Just over three hours south of Inle Lake, the small town of Loikaw is a little-known and little-visited gem in the Kayah State countryside.
Kayah State is packed with rolling hills, waterfalls, caves and lakes - and as one of the least-populated states in Myanmar, it's the perfect place to get back to nature. Loikaw, in the north of the state near the Shan border, is the gateway to all this - and it's a wonderful destination in its own right, too.
When the British arrived in Burma, the area surrounding Loikaw was under the rule of a Saopha or "Sky Prince". During colonial times, there were 16 Saophas, each with autonomous rule over his own region. Shortly after independence, this tradition was brought to an end, and the Sky Princes lost their territory. Though he had no official power, the last Sky Prince of Loikaw lived until the 1990s, and his "palace" (now a monastery) can still be visited in the town today.
Loikaw's most impressive attraction, however, is not its Sky Palace but the Taung Kwe Pagoda - a complex of buildings built on jagged outcrops of rock in the centre of town. Though there's a lift to take you to the top of the pagoda, it's much more fun to ascend via the winding staircase at the front!
Loikaw is a wonderful base from which to explore the rest of Kayah State, with plenty of opportunities for trekking in the surrounding hills and villages. Most of the ethnic minorities in the state converted to Christianity in the 19th century, but you'll still find traditional practices thriving in rural communities - from Padaung ladies sporting their brass neck rings to clusters of totem poles used in shamanic divination.