Kengtung—Shan State’s Hidden Gem

Hseng Noung Lintner Contributor

Pa Leng Gate—In the past Kengtung was surrounded by a moat and earthen wall with 12 gates. Today, Pa Leng Gate is the only one left standing and can be found next to the local authorities’ Mother and Childcare Department. The name Kengtung means “Walled City of Tung” and refers to a mythological founder of the city. Many Thai people refer to the city as Chiang Tung.Old villa—The owner left this house for his caretaker to maintain. It was call “Haw Hong” (Northern Palace) during the administration of the Kengtung princes or “Saohpa”. There are many new nondescript concrete houses, but some old buildings of stone or brick in European and Indian styles with tiled roofs still remain in the town, especially around the central Nawng Tung Lake. Some of Kengtung’s most distinctive buildings are several large Buddhist temples and monasteries.Tombs of the Saohpa or Princes of Kengtung—Sao Sai Long was the 43rd and last of the Kengtung Princes. The inscription on Sao Sai Long’s tomb (left) reads: Sao Sai Long Khema -Te – Pa -Te (A) Sao Sai Long Mengrai. Son of Sao Kwan Tai; The Royal Family of Saophalong of Keng Tung State. Born on the tenth of September 1927. The ruler of Keng Tung State [for a] period of 16 years (12.4.46 to 2.3.62). Expired in Rangoon on the 14th of September 1997. Ashes entombed in Keng Tung on 25th April 1998.Kengtung toll gate—There are three toll gates on the Tachileik – Kengtung road, which follows a series of narrow steep river gorges and was paved by Hong Pang Company owned by Wei Hsueh-Kang of the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

This highway construction firm is in charge of collecting payment for use of the road. Recently, there was a complaint from car owners from Kengtung and Mong Yawng that they could no longer run their transportation businesses due to unfair toll gate fees.

The UWSA signed a ceasefire agreement with Burma’s former prime minister and military intelligence chief Gen Khin Nyunt in 1989 and Hong Pang’s business opportunities quickly developed during the 1990s. A court in Brooklyn, New York, has indicted Wei Hsueh-Kang for his involvement in the drug trade.Kengtung Central Market—A shopkeeper sells baskets and typical Shan hats made of bamboo and bamboo sheath. Usually people apply oil onto to the hat to protect it from rain and insects. If the customer requests so, the vendor will apply oil to the hat upon purchase. Kengtung was only opened to foreign visitors in 1993 so tourists still attract a fair bit of attention.Ahka woman—Diverse ethnic groups such as the Akha, Palaung, Lahu, Wa, Tai Kuen, Tai as well as Shan live in Kengtung and the surrounding area and travel to town to visit the market and exchange goods. Kengtung is the center of the Kung minority group which makes a large part of the town’s population. The entire region was once closely tied to the Lanna Kingdom based around Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and there are many similarities between the two peoples today.Beggar—A woman begs in a walkway in Kengtung Market. Although not one of Burma’s poorest regions, Shan State’s economy has been dominated by narcotics production despite being famous for its garden produce and all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables thanks to a temperate but sunny climate.Hair dresser—Despite its remote location and poor inhabitants, Kengtung is home to many youngsters who compete with each other with the latest dashing hairstyles. After dark townsfolk descend on the central Nawng Tung Lake to mingle and converse. Many restaurants line the promenade and serve a variety of spicy Shan soups, salads and fried pork dishes. Potent local rice whiskey is not for the faint-hearted.