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Written (in English) across the water bottles, posters and tea shops around Loikaw is the phrase ‘Good wine, good sausage, good friends, good memories.’ Indeed, this sums up the capital of Myanmar’s Kayah State, where a sense of community is often quickly fostered with visitors by an offering of homemade (and usually potent) rice wine and a coil of spicy sausage.

Until recently, visitors needed a permit to visit this small eastern state that shares a border with Thailand. While Loikaw is the capital, it’s retained a village feel with one-story wooden houses, wide, dusty roads and small farmsteads where chickens and pigs roam free. Tourism is in its infancy here, so your experience will be a little less polished than elsewhere in Myanmar — you’ll also see few fellow visitors.

Taung Kwe Pagoda, LoikawThe town itself sprawls at the foot of a limestone monolith that’s topped with the Thiri-Mingalar Taung Kwe pagoda. The Buddhist temple has sweeping views of the surrounding mountains — especially photogenic at sunset. A series of staircases criss-cross the rock to reach the top, passing smaller shrines along the way. If steep steps aren’t for you, you’ll find a gleaming golden tower at the back containing an elevator to the top.

If you’re curious about the state’s most-boasted-about dish, the Kayah sausage, you can visit the home of a family who make the spicy snack. There’s the opportunity to see how they’re produced and try for yourself, although as fresh animal products are being used, it’s not an experience for everyone.

If you’d rather simply snack on a sausage, or try one of the region’s other local delicacies, Loikaw has a nightly street food market along the banks of the Pilu River each night. Myae oh myi shae is a popular dish made from tofu, noodles and seasonal vegetables.

One of the town’s key draws is the surrounding villages, which are populated by a range of ethnic groups, each with their own traditions. Kayah is predominantly a Catholic state, marked by the freshly painted churches along the roadsides. But, before Italian missionaries arrived in the late 19th century, many people were animist, and you’ll still find some villages who hold these beliefs.

Start with a visit to the Kayah State Cultural Museum in central Loikaw, which introduces each community and displays examples of their traditional dress. We encourage you to take the time to watch the video — you may have to ask a museum assistant to play it for you. It’s narrated by Pascal Khoo Thwe, the author of From the Land of Green Ghosts.

Festival celebrations in LoikawThe best way to explore is with a guide from the local area, as well as a community guide from each individual village you visit, as most communities have their own language or dialect. Employing the services of a member of the community you’re visiting also means that the village benefits financially from your visit. An hour’s drive from Loikaw is Pan Pet, a hamlet of five villages predominantly inhabited by members of the Kayan Lahwi tribe. The elder women of the tribe are known for the brass rings they wear around their necks and knees, a tradition that’s slowly dying out.

Explore the hamlet with a member of the tribe and you’ll see some of the traditional industries firsthand, including necklace-making and weaving. There’s also the opportunity to trek between a few of the individual villages and eat a local picnic lunch of rice and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves.

We only work with villages that have opened themselves up to visitors, but the communities continue on with their daily lives as normal — to properly enjoy this experience, you’ll need to be flexible.

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