Now that land border crossing regulations have been relaxed, it’s easy to travel to Kengtung from the Mae Sai-Tachilek crossing. Kengtung is an old British administrative post, the largest town of eastern Shan State and the former “capital” of the Golden Triangle; it’s just a short drive north of the crossing on a decent and picturesque road. Beside being an attractive town in its own right, Kengtung’s main attraction for visitors is trekking to minority villages in the surrounding hills. Here are a few images of some of the myriad hilltribe peoples inhabiting this remote corner of Burma.
The Enn minority group, cousins of the better known Wa, are indeed only found in the Kengtung region. Known locally as the ‘Black Tooth tribe’ due to their penchant for betel, the women, as below, also sometimes use a black lipstick made from charred tree bark.
The Enn are also known for their elaborate earrings and elongated lobes. Still very traditional, their villages are generally animist though some Enn have converted to Christianity.
Also rarely found in Burma outside of the Kengtung region is the Akhu ethnic group, renowned for their tobacco consumption, though betel is again a popular pick-me-up.
Akhu are a Sino-Tibetan group related to Akha, though the two languages are not mutually comprehensible and traditional costumes are very different.
Akha form the largest hilltribe minority in the area, though no less than six subgroups of Akha are found in the surrounding hills, each generally recognised by the different headdresses worn.
Other than hiking to villages in the surrounding area you’ll also see many ethnic groups frequenting Kengtung’s lively morning market. Furthermore hilltribe women and also younger Enn men will often don their best outfits for visits to town; spectacular as they can be, please do be discreet and respectful when taking photographs.
The brightly clad hilltribe peoples can be very shy but are generally very friendly and even inquisitive, so if you have a guide with you it’s easy to engage in conversation. They are proud and we’ve found them more than willing to answer questions on their costumes, traditions and lifestyle and polite requests for photographs are rarely refused.
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 6th February, 2015.