Until just a few years ago, all Kayah State in eastern Myanmar was closed to foreign tourists. But following the nationwide election in 2010, and with ceasefire agreements now in place, the state’s capital Loikaw – as well as much of surrounding area – has been opened to visitors.
Kayah – the smallest of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions – remains one of the country’s least-visited areas.
Situated in eastern Myanmar, it is bounded on the north by Shan State, on the east by Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province, and on the south and west by Kayin State. The area is 11,670 km2 (4,510 sq mi). The population is over 350,000. The State capital is Loikaw and located approximately 500 km from Yangon and 250 km from the capital of Nay Pyi Daw.
Map showing the location of Kayah State, in Myanmar
Kayah State is located in the eastern part of Myanmar. The relief of Kayah State is mountainous with the Dawna Range and the Karen Hills also known as “Karenni-Karen” mountains separated by the Salween River as it flows through Kayah State. Balu Chaung river, flows from Inle Lake and runs through Loikaw before flow to Than Lwin River.
Ethnographers classify anywhere from seven to ten ethnic groups (not including ethnic sub-groups) as native to Kayah State. In addition, Shan, Intha, and Bamar live in the north and Pa-O in surrounding hills. Clearly, ethnicity in Kayah State is a complex issue. Ethnolinguists distinguish the following linguistic groups in Kayah State:
Kayah (Karenni), Kayan ( Long-necked ), Bwe, Geba, Manumanaw, Yantale, Zayein (Lahta), Geko, Yinbaw
The major religious festival is the Kay Htein Bo festival, which commemorates the belief that the creator god gave form to the world by planting a small post in the ground. During this festival, held in late March or early April, a Kay Htoe Boe pole is erected and participants dance around the pole. This festival is held to venerate the eternal god and creator messengers, to give thanks for blessings during the year, to appeal for forgiveness, and pray for rain. It is also an opportunity for Kayah from different villages to come together to maintain the solidarity of the tribe.In present times, the annual Kay Htein Bo festival is always accompanied by a reading of the chicken bones to predict the year ahead. Dreams are also used to make predictions.
The Kayans’ ( Long-necked ) traditional religion is called Kan Khwan, and has been practiced since the people migrated from Mongolia during the Bronze Age. It includes the belief that the Kayan people are the result of a union between a female dragon and a male human/angel hybrid.
Kayah State has a primarily extraction-based economy. The main crop is rice, mostly irrigated, with other important crops including millet, maize, sesame, groundnut, garlic, and vegetables. Mineral products include alabaster, tin, and tungsten. Valuable woods such as teak and pine were once produced. The hydroelectric power plant at Lawpita Falls outside of Loikaw is of strategic importance, as it supplies over 20% of Myanmar’s total electrical power.Kayah state has rugged mountains, river streams, lakes and waterfalls.At present, Kayah State is open to Tourism Sector.