The main attraction, both for visitors and locals, is without doubt the large and lively morning market, where you can see Shan, Chinese and Indian stall holders, monks and nuns gathering alms, turbaned Loi women porters waiting for jobs and Lahu, Akha, Akhu, Palaung and Enn villagers selling their wears or stocking up on supplies.
Many of the hilltribe women and Enn men do like to dress up to go to market and can look spectacular, but please be discreet with photographs; don't shove cameras or smart phones in their faces and always try to ask for permission – even if it's only by gestures. The ethnic groups can be shy but are proud of their handiwork and costumes so polite requests will usually be granted.
There are a couple of stalls specialising in hilltribe gear and plenty of tea shops and noodles stands. Some of the tea shops can be great vantage points for people watching and also sell some fantastic snacks. Also if you're heading into the hills for a trek or visit the market is an awesome spot to load up on picnic food. The market is open from daybreak until around midday every day.
If you are wandering around town then the Naung Tung Lake is an ideal place to finish your stroll and there are a few well placed cafes selling noodles, tea and coffee or cold beers and juices, where you can watch the sunset.
The best temple to visit – and the golden hilltop stupa is visible from most spots in Kengtung - is Wat Zom Kham also overlooking the lake and the oldest and most prestigious temple in town dating from probably the 13th century. There are numerous other Shan style wats in the centre of town of varying interest.
Other highly visible landmarks offering great views over town are the 60-foot standing Buddha statue on a hilltop a short walk to the southwest of the lake and the famous Lone-tree Hill. A large dipterocarp tree crowns the hill rising over the south side of town and though not the only tree on the hill it is by far the largest and oldest. The tree can be seen from a lot further away than the town itself, nestled around the lake, and is traditionally a landmark for travellers indicating that they're close to Kengtung. It's a bit of climb and lies around 15 or 20 minutes from the market but it does afford spectacular views on a clear day.
No locals we asked were sure if the Shan Cultural Museum located near the standing Buddha was open and all suggested it was a waste of time anyway, so let's wait for a revamp? Apparently the local buffalo market is now closed since most farmers now have mobile phones so don't need a market to transact livestock dealings anymore!
By Mark Ord.
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