CHIN BEYOND VICTORIA MOUNTAIN
When you mention Chin, everyone in Myanmar will reply Mount Victoria. It is the highest peak of Chin state and the most visited place in the region. Going beyond the crowds though, Chin state has a lot more to offer. Getting to Chin isn’t easy and it’s often impossible in the rainy season, when some roads are simply washed away. But visiting is worth all the effort. After all, it only takes 6 hours from Bagan.
You arrive to Mindat when you arrive to Mindat
Time in Myanmar is subjective and prone to change, so we were not given a definite answer of our time of arrival to Mindat – the gate to Chin state as they call it there. After having lunch at a neat local restaurant, we drove to the outskirts of Mindat to start our hike. Only 2 hours of walking downhill to warm up. In few days, we would be crossing mountains and spending hours on trails under the scorching sun. Some days would be easier than others, but luckily, our heavy backpacks were transported on motorbikes so we would not need to suffer more by carrying those.
As many as 30 tribes live in Chin state and some of these tribes used to have a tradition of tattooing faces of their women. Coming to Mindat, you’ll meet these ladies everywhere. Some are shy, some would boldly ask for money if you’d like to take their picture and some would be flattered and invite you to their homes. Back in the day, women could marry only within their tribes and the tattoos served as a mark for life. For health reasons it was later prohibited and the youngest tattooed lady is now 40, meaning that this tradition is slowly dying out.
Trekking in the hills surrounding Mindat is an unparalleled experience: breathtaking views, turquoise blue rivers, rickety bridges and undiscovered hiking trails. In the winter months, it gets unexpectedly cold and having a hat, gloves and warm jumper is a necessity. We would meet locals on the way, who would show us their humble homes built in the middle of nowhere, smile and shake our hands. Many villages around Mindat are accessible only by a motorbike through a labyrinth of trails.
Chin people are one of the friendliest people I’ve met in Myanmar. Despite of harsh life in the mountains, Chin people are considerate and care for each other. They would always strike a conversation or smile back at us when we were passing by in their villages. Some nights we would sit with them at a bonfire, sing songs and drink millet wine, others we would watch them play darts at a local bar. Just before sunset, the whole village would watch their kids playing football against kids from neighboring villages. The families & friends would come together at Christmas time or during festivals and share food and spend precious moments. Not being able to speak their language, we were welcomed in their social circles.
Visit before it’s too late
For those seeking mountains and nature in Myanmar, visiting Chin state should be on their travel itinerary. There are more hotels in Mindat each time I go and the road is slowly getting better. The locals speak enough English to help you and local tour guides would prepare an itinerary that fits you. It’s still wise to hire a guide as they would be able to connect you with local communities easier and some remote roads are extremely difficult to ride without practice.