During your tour in Burma, it’s suggested you make a visit to Shan Sate to discover tourist attractions and the unique lifestyle of ethnic minority there.
The people of Myanmar are actually a patchwork of many ethnic minorities. Of the more than 53 million people in the country, 70% are Burmese. For the rest, the population is divided among the 135 different ethnic minorities in the country. One of the seven most important ones is the Shan ethnic group.
The Shan represent about 9% of the Burmese population and, like every ethnic minority in the country, has its own culture, language and traditions. During your stay in Burma, if you pass through the north of the country, you will discover the lifestyle of this ethnic group living in Shan State.
1. History and location of Shan
The historical territory of the Shan (called “Tai” in other countries) includes northern Myanmar, India, China, Laos, Thailand and northern Vietnam. Today, there are 4 million people of this ethnicity in Myanmar.
Formerly, the Shan were ruled by the Sao-Phas, princes who shared an immense territory. Under the yoke of the British, the Shan princes were able to maintain their independence. Then, during the Independence of Myanmar, they negotiated with the newly established government to secure their privileges. However, the following years were those of disillusionment for the Sao-Phas. They claimed that the Union of Burma did not guarantee the preservation of the Shan culture; therefore, conflicts with central government troops occurred.
Today, the Shan make their all efforts to maintain their perennial culture and transmit it to future generations.
At present, the Shan of Myanmar live mainly in the north of Shan State. The region is known to be one of the parts of the Golden Triangle, a region associated with the trade of opium, the main ingredient of heroin.
The Salween River descends from China and crosses Shan State, and the Mekong forms the border with Laos. The main cities of the state are Taunggyi and Keng Tung. To the south-east of Shan State is the famous Inle Lake.
2. Traditions associated with the Shan ethnic group
During your trip to Burma, you will be delighted to meet the Shan ethnic group. Indeed, the Shan have preserved their lifestyle in an extraordinary way. They live in small villages, where they live on crafts and agriculture. Tea, fruit and rice are the most popular products of the Shan.
The main attraction in a Shan village remains markets held regularly during the week. It is a fascinating experience that you can meet the locals in traditional dress coming to buy and sell their goods, or discover local crafts, such as teak sculptures and silver or lead objects.
The Shan speak their own dialect, although many members of the community can speak Burmese. In terms of religion, the Shan are mostly Buddhists. However, they are imbued with a certain amount of animism. The Shan believe in spirit, ghosts and evil spirits, as well as the goddess of fertility called “Mother of Rice”.
Regarding cuisine, if you ever meet Shan during your tour in Burma, be aware that one of the popular dishes is the khao niw, or sticky rice. In company with curry, it’s really delicious! A favorite snack during the summer is khao yak ku, a sticky rice mixed with sugar, peanuts and grated coconut.
3. What to visit?
Shan State is a sublime place in your trip to Burma. The richness of attractions will certainly satisfy travelers who decide to make a visit to the State.
The Inle Lake is one of the strongholds of tourism in the area. Incredible scenery, “one-legged” fishermen and floating villages are some of Myanmar’s most popular views. In particular, you can attend the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival. It takes place on the lake in October, and allows believers to honor the images of Buddha.
Kakku Pagoda is one of the emblematic places of Buddhist belief in Shan State. Situated not far from Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, it contains about 2000 stupas built in the 16th century.
Finally, the caves of Pindaya are one of the treasures to absolutely discover during your stay in Burma. It is one of the great places of Buddhist pilgrimage in the region with more than 9000 Buddha performances in all shapes, colors and materials.
During your customized tour in Burma, if you have the opportunity, you should stop at Shan State, meeting the members of the ethnic group. In addition to the richness of tourist attraction, Shan State is a wonderful place for you to experience a real life.