Keng Tung - an introduction to off-the-beaten-track Myanmar

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January 6th 2018
Published: February 27th 2018
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We arrived in Keng Tung during a rainstorm of biblical proportions. Luckily a tuk-tuk driver with a handy umbrella and a good covering for his vehicle took us straight to our hotel from the bus company office. Sadly the Golden World Hotel did not meet our expectations. We try so hard not to be negative about places but so many things were wrong here. Luckily we only stayed one night before moving to the Amazing Keng Tung Resortwhich, for an extra $10 a night, gave us an altogether different feeling about the town. Cold dribbles in the shower on a cloudy day (the excuse offered for the lack of hot water at the GW) were replaced by a steaming torrent leaving us feeling clean and relaxed. Friendly, helpful staff replaced the dour reception we received at the GW where our doors had been left wide open to the public after cleaning on the morning of our departure. Luckily nobody was tempted in to browse our possessions. A bountiful display of tropical fruit was among the variety of items at the breakfast buffet replacing the cold rice and fried egg the previous morning at the GW. And there was even a gorgeous swimming pool and garden had we felt the need to relax there instead of exploring the town.

Keng Tung (also spelled Kyaingtong, Chiang Tung, Cheingtung, and Kengtong) has the feel of an isolated frontier town to it. That's perhaps not surprising when you consider that it is cut off from overland non-Burmese travellers except for those coming up from Tachileik. To leave the town means applying for a permit, whether it is to walk in the surrounding hills or to venture up towards the apparently sleazy border with China. It was a fascinating insight into what life here is like when there are few foreigners around. Unless you do venture up into those hills, there's not a tremendous amount to do, but just soaking up the local atmosphere was more than a good enough reason to visit.

There are many, many temples around Keng Tung. You can't turn a corner without stumbling across another one! They come in different shapes and sizes though, so you won't get bored, and yes, they are building more! A new golden stupa is currently under construction which will dwarf the others. Also, it's always interesting to see the saffron or pomegranate coloured robes on public display as the monks from the temples move around. There's even an old stone city gate from yesteryear, although there was no information about it in any leaflet or guidebook that we saw.

The main attraction of Keng Tung is surely its lake. When the sun shines, which luckily it did once the monsoon blew itself out, it's a lovely 3km walk around it. The town and its environs are beautifully reflected in the waters, and a huge standing Buddha watches carefully over everything. If you're lucky, you'll meet a fisherman or two trying to catch their dinner. They were all really friendly and didn't mind photos being taken, especially when they had a fish on their line. It is a working town and you'll see all sorts going on at the side of the road from tailors repairing garments to leatherworkers preparing their hides. The market is a microcosm of Burmese society too with a whole cross-section of the population trading their wares.

We had a great introduction to Burmese food at Cafe 21, almost next door to the Golden World. The Shan noodles were to die for, and the people running this place clearly have a vision for the future. Nearby was the NCY Hotpot where they laughed at us (with us?) pointing at pictures on the menu but made us feel so welcome. Cooking your own thinly sliced cuts of meat and vegetables in a bubbling soup is so much fun.

Leaving town was an adventure too. We managed to book flights to He Ho airport to get to Inle Lake. The flights fill up quickly so we would advise you to make a decision about your departure date quickly after arriving in Keng Tung. It's just a short tuk tuk ride to the airport but then you are transported way back into the third world! We checked in and deposited our bags, then ate lunch in one of the shacks outside. Don't expect shops, restaurants or porters! Trish realised she had left her phone at the hotel and the Amazing were amazing as they brought it out to the airport and wouldn't accept even a token gesture in thanks. The waiting area is a bit grim and uncomfortable, which was just what we needed when the flight was delayed by 90 minutes. Security is a little lax compared to anywhere else we have ever been, so don't worry about having a bottle of water with you.

We really enjoyed Keng Tung. With a bit more time we may well have done some trekking in the surrounding area, but we didn't fancy the sodden tracks that the rains must surely have left behind. It's not impossible though, even if you are travelling with kids, and I'd really encourage you to have a look at this wonderful blog to see what you can do with a bit of time.

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