Guides are required for any trip outside Kengtung and can be organised through your hotel if you haven't picked one up in Tachileik.
If you have your own transport you ought to be able to stop at various points along the Tachileik-Kengtung road for hikes to adjacent villages, though the closer you get to Kengtung the less it's likely to be frowned upon by the authorities.
For travelling around the area motorbike taxis generally go for about 10-15,000 kyat per day and tuk tuks 30-35,000 but obviously it depends on where you want to go. For a car or minivan count on $50 at least.
The larger town of Mongla (Monglar) close to the Chinese border has tourist licensed hotels, though you wouldn't go there to discover the ethnic groups.
Mongla is popular with bargain seeking Chinese visitors and gambling Thais. Described by some Burmese as the 'Vegas of Shan State' it is also, we're told, known as the 'anus of China' by certain Chinese and the reasons for going there would include: karaoke, casino visits, an extremely tacky cultural park where you can visit 'traditional' houses and photograph 'traditional' inhabitants (though apparently many of the Akha and Lahu are merely dressed up local Shan) and of course the chance to take in a 'ladyboy show'. (The Thai ones are reportedly much more professional than the Burmese ones.)
Mongla is about an hour by car on a decent road if you really feel the need to go there.
Sham villages and Dhat Zoam Doi
Some of the traditional Shan villages located in the surrounding valleys are scenic, interesting spots and some still practise traditional crafts such as pottery.
A road trip to the hilltop Dhat Zoam Doi monastery can include some very picturesque Shan settlements. The monastery is accessible by road though the latter part isn't paved and may be a bit dodgy in the rainy season. The large monastery is a recent construction and is also an important study and meditation centre and while the central shrine – not accessible to women – is attractive, the best part about the visit is the spectacular view.
Driving time is 40 minutes or so from Kengtung and beyond the monastery the track continues to an Enn village. A trip to Dat Zoam also usually includes a stop at an Akhu village, Wan Sai, close to the road.
A final local destination touted in Kengtung is nearby Loimwe – a small, British period hill-station lying around 90 minutes' drive southeast of town.
There was never a large British population in these remote parts and the hill-station isn't very impressive compared to say Pyin U Lwin. There's an old church and a few crumbling buildings but the best part is the scenic drive up there and views from the top. Basic food is on hand but there is no accommodation available.
By Mark Ord.
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