Most of this region lies within Shan State, the largest administrative division in Myanmar, extending from China’s Yunnan province in the north east to the borders of Thailand and Laos in the south east. Inle Lake is easily accessible to visitors, and the busy market town of Nyaungshwe on its northern fringes makes an ideal base for boat trips. To the west, the former colonial hill station of Kalaw is the recom mended departure point for treks through the surrounding minority villages. Farther north, Hsipaw is another trekking hub, with trails leading through a variety of different terrains and ethnic zones, as is Kengtung in the east, from where day trips can be made on foot to Golden Triangle villages. Local markets across the region provide opportunities to meet minority people, who travel down from the hills dressed in their traditional finery on market days.
As most of the roads in the region are in a dismal state, flying is the best way to reach the principal hubs – take the jour ney from Mandalay to Inle Lake: a grueling nine hours by bus; only 40 minutes by air. For overland travel to Kengtung from other parts of Myanmar a permit is required, and foreign visitors are only allowed to travel in a private vehicle. No permit is required to fly into Kentung. Those entering from Mae Sai, Thailand, may cross at Tachileik and continue as far as Kentung by public transport. Bicycles are usually available for rent in the major towns for getting around. On Inle Lake, a fleet of long-tailed boats is on hand to transport visitors to otherwise inacces sible sites.