Written & Photos By Byron Hartzler
Euphoria overwhelmed Byron Hartzler as he slipped behind the veil of a 30-metre-long waterfall to the unforeseen world behind; bright green ferns dangling from the roof above reflecting onto the turquoise waters below, hemmed in by a cave of rocks behind and a wall of cascading water in front. He shares his three-day epic adventure as an emotion resembling the revelation of a secret, and the only word to describe it is the intense elation of euphoria.
We arrived in Lashio, a large, bustling and ethnically diverse market city tucked into the Northern Shan State mountains with very little exposure to foreign travellers; set to embark on an adventure unlike any other into communities that have been hidden because of decades of civil war which isolated the region.
DAY 1 – paddle boards, peddle power and waterfalls
Our group of three, led by a guide, launched off in a pickup truck from the office of Myanmar Adventure Outfitters (MAO) in downtown Lashio to the edge of a nearby lake. From here we clipped our bags to the top of our paddle boards and explored the placid jade waters. The majestic, untouched forests were reflected on the water’s surface as we paddled our way to the back of the lake where we docked the boards.
Continuing our journey on foot we wound our way through a stairway of terraced rice fields with tall stalks nearly ready to harvest. Upon ascending out of the valley, we were met along the jungle trail with our bamboo mountain bikes, built by the Myitkyina-based Burma Bike Partnership. We pedalled the small trail to a community of mostly Christian Wa people, where we stopped for lunch at the home of a Wa pastor.
With bellies full we rode several kilometres down a winding dirt road to a Lisu village of 50 bamboo homes. Children were running wild with pet monkeys as we parked the bikes and set out on foot into a plunging canyon enlivened with the sound of cascading water. We made our way to our natural shower, a towering jungle waterfall rising 50 plus metres above our heads. When we arrived back in the village, our homestay family fed us a Lisu meal as we capped off an epic first day with a bottle of wine at sunset over the harvest fields.
DAY 2 – caves, caverns and rice liqueur
Awakening the village way…with the rooster alarm calls beckoning the sun to rise, we stumbled out early to a pot full of freshly grown and roasted Shan coffee, the perfect start to an adventure-filled day. We aggressively cruised down small dirt tracks through fields of corn, small rivers, and past villages until we arrived in a small Shan community to eat a vegetarian Shan lunch. The Shan (or Tai, as they call themselves) are the majority in the area and are typically valley dwellers who farm large rice paddy fields.
After lunch, we left our bikes and bags, grabbed the headlamps, and followed a local Shan villager up into the mountains. Here we found a cave with a small entrance that opened up into narrow 20-metre-high cavern that inspired us to keep exploring for another two hours until we completed the loop back to the entrance. Heading back, we navigated to a small waterfall to rinse off before returning to the village, where the village leader’s wife had cooked a Shan meal and served a taste of the potent locally-made rice liquor. The family was so sincere as we learned about their culture, their village, their family, and their dreams for their own community. We realised that despite our obvious differences, we are not all that much different.
DAY 3 – motorcycles, a bridge…and saving the best to last
In the morning, we pedalled out on our last few kilometres of mountain biking past villagers headed to their harvest fields, and then across a small river that we later explored up to a great swimming hole and waterfall tucked into a cove of cliffs, perfect for jumping. Upon returning, the MAO team had replaced our mountain bikes with motorcycles, a welcome relief for our weary legs, and we rode an hour down small roads to a larger village community set along the banks of the larger Nam Yao river. We crossed the 150-year-old British-built bridge and into the ethnically diverse community and to a Kachin family home where they served us some of their traditional food for lunch.
Satisfied and exhausted, we lazily walked down a trail a few minutes to discover a multitude of waterfalls from the ridge, and realised that they were saving the best for last. This gave us the boost of energy we needed, and we raced down the narrow path to the bottom of what they call Dark Horse Falls. Our guide explained all that we were going to do at the falls, and I thought to myself, “impossible!”, but I was wrong…he knew everything! We did it all… we ran through rapids, climbed carefully up rocks as water gushed under foot and overhead, swam in coves, jumped off waterfalls and cliffs, explored a hidden cave behind the falls, and relaxed in a natural whirlpool.
They truly saved the best for last, as our guide showed us how the rock shelf we were standing on was hollow beneath our feet, and led us down and around to the base of the 30-metre-long falls, and we slipped behind the cascading wall into a state of euphoria. We climbed up and out of the canyon and rode our motorbikes back through Palaung communities to Lashio, where the MAO team had made chicken and fish tacos, chips, and served local beer and margaritas …something familiar after days of expanding our palate with varied and new cultural tastes.
Myanmar Adventure Outfitters
This startup social impact adventure travel company based in Lashio, works alongside the communities they engage with on their adventures. Their goal is not only to create epic customised adventures, but to have a positive impact on their travel destinations, which they do by investing profits and energies into these communities and households.
- WEB — www.myanmaradventureoutfitters.com
- EMAIL — [email protected]
- PH — +95 9795366426
- Getting there: Regular scheduled journeys from Yangon to Lashio entail 15 hours by bus or two hours by plane.