Not ready for Everest yet? The stunning mountains of Chin State offer great trekking opportunities for budding mountaineers and anyone else ready for a short break from Yangon. Marie Starr takes an overnight bus from Yangon to trek the 3,035 metres to the peak of Mount Victoria, Chin State’s highest mountain.
Did you know you can travel to Chin State, trek to the peak of Mt. Victoria – Nat Ma Taung – and return to Yangon in less than five days? With the rainy season upon us, my mind drifts back to the December chill of the Chin hills, a land of mountainous terrain and stunning vistas.
Setting out from Yangon at 5pm we travelled through the night, eyes wide open as dawn broke and the scenery became ever more dramatic and a thrilling coolness came into the air. Turning one bend, my travelling companion from Chin State points to the far distance where a cluster of buildings cling to the ridge of a hazy blue mountain and grins, “See that town? That’s where we’re going. That’s Mindat!”
Arriving at around 1pm we check into a guest house offering the bare necessities, with shared bathroom and no hot water, before exploring the town and soaking up the cool, fresh air and awesome views. Everywhere you look, the mountain falls away below you. Majestic blue ranges roll on as far as the eye can see in all directions. Walking past icy streams and among pine trees, it feels like we have arrived in a totally different part of the world.
Here, the elderly ladies with tattooed faces are not a tourist attraction as they are in other parts of the country. They go about their daily chores, carrying baskets of market produce or sitting smoking large pipes and chatting with friends. Some of them turn their faces away from our curious glances. It’s clear that we’re not the first travellers to visit this town and, furthermore, they do not wish to be a tourist attraction.
In Mindat, all houses seem to have a proud garden with an abundance of coffee and tea and fruits and vegetables all around. Being a majority Christian area, the landscape is dotted with crosses and churches rather than pagodas. Cherry trees bursting with pink blossoms are aplenty. We seem to be in a land of impossibly fluffy puppies. Fat and healthy pigs and hens roam the roads. As the sun goes down and temperatures drop, we are glad of the hot soup and Chin curries at Myoma, a decent restaurant on the main street.
The next day, we visit the home of an 87 year old woman who is keeping alive the tradition of playing the flute through her nose. She is adorned with magnificent traditional beads and jewellery, tribal clothes and facial tattoos representing one of the many tribes of Chin State. The tune she plays is solemn, evoking memories of her dead husband. Set against the backdrop of her wooden house sporting many large animal skulls and the blue mountains beyond makes for an enchanting Chin experience.
Next, we visit Mindat’s ‘museum’, which is actually the house of a local collector. In a small, dark room he displays a frightening and fascinating number of animal skulls, traditional weapons and hunting instruments as well as old Chin costumes from the various tribes of the region. That night we are welcomed to a gathering of local youth around a bonfire, our sprits lifted with songs and plenty of local traditional wine.
Early the following morning, in a hired jeep with driver we begin the bone-rattling four hour trip across the mountains and valleys to the base of Mt. Victoria. Bruises aside, the drive is both thrilling and entertaining. Local life, framed by incredible scenery, unfolds around us as we ascend into the clouds.
The trek from the base to the peak of the mountain is not difficult. In December the path is in fairly good condition and there are few steep sections, though it is essential to bring your own food and plenty of water. The trek to the peak and back takes five hours. We get back to the jeep and return to Mindat as night falls, exhausted and satisfied.
The following morning, after a hearty breakfast in the teashop next to the market we catch the bus back to Pakkoku, and then the night bus back to Yangon. Of course, it would be ideal to spend many weeks traveling further around Chin State and I fully intend to come back soon. However, it is good to know that such a fascinating and exhilarating experience is possible from Yangon over an extended long weekend.
From Yangon, take a Shwe Man Thu bus at 5pm from Parami Bus Station to Pakkoku. This arrives early in the morning and from the bus station in Pakkoku, take the Moe Pi bus company which leaves for Mindat at 8:30am daily and arrives in the early afternoon.
When to go
The weather is cooler than the rest of Myanmar all year round due to the high altitude, but November to January brings the most perfect crisp, clear weather for hiking and taking in the views on the surrounding mountains as well as the blooming cherry blossoms.
Where to stay
A good budget option is Aung Mingalar Guesthouse (Main St., Mindat) K10,000 per night. For higher budgets, Oasis Mountain Resort (Mindat) is a nice place just outside the town for upwards of $60 per night.
Note that all accommodation in Mindat has electricity for only a limited number of hours per day and most are without hot water.
What to bring
Good hiking shoes, warm clothes including a hat, jumper and socks, suncream, camera with a good zoom lens, power bank to help with the limited hours of electricity.
For the Mt. Victoria trek itself it is essential to bring food and water as there is nowhere to buy it along the way, and you certainly will be hungry and thirsty when you reach the peak!