Open any Lonely Planet edition of Myanmar, or talk to any tourist or local you meet, and everyone will tell you that to hike in Myanmar you need a guide: Maps are non-existent and trails are unmarked. Nothing, however could be further from the truth: Myanmar is in fact a superb place to hike without a guide. But you´ll need a GPS. In fact, hiking may be a grand word for the trails commonly frequented by tourists, with hill-walking being a more appropriate term.
This is not the Himalaya, it is not even the foothills of the Himalaya, but the top walks of Myanmar are great cultural walks.
I walked in three areas: Around Hsipaw, around Pindaya and the multi-day Kalaw-Inle Lake. Entirely uncomplicated and all by myself. Several times I would meet other tourist with their guides on my way navigating the quaint paths traversing rice fields and cattle enclosures and they would ask with astonishment how I could possibly find the way? Then I would point to my GPS and say ”electronic guide”..
For this trip I downloaded the tracks from wikiloc, and quite simply followed them. As hiking in Myanmar seems to cater to those not really accustomed to walking, I would normally walk what is labeled a 2-day hike in 1 day and the Kalaw-Inle lake trek (normally labeled a three-day walk) I walked in two days.
There has presently been some unrest in the hills around Hsipaw and the walk most seem to do is from Hsipaw to the hillsite Pankam Village, and then return to Hsipaw by car. I downloaded this GPS track, and ended up walking both up to Pankam Village and back in one (though long) day: 32 km, 890 asc/desc. The entire walk, apart from the initial few km´s is along the gravel road between Hsipaw and Pankam Village, located well up in the mountains. Several traditional Shan villages are passed on the way and a man has even set up a Nepalese style lunch-place directly on the road. This is a trail where you almost do not even need a GPS, just follow the road. On the way down from Pankam I met several groups of tourists with guides on their way up, after their obligatory long lunch and morning coffee breaks. The land shape around Hsipaw is very beautiful but I imagine, in more peaceful times, that more interesting trails could be explored than than up (and down) this gravel road. However the villages right at the beginning of the track are fabulously atmospheric.
The most popular walk around Pindaya is a circular two-day walk from Pindaya up to the modern Shan village of Yazegyi and back. I downloaded this circular track and decided to follow it up and make my own way down, making it a day-walk. The first km out of Pindaya are on gravel road, but soon you follow paths between rice fields and in between mountains until you reach Yazegyi village, fabulously located in the middle of several hilltops and houses painted in bright colour. The nearby mount Yazegyi is clearly visible from the village, an estimated 3 hour return hike, which I estimated I would not have enough time to do. As Yazegui is app. 14 km from Pindaya I decided to follow my own way back down, aided by the GPS via various gravel trails on my way back to Pindaya. A total of 28 km, followed by a visit to the spectacular Pindaya Caves, a highlight of any visit to Myanmar.
For me, the top walk in Myanmar and described in a separate post.