Loi-Mwe – on the trails of Myanmar’s colonial past

Loi-Mwe, translating to “misty mountain”, is a 1600m high plateau about 30km away from Kengtung. The British military installed a second class hill station here. Up to today, several decaying colonial buildings are reminiscent of the colonial era.

With his own car – he got a loan from a nice German tourist to finance it – our guide Abby drives us and our Italian friend Barbara up a steep and curvy road. We look down on neon-green paddy terraces> Bluish mountains and the cloud-dotted sky make a good backdrop. The weather is just perfect for walking outside with temperatures around 25° C.

After an hour’s drive we arrive at a huge golden pagoda on a hill overlooking the Loi-Mwe lake and village. An important monk is visiting. Some people kneel in front of him and listen to his teachings while twenty policemen play bodyguards. They secure the area by sitting all together on stairs behind the monk, smoking and chatting. There have been some kidnappings of influential religious leaders in the past. The presence of security guards is very important.

We continue our visit by a walk through the market of Loi-Mwe village, where saleswomen give away tastings of their self-made colorful fruit liquors. We taste yellow pineapple, green sour apple, pink lychee, red strawberry and almost black cherry. The liquors remind us rather of balsamic than of an apéritif. Perfect for a vinaigrette but too sour to enjoy as a drink.

We fill our lunchboxes with freshly prepared spicy noodle portions in transparent plastic bags and start our walk around the village streets.

travel tipp infoPlastic bags are commonly used to transport either food or living goldfish.

Rusty garden tools and musty planks entwined by weeds and flowers fill the front yards of old teak wood houses. A chestnut-brown cat relaxes in the shadow of an old tractor. Flat bamboo baskets lie in the yards containing chilies, bananas and roots to dry in the sun. A wrinkled lady sits with her young daughters on a roof. They are having lunch out of banana leaves. The steaming rice and potato curry make our mouths water.

After a walk around the Loi-Mwe lake, we make our way to a first colonial building of the former British hill station. The building sits on a well-maintained lawn (very English indeed) and looks a bit misplaced in the Asian landscape. The surrounding jungle works hard to reconquer the lawn from all sides, but so far, the Empire won. Once, a British colonel lived here, who functioned as district commander and used this house as summer residence. The house is empty and features four big, hardwood-floored rooms. Each room has an own bathroom and a small chimney. It is quite chilly inside. The whole place is kept clean and well maintained by an almost invisible local family, which we briefly meet when we arrive.

Our next stop on the neighboring hill is an old catholic church built by the Italian mission early in the 19th century with an attached orphanage. On the stairs sits a young guy with long hair and plays guitar while some women from the nearby village and some orphan girls sing Burmese Christmas carols. We play a German song on the guitar to break the ice, chime in and have a lot of fun singing together. On the way back we meet some Akha women coming from field work. They wear their colorful traditional dresses – very beautiful to see!

The last colonial remnant we visit today is the old post office on the lake shore, which still serves its original purpose today. The main room hides a real curio: Dust covered and worn down, an old heavy safe from colonial times sits against one of the walls. The steel door hangs in rusty hinges. It requires Christian’s full strength to open. The military junta tried to steal the safe from here but it was just too heavy so that they were not able to take it. It is in use until today.

We round this beautiful day up by taking a stroll through the jungle half way between Loi-Mwe and Kengtung. Abby suddenly starts singing, and only stops to give us some of the many plants for tasting. He explains a lot about medical herbs and how they are used until today in the villages. We see tomato trees. Yes, trees! The fruit hanging from the trees is technically not a tomato, but resembles the original in look, feel and (after being cooked) taste, so that the locals call it tomato, too.

A small village on our way still practices an old animistic belief. A shrine for the “spirit of the earth” just behind the village catches our attention. It is a small, open wooden cottage surrounded by holy trees. The cottage is filled with the red earth and small candles. Although in the village and the jungle around many birds are singing to a constant rustling in the underbrush, this place stays strangely silent.

We close our trip with a beautiful view on the village nearby and Kengtung far away and fall asleep on the way back.

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