On top of the world in the Shan hills

It takes a long and arduous day’s hike to summit the highest peak in southern Shan State but the beautiful scenery is worth the trek.


SOUTHERN SHAN State is among the country’s most picturesque areas and hikers who climb a peak that towers over Ywangan Township in the Danu Self-Administered Zone are rewarded with grand, panoramic views.

Known to locals as Shae-myin-nout-myin Taung, or East-and-west-side-viewing Mountain, it is the highest peak in southern Shan, at 2,362 metres (7,749 feet).

I had an adventure I will never forget when I joined my partner, his cat, 14 other hikers and two guides on a climb in late November.


Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier

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We set off from Mandalay in the late afternoon, travelling over bumpy, winding roads that made sleep impossible before arriving in Ywangan at about 9pm.

We overnighted at a guesthouse and at 7am took a ride to the base of the mountain. At about 9am we began the climb, loaded with heavy packs carrying food, water, tents, sleeping bags and clothes.


Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier

The path was not steep at first and after a few hours of steady climbing we came to a clear mountain stream, where the guides advised us to fill our water bottles.

The view was superb and we took a lot of photos – when we weren’t chatting or singing.


Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier

When we resumed the climb, the path was steeper and my pack seemed to be heavier. At about 1pm we took a welcome stop for lunch, sharing our dishes with each other and feeding the cat, before taking a short nap to rest our legs and feet.

When we resumed our hike, the guides said we had another seven ridges to cross. “After another seven ridges my legs will be dead,” joked my partner, Ko Htet Wai Yan Oo.


Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier

We climbed steadily into the hills and were invigorated by the fresh air, the sight of tea plantations and orange orchards, and the spectacle of giant rhododendrons in bloom.

After we’d been walking for about five hours, I saw a small house and wondered what it must be like to live so far from the nearest village. People are attracted to this isolated location by the fertile soil, which is perfect for growing tea and oranges.


Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier

The hiking became harder as the path climbed steeply through a thick forest with ancient, gigantic trees and rocks slippery with moss, which I was careful to avoid. It was so wonderfully quiet in the chill mountain air that I could hear my fellow climbers’ heavy breathing. The cat was sleeping, nestled between my partner’s shoulders and backpack.


Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier

A short time later, we stopped for our final rest break before the hike to the summit. All around us layer upon layer of mountain ranges receded into the distance.

Some hikers were exhausted and our guides offered encouragement. One pointed to a distant peak with two trees at the summit. “That’s our destination, it will take about one or two hours to get there,” he said.

There were groans of disappointment. Some hikers wanted to go no further and instead camp on the spot. My legs were killing me and I was worried about my water supply. I wanted to give up, too, but Htet Wai Yan Oo urged me to continue and promised to help if I ran out of water.

“You’ll have the most incredible view from the summit and don’t worry about water, you only need one bottle for dinner and one for climbing down,” he said.

Then he showed me a saying on his mobile phone. It said: “Not all girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Some girls are made of adventure and wine and all things fine.”

“That means you,” he said. “Let’s go,” and off he headed, the cat riding on his shoulders.


Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier

I was determined to reach the summit and tried to forget the pain in my legs and shoulders. “The best view comes after the hardest climb,” I whispered to myself as I pressed on up the path.

After about 90 minutes, my partner shouted from up ahead that the summit was in easy reach. “Hurry,” he urged, “you don’t want to miss the sunset!”


Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier

The view from the summit was stunning. It was about 6pm. The sun was setting, the horizon was layers of deep blue mountains receding into the gloaming, a super moon had risen in the east, and there was a cold wind. I jumped in delight.

Our guides urged us to put up our tents before the sun set and my partner and I chose a site that was sheltered from the wind by some trees.


Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier

The guides made a campfire and after eating dinner at about 9pm we sat around it singing and enjoying ourselves before retreating to our tents and climbing into our sleeping bags.

At dawn on the summit I felt like I was on top of the world.


Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier

Then came the descent. We reached the village before noon.

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