13th century the temple is in the Shan style.

A city with many names, Kengtung, also known as Chiang Tung, Kyaintong and Cheingtung, is also a city of many personalities. The city plays host to many ethnic groups; the Tai Khun, Wa, Akha, Lahu, Eng, and Burmese. Kengtung was once at the crossroads of trade between China and the Kingdom of Siam and that is visible in the diversity of the region.

Local legend states that the city was founded in the distant past by the Wa people; history shows that the grandson of King Mengrai, founder of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, was sent to conquer the Wa and rule this important location in the early 13th century.

That turbulent past is not visible in this little city with a population of 171,000. The winding roads and stunning views of the lake make this city charming and walkable – but beware the motorbikes, cars and pickup trucks that definitely do not make way for pedestrians. Fortunately, traffic is not heavy but its best to be on guard when crossing the street!

Although a newer construct the giant standing Buddha is a draw in Kengtung.

Kengtung has a very small tourist industry, mostly Thais on pilgrimage to some of the important temples; around 5,000 people a year. However, many of the locals speak Thai well enough for communication, a few speak English but, in this far flung region, it is not widespread despite the colonial British past.

The people of Kengtung are friendly and helpful, and while the power goes off occasionally staying in the one big hotel in the city, The Amazing Kengtung Resort, ensured electricity and decent WiFi. The resort itself stands on the site of the old palace that was torn down by the military in the early 1990’s, the fabulous teak palace built by the Shopas in 1902.

Amazing Holidays Hotels & Resorts took over the property in 2015 obtaining a 70-year lease from the hotel’s owner; the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. Aung Myo Min Din, the chairman of the group, plans on closing the hotel for four months this year for a major renovation of the property to showcase the local Shan heritage and upgrade the property to a four-star resort in line with the group’s other properties. A refocus on the local culture would be welcomed by the locals who had protested heavily at the destruction of the palace.

A local vendor enjoys some noodles waiting for customers. The hats are handmade and embroidered during the rainy season.

The Amazing Hotel Kengtung already offers a diverse menu of delicious Shan meals; at the modest price of only $US15 for a four-course meal, this is a terrific value-for-money dinner. The hotel itself is set in a stunning garden and is walking distance from Naung Tong Lake with its many roadside stalls. The hotel is set in the heart of the old city with quaint shophouses, British colonial architecture and large pagodas and temples. The 18 meter standing Buddha constructed overlooking the city points to the heart of the city while the skyline is dominated by the gilded stupa of the 13th century Wat Jom Kai, reportedly built during the reign of the Lanna Kingdom. Nearby is the stunning Wat Maha Myat Muni with gorgeous Tai murals set in the heart of the city.

The daily market in Kengtung is outstanding and still very much for locals; filled with villagers from the hills selling fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, and freshwater fish. There is a large array of prepared food as well as handicrafts, and the market is dotted with tea and coffee shops. Be sure to sit down and enjoy a hot milky tea with traditional baked flat bread and watch the market life. In the evening stroll down to the river and have a Myanmar Beer with some grilled meats (usually pork) while watching the sun set behind the mountains.

Cooking is all wood fire in the Kengtung Market and the narrow alleys are filled with smoke as people fill up on Shan noodles, baked flatbread and more.

Sightseeing in the city can be easily done on foot or by hired car and driver. Foreigners are not allowed to self-drive nor are they allowed to hire motorbikes or cars so to get out in the country it is necessary to sign up for a trek or obtain a local guide and driver at your hotel. The Myanmar government does not allow for overnight stays so trips will need to be within a few hours of the city but that won’t be difficult as there are many things to see and do in an hour or two drive.

The stunning Loi Mwe hill station is on the must-see list; high in the hills, at 1600 meters the air is fresh and the breezes cool. Established in 1918 as a retreat for the British colonists from the hot summers, this little town still has many old colonial buildings but, befitting a town that is not yet touristic, many are closed for entrance and one can only see the old colonial charms by peering through thick glass windows.

The town is well-known for its fresh fruit and vegetables but it is the fruit wine brewed locally that has put the place on the local map. Cherry wine, pineapple wine, strawberry wine, and even crabapple wine is available for sale and consumption on the spot. Basic restaurants set up in the market serve up amazing local dishes and some of the best tea leaf salad around. That, along with the strong crabapple wine, makes for a very pleasant lunch break!

Kengtung retains much of its charm with old wooden buildings in good repair lining the narrow winding streets.

There is a large temple on the hill with many steps for those working off their lunchtime aperitif, of walk across bridge that meanders across the little lake and enjoy the views. This is a popular destination for Kengtung teenagers wanting to escape the city as it is about an hour and half away, so the roaring sound of motorbikes and singing teens in large groups fills the air around the lake and the old Governor’s House.

The area around Kengtung is dotted with many different small ethnic villages including Akha, Shan, Lahu, Wa, and a tribe known as the Eng or Black Teeth, a group unique to this region. The Eng villagers here still very much follow the old, traditional animist ways. The Eng women chew betel and blacken their teeth with charcoal to heighten the effect. They eschew modernity, living high in the hills on stilt houses made of bamboo, and forego electricity, schools and medical care. Childbearing begins with menstruation and the tribe suffers a 50 percent mortality rate. However, they have their own method to ensure water year round delivered to the village and earn a few extra kyat selling trinkets to visitors. They are shy of photography so always ask before taking photos.

Wat Jom Kai was built in the 13th century after the city was taken by the grandson of King Mengrai and absorbed into the Lanna Kingdom.

Other ethnic groups practice Buddhism and Christianity but usually with a hearty dose of animism thrown in as they integrate the old with the new. However, headhunting was outlawed by the government and so the Wa village in Nong Kew no longer uses human heads to ensure a good rice harvest but buffalo heads. In the past the villagers would hunt heads from people far away so that the spirit could not find the village. The Sikh soldiers sent by the British were highly prized not only for how far distant their homes were but for their facial hair!

Getting there takes some work. It is possible to cross over the Mae Sai border and travel overland without a visa but the traveler’s passport must be left with the Immigration officials at the Tachilek border and a pass or MTT Permit issued. The Myanmar government requires travelers entering the country this way to hire an authorized guide and driver. Otherwise, a visa is easily obtained online on the Myanmar government website and can be used to cross the border or to fly in to the country. It is possible to fly from Tachilek just over the border from Mae Sai, Chiang Rai or fly from Bangkok or Chiang Mai and connect to Tachilek in Yangon or Mandalay but then the beauty of the region is missed.

The region around Kengtung is unspoiled by development, indeed the roads are bumpy, narrow and in poor condition but the experience of visiting the area makes up for it all. This is not a trip for those seeking great luxury but for those wishing to see a way of life that is quickly disappearing and to experience the natural and cultural beauties of Shan State.

Villagers brew rice whiskey the old fashioned way.

This Eng grandmother sports the traditional blackened teeth of her tribe.

Eng villagers live in bamboo and wooden homes high above the valley and eschew the modern life, living the traditional animist ways.

A young Akha boy brings the cows back up the hills from grazing in the valley at the end of the day.

This Wa village still kept the traditional separate kitchen, using wood fires to cook their meals.

Loi Mwe is home to the colonial hill station but is more well known among the locals for its fruit, vegetables and fruit wines.

The old Governor’s House from the British colonial era is a popular place on the weekend for Kengtung city kids.

The scenic bridge across the Loi Mwe Lake is filled with local visitors enjoying the fresh air and cool breezes and of course, is the most popular spot for the ubiquitous selfie.


Update January 18, 2017

Mae Chaem highlighting local textiles in Fair January 27 - 30

Mae Chaem is famed for their Teen Jok textiles and girls display the fabrics at the press conference held at City Hall. The Fair will start January 27 and run through January 30.

The 24th annual Mae Chaem Handmade Teen Jok Festival was announced at a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday, January 17. The event, which will start January 27 from 8 a.m. highlights local textiles including the famous Teen Jok or tube skirt made in Mae Chaem District.

The fair also features local handmade textiles, local products, cultural performances and, of course, food. There will also be bamboo rafting competitions and more. Mae Chaem registered their Teen Jok fabric with the Department of Intellectual Property in September 2007. For more information contact the Mae Chaem District Office at 053-485-111.


Good Weather Fair 2017 in Omkoi from January 18 - 20

Mr. Boonyen Jaita, Omkoi Sub-District Mayor, announced the upcoming Good Weather Fair that opens January 18, 2017 and runs through January 20.

Nopniwat Krailerg

Omkoi District is holding their 4th annual Good Weather Fair to promote tourism to the district and to honor His Majesty King Rama IX. The fair, which is held every year during the cool season, allows locals the chance to display their arts and handicrafts, dance and local culture. The event works to promote indigenous knowledge and sustainable use of natural resources in the surrounding forest.

Mr. Boonyen Jaita, Omkoi Sub-District Mayor, added that the community will pay respects and mourn the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The event will be held from January 18 - 20 at Omkoi Municipal Stadium, Omkoi, Chiang Mai.

Activities will include displays of local ethnic groups lifestyle, exhibitions , a Miss Good Weather Girl contest, a Khanom Pad Contest, Northern Sausage making contest and a Thai boxing competition along with local products for sale. For more information, please call 053 467 013


Update January 12, 2017

PG Together offers special fares for travelers to the south in January

In a bid to ease travel to the South after the floods and promote tourism to the stricken region, Bangkok Airways is offering special fares until January 31, 2017.

Bangkok Airways Company Limited launched the "PG Together Promotion," offering special fares for those passengers who would like to travel between Bangkok and some of Bangkok Airways destinations in the southern part of Thailand during the month of January 2017. The fares for this special promotion are starting from 790 Baht per trip (exclusive of airport tax). Reservations can be made via this link https://goo.gl/llHrfA and the airline's call center 1771 or 02 270 6699 (24hrs). Tickets went on sale today for travel from January 15 to January 31, 2017.

The PG Together Promotion will be available on these routes only which are Bangkok-Samui, Samui-Bangkok, Bangkok-Krabi, Krabi-Bangkok, Bangkok-Phuket, Phuket-Bangkok, Pattaya-Samui, Samui-Pattaya, Pattaya-Phuket, Phuket-Pattaya, Phuket-Hat Yai and Hat-Yai-Phuket.

However, these special fares are limited on each flight. Passengers are encouraged to contact Bangkok Airways's Call Center no. 1771 or 02 270 699 (24hrs) for more information and availability.

A total of 30 unemployed former street elephants will take part in this year’s festival during which they will be given full veterinary checks and care, much needed food and drink and essential vitamin supplements for the duration of the event.

The welfare of the elephants that participate in the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament is of paramount importance, with strict rules ensuring that the pachyderms are well cared for at all times. By imposing a “no micro-chip, no game” rule, Anantara guarantees that all participating elephants have been domestically bred and not captured from the wild or smuggled in from neighbouring countries.

The King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament recently awarded a silver medal for Sports CSR Initiative of the Year at the Asia 2016 SPIA Sports Industry Awards. Organised by Sport360 and MMC Sportz, in partnership with the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Sports Authority of Thailand, the awards applauds sports industry leaders that demonstrate a balance between business, community and environment.

The 2017 event will have 10 teams encompassing over 40 players, including Thai celebrities, supermodels, professional horse polo players and New Zealand All-Blacks rugby players. The four day festival will have something for everyone including an impressive Opening Parade, Children’s Educational Day, Ladies Day known as The ‘Bangkok Ascot’ and fun elephant related activities.

Anantara has long been associated with elephant conservation efforts with the formation of The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, which has performed over 40 rescues of elephants off the streets of Thailand, as well as bringing the hugely successful Elephant Parade to Bangkok.

For more information on the 15th Annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, please visit www.anantaraelephantpolo.com.


Update January 9, 2017

King’s Cup Elephant Polo to aid Thai Elephant Assisted Autistic Therapy program in Chiang Mai

The popular King’s Cup Elephant Polo will be held in March and benefit the Thai Elephant Assisted Autistic Therapy program in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai Mail reporters

Anantara Hotels and Resorts announced the dates for the 2017 King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament. This year’s event will be held by the banks of Bangkok’s mighty Chaophraya River from March 9th – 12th and promises to have a full range of fun elephant festivities for the whole family.

Now in its fifteenth year, the tournament has become one of the biggest charitable events in Southeast Asia with over US$1.3 million (BHT 46 million) raised and donated to projects that better the lives of Thailand’s wild and domesticated elephant population, these include: the world’s first Thai Elephant Assisted Autistic Therapy Project; positive reinforcement elephant training workshops; mahout community development initiatives, and wild elephant conservation.

A total of 30 unemployed former street elephants will take part in this year’s festival during which they will be given full veterinary checks and care, much needed food and drink and essential vitamin supplements for the duration of the event.

The welfare of the elephants that participate in the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament is of paramount importance, with strict rules ensuring that the pachyderms are well cared for at all times. By imposing a “no micro-chip, no game” rule, Anantara guarantees that all participating elephants have been domestically bred and not captured from the wild or smuggled in from neighbouring countries.

The King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament recently awarded a silver medal for Sports CSR Initiative of the Year at the Asia 2016 SPIA Sports Industry Awards. Organised by Sport360 and MMC Sportz, in partnership with the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Sports Authority of Thailand, the awards applauds sports industry leaders that demonstrate a balance between business, community and environment.

The 2017 event will have 10 teams encompassing over 40 players, including Thai celebrities, supermodels, professional horse polo players and New Zealand All-Blacks rugby players. The four day festival will have something for everyone including an impressive Opening Parade, Children’s Educational Day, Ladies Day known as The ‘Bangkok Ascot’ and fun elephant related activities.

Anantara has long been associated with elephant conservation efforts with the formation of The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, which has performed over 40 rescues of elephants off the streets of Thailand, as well as bringing the hugely successful Elephant Parade to Bangkok.

For more information on the 15th Annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, please visit www.anantaraelephantpolo.com.


34th annual Borsang Umbrella Festival to be held January 20 -22

The Borsang Umbrella and Handicraft Festival is being held January 20 -22, 2017 in the village of Borsang in San Kamphaeng.

Chiang Mai Mail reporters

The popular Borsang Umbrella and Handicrafts Festival will be held in the town of Borsang in Ton Pao, San Kamphaeng from January 20 – 22, 2017. The event will feature the beautifully hand painted umbrellas along with OTOP crafts and the annual Miss Borsang Umbrella Festival contest featuring Chiang Mai beauties competing for the title.

The event also will have a parade of contestants for Miss Borsang Umbrella Festival on bicycles to promote the slow and traditional life found in the Chiang Mai countryside. The event is organized by the Ton Pao Municipality, Chiang Mai province and the Tourism Authority of Thailand Chiang Mai office every year and is a huge draw for locals and visitors.

The handicrafts are on display all day and the cultural performances and beauty contest will be in the evening. Entrance to the village is free.


Update December 27, 2016

Night Safari welcomes three new baby animals

Baby tigers and a lion cub introduced at the Chiang Mai Night Safari

Dr. Sarawut Srisakun, Director of the Chiang Mai Night Safari with the three new cubs introduced to the Tiger World Building.

Nopniwat Krailerg

The Chiang Mai Night Safari introduced three new baby animals to the public on December 24, 2017. The white tiger, Bengal tiger and lion cubs were born in October and November and were just cleared for release from the nursery.

The young tiger and lion cubs playing together at the enclosure at the Chiang Mai Night Safari.

Dr. Sarawut Srisakun, Director of the Chiang Mai Night Safari, revealed the three new cubs as a Christmas and New Year’s surprise for visitors. The white tiger cub is female and was born on November 9, 2016 to mother Atae and father Kwanraming. The Bengal tiger cub was born on November 8, 2016 to mother Pruakji and father Wier while the lion cub was born earlier on October 23, 2016 to mother Lek and father Zimba.

The doctors certified the three cubs as healthy and ready to join the Tiger World building. Dr. Sarawut said that their introduction showed the success of the Rare Wild Animals Reproduction Project at the Night Safari which now has 25 white tigers (16 female and 9 male), 44 Bengal tigers (25 female and 19 male) and 28 lions (15 females and 13 males).

The Chiang Mai Night Safari is holding a naming contest for the three new members with the winners receiving one year tickets to visit Chiang Night Safari, the deadline is January 20, 2017. Interested people can send the name and their details to Pinkanakorn Development Agency (Public Organization) or for more information, please contact Public Relation, Pinkanakorn Development Agency (Public Organization) at 053-920000053-999000.


Update December 15, 2016

Muang Kaen Winter Fair to be held in Mae Taeng from December 25

Several fun attractions have been added to the cosmos field at Muang Kaen Pattana in Mae Taeng for the Winter Fair to be held from December 25 – January 3.

Nopniwat Krailerg

The “Tung Dok Kam Pae Lae” or the 7th Winter Fair at Muang Kaen Festival in Mae Taeng, Muang Kaen Pattana Municipality will be held from December 25, 2016 to January 3, 2017 at the Municipal Stadium at Muang Kaen Pattana and the surrounding area.

The highlight will be a huge field filled with blooming cosmos flowers planted behind the Municipal building last year and this year. There will also be several fun attractions to take photos on in the area Thiti Intaphan, Head of Office of the Municipal Clerk and Wipada Wanglung, Chief of Muang Kaen Pattana Municipality announced at the press conference. The field will be open before the grand opening of the fair, visitors can go take photos beginning December 20, 2016.

This year, in addition to the fair, there will be an exhibit of HM King Bhumibol’s projects, a ceremony to pay respects to the Pra Jao Sam Fang Monument and the Inthakin Pillar in Muang Kaen. The lives of residents and their traditional culture and performances will be exhibited as well as a demonstration of cooking local Nam Prik Num by the Krok Luang (Royal mortar) in a giant pan, grilling the world’s longest Northern sausage and OTOP products, food, trees and plants. Visitors will be given the opportunity to visit the cosmos field via a tram and oxen drawn cart. There will be farm stays, local home stays, rafts on Mae Ngad Dam and two hundred tents for tourists to stay.

Last year 200,000 people visited the popular winter fair, officials expect larger numbers this year and have prepared for the expected traffic and provided additional parking. More information on Facebook at muangkaen or call 053-857360 ext. 18 or Facebook/muangkaen.


Update December 14, 2016

New app expands into Chiang Mai for more transportation options

New online limousine service will give even more transportation options to travelers in Chiang Mai and offer a more luxurious ride service.

Blacklane, the global professional driver service based in Berlin, has expanded its network of English-speaking, commercially licensed and insured professional drivers to 64 new cities across 12 Asia-Pacific countries including Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Krabi, Pattaya and Koh Samui. Blacklane now serves more than 250 cities, 500 airports and 50 countries.

“International visitors are flocking to the region while its booming middle class is exploring the world. Therefore, more and more travelers desire a single trusted driver service for their global travel,” said Jens Wohltorf, Blacklane’s CEO and co-founder. “A familiar and professional experience gives passengers and corporate travel managers peace of mind around the world.”

Blacklane has hired staff in Singapore and in January will open a regional office as part of its commitment to the region. Blacklane also now partners with Asia Miles, the frequent flyer program of Cathay Pacific and Dragonair. Asia Miles members earn miles on Blacklane rides around the world.

More than 8.5 million frequent travelers are registered Asia Miles members. They can earn and redeem their miles on Cathay Pacific or one of its 24 airline partners.

Blacklane (www.blacklane.com) allows users to schedule rides on their website or via the Android and iPhone apps.
 


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Kengtung in Myanmar; the heart of Shan State’s tribal diversity


Mae Chaem highlighting local textiles in Fair January 27 - 30

Good Weather Fair 2017 in Omkoi from January 18 - 20


PG Together offers special fares for travelers to the south in January


King’s Cup Elephant Polo to aid Thai Elephant Assisted Autistic Therapy program in Chiang Mai

34th annual Borsang Umbrella Festival to be held January 20 -22


Night Safari welcomes three new baby animals


Muang Kaen Winter Fair to be held in Mae Taeng from December 25


New app expands into Chiang Mai for more transportation options


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