The Eastern Highlands border China, Laos, and Thailand, and are known collectively as Shan State. A trip to the Eastern Highlands is a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of the cities of Mandalay and Yangon. With its noticeably cooler climate, it offers travelers a change of environment.
The Best of Eastern Highlands
Kalaw is nestled among the mountains and caves of Shan State, located about two hours west of Inle Lake. The British built this highland retreat to escape the heat of Yangon and Mandalay. You can still see British colonial architecture and a popular marketplace in the small downtown area. And even though this is a rural town, local restaurants still offer a nice variety of Asian and European cuisine.
The Shan people dominate this area, unlike most of the country that is primarily Burmese. Although the Shan tribes have had a historically tumultuous relationship with the Burmese, recent peace deals have ended decades of violent clashes and made the majority of Shan state safe and accessible.
Inle Lake is in the southwest part of this region. At 45 square miles (116 sq km), it is the second-largest lake in Myanmar, and has an elevation of 2,900 feet (883 m). Steep hills rise thousands of feet above the lake's eastern and western shores. Over the centuries, a lakeside community has developed special techniques for living off the land. Boating on the placid water surface through the tiny villages, one can see the ingenuity and beauty of this community in the floating gardens and the bamboo houses built on teak stilts. Locals weave scarves out of a material particular to this region — silk made from the stalks of lotus flowers.
The Eastern Highlands are on a plateau surrounded by mountains and the Shan Hills. The temperature here is a bit chillier than other regions, due to the higher altitude that averages about 3,300 feet (1,005 m) for the area around Inle Lake. Normal temperatures hover around 83°F (28°C) for most of the year. Bring warmer clothes on a trip to this region— you’ll need them on a popular sunrise boat tour of Inle Lake.
Other noteworthy attractions in this region are the Pindaya Caves, which are located a short car ride from Inle Lake. These limestone caverns are not only a natural wonder, but also a holy place that contains thousands of white and gold Buddha statues. The village of Kalaw is also quickly becoming a popular new trekking destination for backpackers.