Ashort flight from Yangon sits the very traditional Loikaw, one of the best places to head in Southeast Asia for a window into authentic tribal life. Here, there is no chance you’ll feel like you’re visiting a “living museum” – like you may feel in some parts of northern Thailand – since many people here have had no contact with tourists whatsoever. No contact, that is, until I recently visited. Yes, I was the very first foreign visitor to some of Loikaw’s more remote tribal areas. And though journeying down an unpaved road can be troublesome at times, as you’ll read in my experiences below, this was one of the more satisfying trips I’ve had the opportunity to undertake.

Located in the Karen Hills of Kayah state, the sleepy town of Loikaw is slowly waking up. It’s now home to 250,000 people, while the state boasts an incredible five million. Up until 2006, the areas outside the city were considered a “black zone,” where no visitors were permitted, due to the conflict between the local Karen people and the army – which spans all the way back to 1967. In 2006, only two areas outside the city opened to tourism. Just a few months back, several new and exciting places opened up – these were the places I was the first to jump at the chance to explore.

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