In a nutshell
Cut off from much of Myanmar and sitting in the centre of the Golden Triangle region in the east of Shan State, Kengtung is one of the prettiest spots in Myanmar. There is a strong Chinese and Thai influence here which means that the town is also known under several names: Kyaing Ting, Keng Tung, Cheingtung and Kentong.
Why go to kengtung
The main reason people come here is to take in a more rural side of Myanmar and to explore a picturesque location studded with Buddhas, lakes, trees, and rolling hills.
If you venture a little outside the town you will find amazing tribal villages such as Wa, Shan, Lahu, and Akha villages as well as Loi Mwe which is 32 kilometres away from the centre and encircled by breath-taking mountains. There is also a hot springs located just outside Kengtung and a large, colourful market which is said to be one of the best in Myanmar.
When to go to Kengtung
It is generally considered that the best time to come to Kengtung is from November to February as this is the period that follows the monsoon in Myanmar. As such you can expect the weather to be stable and there is less chance of rain.
If you visit after the month of February then temperatures tend to rise quickly and it can get very hot and dusty. As some of the areas around Kengtung sit at a higher elevation however, you will be spared the fierce heat of other parts of Myanmar.
If possible avoid June to October as this is the rainy season and many areas around Kengtung may be flooded.
Where to stay in Kengtung
Considering the fact that Kengtung is not a widely visited spot in Myanmar compared to other parts of the country you will still find a decent range of accommodation here.
If you are on a budget then there are a few choices around the USD 15-20 mark although this will only get you a basic room which may or may not come with hot water. Breakfast is not usually included at this price but some of the hotels to look out for if you are searching for cheap accommodation for the night include Law Yee Chain Hotel and Parami Hotel.
If you have a slightly larger budget then you can find a range of hotels for around USD 30-45 which are usually much better value. In hotels such as the Hotel Khema Rattha expect hot water, private bathrooms, and spacious double rooms.
Where to eat in Keng Tung
Kengtung has a strong Thai and Chinese influence and with that in mind it also has a diverse and exciting food scene.
One of the top dishes not to miss here is Shan khow soi shan which is a toothsome noodle soup which is eaten all over the Shan region and is usually a lunch food. You can either a clear version which is filled with meatballs and closely resemble pho from Vietnam, or you can get a yellow version which has chickpea porridge added to it.
Many eateries are located around the local market or around the main lake and you will find a wealth of little Burmese teashops here that sell draft beer and some tasty snacks like barbecued meats. These teashops also serve a local delicacy called tea leaf salad, or you can dine on fresh fish which is simply grilled and served with a spicy dipping sauce.
How to get around Kengtung
There is no need to use public transport if you are exploring around town as everywhere is pretty much accessible on foot. If you want to go further afield then you can get a motorbike taxi which should only cost around MMK 500 for a short journey. Many hotels can book you a motorbike taxi for the day if you want to go out and visit the villages around Kengtung.
How to get to and from Kengtung
There are basically two ways to get to and from Kengtung. The first one is to fly if you are coming from anywhere within the country, be it Yangon, Mandalay or Heho. Flights to/from Kengtung are scheduled several times a week and you can fly with domestic carriers such as Yangon Airways and Myanmar National Airways. Tickets usually cost around USD 145-165 and you can then get a taxi from the airport to the centre of town for MMK 8,000.
The second way is by bus if you are starting from the border town of Tachileik, accessible from the Thai border town of Mae Sai. Tickets cost around MMK 10,000 and the bus takes around 5 hours. Buses leave around 8.30 am and sometimes at 11 am as well although this can be subject to change at short notice and it is better to check on the day for the latest schedule. If you are coming from Thailand then you can get a motorbike taxi over the border to the main bus station which costs around THB 50.
In theory you can travel by bus between Kengtung and Taunggyi but currently this route is closed to foreigners, so do inquire in advance if you are going to get to the Inle Lake. Chances that you will need to fly are almost 100% sure. It is sometimes possible to take the public bus from Taunggyi to Kengtung provided you hire a guide and a driver to take you around the area.
Is Kwngtung a safe place to visit?
Kengtung was off limits for many years but now you can travel to Kengtung from Tachileik without having to get a guide. You will however need a permit from the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism Office which is located at the border.
Many foreign governments advise against all but essential travel to Shan State as a result of several years of in-fighting in the region. Kengtung is widely considered to be a safe place to visit but you should remain vigilant and check the latest security situation before you travel to the region.
Myanmar has mosquitoes that carry both malaria and dengue fever. This means that you should take care not to be bitten and should use repellent. It is also a good idea to check with a healthcare professional to decide if you want to take anti-malarial prophylaxis while in Myanmar.
Healthcare in the region is basic and you will only find a few clinics in Kengtung. As such if you become seriously ill the best thing to do is cross back over the border into Thailand and seek medical attention there where healthcare standards are higher.