Let's Talk About Myanmar - Mountain Buzz
 



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Old 12-09-2015   #1
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Let's Talk About Myanmar

Myanmar is holding big time. They've only just really opened up in the past 5 or 6 years, and while some areas are still off limits there are bounds of rivers and creeks awaiting descent across Myanmar's plentiful mountains.

Who's been there? Who's paddled there? Anyone know of teams or people getting in there?




Some rivers to consider:

Shweli River (23.456862, 97.076686)ish big long canyon, one dewatered section and one section that is roadless with a handful of rapids. Could start as high as Muse but turns into a lake, better to try and get in below the dam and powerhouse. big falls in the middle?

Myitnge River (23.075533, 97.384176)ish It looks like it has a canyon that could be a real classic, roadless canyon with some rapids but none look that overwhelming. Nam Tu to Hsipaw. The river could also be accessed from much higher up on the Lashio - Muse Road, there looks to be a long run (a few days or more) with what looks like travertine drops for a while. Below Hsipaw is a much bigger river, in a jungle canyon without roads, and look mostly flatter until the Goketeik confluence. Below that more rapids appear, and right before the reservoir swallows it up there is a pair of very large rapids in a mini gorge that looks impressive even from satellite height. (21.960852, 96.886822)

Myitnge Tributaries from Lashio down to Hsipaw is a long remote run (the "Lashio trib") that looks like it has travertine features for miles, multiple channels spread through the jungle. (22.784771, 97.533184)ish. Very intriguing from satellite photos! It joins with another one (the "Zay Ann" trib) that has less whitewater and stretches into the deep hill country that is still off limits. Might be good? Who knows, good luck.

The Gokteik River and it's tributary look like they could be holding some gradient and water. It's a limestone canyon so of course it could be chunky and sievey.... (22.306232, 96.911262)ish

The river below Pyin O Lwin, below the Dar Taw Gyaint falls looks promising. (21.980263, 96.38627 Falls here

There is a river that I do not know the name of north of Lashio, deep in the heart of the Shan State, near the Chinese border and the disputed region known as Kokang thats look very intriguing, it looks very much like travertine and looks like there could be some sizeable drops in there. Maybe a Santo Domingo of SE Asia? (21.980263, 96.38627 Let it be known I tried to travel to this gorge in July 2015 and couldn't even hire a car to get to the trailhead to hike up. So good luck, but let us know if you do!

A little further south, the Zawgyi River flows north out of the mountains and becomes the Paalaung River and looks like a nice mellow gradient through the hills for a long way. This area has a lot of ethnic people so its likely youll meet some rad people on the way, almost all flat but goes through a long roadless area before getting swalled by a lake. (20.957734, 96.418201) There are some abrupt limestone mountains in this area and every time a river cuts through one it generally forms a short but intense gorge, we passed two of these on our drive out and they looked short and furious.

South of the famous Inle Lake, the Balu Chaung River falls over what looks like more travertine. (19.635383, 97.291296) Looks like a nice open valley section before it cascades off the face of the earth into a gorge. I would love to see these cascades sometime in my life! THat soon joins the Nam Pawn River, which has more big water rapids, including multi-channeled travertine rapids. This river goes on for days both above and below the Balu Chaung confluence, with roadside and wild sections aplenty. (19.210032, 97.37575

Of course the is the mighty Salween as well, which doesn't have any fearsome rapids but does steam through a deep isolated canyon almost the entire way through eastern Myanmar.

Up north, near Myitkyina, the Irrawaddy is formed by the confluence of the N'mai and Mali Rivers, both of which come out of the Himalaya, and are as such, typical Himalayan rivers. The Mali has a road along it and easier access for a while and the rapids aren't as big, but the N'mai goes for days and days through a massive wild area, maybe one of the last truly wild places in the area. Countless rapids, in a wild jungle with mountains. This could be a crown jewel for someone to get after, if it hasn't been done already. Accessing it could be a nightmare and a half, but holy cow, check out this area on Google Earth. The wildness is incredible. (27.834987, 97.759043)

And this is but a tiny tip of the iceberg. If you are looking for a wild adventure, Myanmar is but a few sketchy plane rides away. BAER I'm looking at you buddy

The gorge near Kokang


Baluchaung River

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Old 12-15-2015   #2
 
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Yeti,
There is little doubt that there are goods to be had in Myanmar,a mountainous tropical country the size of Texas.The logistics are the main obstacle.The country was more or less closed off to the outside world for a half century.There were some old British and National Geographical style scientific exploratory expeditions prior to WWII..
Dr.Alan Rabinowitz lead an expedition(s) into northern areas about 15 years ago to ascertain the state of wildlife in the region and promote conservation.The process of obtaining permission was formidable.When they finally went in they found a sort of lost world in a time warp.They discovered a large unknown species of bovine,Asiatic pygmies unknown to science( and on the verge of extinction due to extreme inbreeding),animals near extinct or endangered in neighboring countries thriving,and a river that formed a stark natural boundary between the flora and fauna of Indo-Malaya and the Himalayas\Tibet.

Dr.Rabinowitz had a presentation at the natural history museum.His slideshow showed them making their way up some sweet looking rivers ,complete with porters erecting rickety bamboo bridges over gnarly rapids leading into unexplored gorges that screamed adventure.He got the government to established a national park and other protected areas.A problem in the area was a lack of salt jeopardizing the local's health.Chinese salt traders were coming in and

exchanging overpriced salt for poached wildlife ,still available in Burma
but overhunted in China, for sale in traditional Chinese medicine.Salt is dirt cheap to us ,so Rabinowitz arranged providing it to save wildlife.He also conducted the jaguar studies in Belize and got the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Sanctuary protected.He is a true hero.

You would probably need gov permission and handlers to mount any large scale conspicuous expedition.I always wanted to go there to see Pagan,the Cave of 10,000 Buddhas,and the Mergui Archipelago.The "James Bond" type islands with sea caves would make for awesome sea\ touring type kayaking...pretty sure there are outfitters.The easiest way to avoid gov hassles exploring would probably be to take a ducky or packraft to a village on the backpacker circuit that has hikes to waterfalls and rivers and try to bag some hucks or short (day trip)runs after hiking in to scout.Even just a kayak on a vehicle might invite unwanted scrutiny.How free were you to roam at will? Has the handling been largely eliminated?.....an easier ,cheaper,but similar set of conditions exists much closer-Cuba...
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Old 12-15-2015   #3
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Has stuff been run in Cuba? There's been easy backdoors for years into the country - or is the issue you have to be living there to time a rain event?
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Old 12-15-2015   #4
 
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Not that I know of KSC...probably some exploration by locals...yeah I know a friend on this forum who went there for the music scene via Cancun a few years ago... you would have to do your homework and have some luck with rain..maybe something springfed?....Myanmar is 6 and a half times as big and has some runoff rivers,mostly big ones..but there is some WW on Jamaica,Hispanola( remember twitch),and Dominica(hotel Charley?)..Cuba is the size of Guat.or Honduras and twice the size of Costa Rica with 3 mountainous areas so could be a fair amount of runs...the similarities are opening up after decades of isolation ,lack of WW exploration,and being handled versus complete freedom...but those are changing.I'll bet Cuban Whitewater will be well known within 10 years..still look at all the seldom utilized beta and how underboated many areas that have been explored and documented are...
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Old 12-15-2015   #5
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Like I said, Myanmar is changing big time. With the exception of a few areas that are still closed due to Rebel groups, most of the country is wide open for tourists, do what you want, nobody cares.

You need to throw most of your ideas and what you've heard about Myanmar out the window....Most people's ideas of it is outdated and no longer relevant.

And for anyone who is ever in Myanmar, do NOT miss Bagan!! It is incredible. Not only for the massive temples but also for the hundreds of small ones scattered around the area. Just get a rental electro bike and cruise around and see them to your hearts content...
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Old 12-16-2015   #6
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Was headed to work earlier. Long reply now...

Ok, now that I have more time I can post a better reply.

As I said, a lot of what you know or have heard about Myanmar is probably out of date. Over the past five years, things have exploded and it is about to have a SERIOUS boom of expansion. It's already started in some places like Yangon & Mandalay (read: fancy hotels, towers, malls, etc, the temples of capitalism), and several places have emerged as leading tourist destinations, including Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay, Kyaiktiyo (the Golden Rock), and Ngapali Beach. There is established infrastructure of all kinds (backpacker to luxury) in all of these places.

There are other areas that are sometimes visited, including places like Myitkyina, Lashio, Sittwe and the Mergui Archipeligo, which can vary in infrastructure and price. For exmaple, getting into the Mergui right now is still a choice between ultra luxury or bare bones local. The only hotel in the whole area is the $275 a night Royal Andaman, so otherwise its multi day dive boats or extremely local craft. We managed to get into a city that was open, but in the middle of a conflict zone so there wasn't much to do there, no tours, no guides, nothing. Not any minding, but one of the few places where areas around the city are outright closed. In these places there are usually hotels, but maybe not of all levels.

Right now a good portion of the money coming into Myanmar is from China. After having basically bought Laos and Cambodia, China has turned it's eye on this quickly-emerging country, the biggest in ASEAN and home to 53+ million people. In some of the areas near to the Chinese border, especially in Shan State, it's hard to tell where Myanmar ends and China begins. Sure, the resources in Myanmar haven't been as exploited as China's (yet, although they're working hard to strip it down as fast as possible, much like other 3rd world countries around the world) but much of the infrastructure, and a high number of people, and all of the products are Chinese. We went to city called Lashio, which is but 4 hours from the Chinese border, and it was amazing how much Chinese influence we could see. Signs everywhere in Chinese. Small numbers of Chinese tourists. Chinese trucks and buses and tuk-tuks. The Shan People have traditionally had strong links to Southern China and today many parts of eastern Myanmar are closer to China than their own country.

There are a few areas of the country (mostly north and east, although the far west Rakhine State is not a great place to be right now) that are still off limits for foreigners, due to the civil wars ongoing in these parts, although foreigners are usually viewed as neutrals by both sides, and some people do get into closed areas. In areas not closed you are liable to get quite a lot of bewildered looks (westerners are still fairly new) but you wont have much minding or trouble, if at all. We were there for 13 days and got hassled once by drunk old men and that was it. Locals have realized foreigners are a source of revenue and are doing what they can to make some bucks off 'em. River trips with porters helping could be another way they could make money??

As far as rivers, the easiest thing to do would be to travel by bus and try to hire private drivers or local cars to take you to put ins and takeouts. Some of them would be serious undertakings and would likely be exploratory multi-day adventures through unknown rapids. In some instances you could launch on a fairly nice paved road and take out later at another one. Other runs you may end up on a reservoir, which sucks to paddle out, but there are roads to the lakes at least. And others you will have to hike into.

Unfortunately, the prime tourists spots with the most established tourist infrastructure are areas not great for whitewater. Inle Lake is dry half of the year, but during the rainy season its gnarly, jagged low flow creeks through limestone. Bagan is on a gigantic flat plain, and although some novelty sketchy boating on flash flooded streams could be fun during the rainy season, there's no quality whitewater. Many of Myanmar's mountains, the best place to look for water, aren't as accessed yet. Still, Myanmar has huge tracts of limestone, and plentiful water, and there is no doubt that over the next ten to fifteen years (especially with the NLD taking power recently) the country is going to change big time, and continue to open wider and infrastructure links will be forged.

I look forward to hearing about the opening and exploration of Myanmar's whitewater. And like I said, if anyone has any info on the boating history in the country I'd be stoked to hear about it!
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Old 01-17-2016   #7
 
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I went to Myanmar a few years ago to scout out rivers and found it challenging to get into the mountainous areas. Getting permission to get into the mountains is pretty tough right now.

Talk to Pat O'Keeffe from Whitewater Asia (Whitewater Asia - Whitewater rafting / kayaking expeditions in asia - Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Japan, India, Tibet and Siberia). He's done a few first descents in Myanmar and has scouted a bunch of other runs.
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Old 03-09-2016   #8
 
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Hey Yeti check out the Bolivian 1st D thread...sez a team of Kurt Casey,Rocky Contos,and Greg Schwendinger,are headed to explore in Myanmar.These 3 guys don't run the super gnar ( with some exceptions) but are supremely experienced class V expedition boaters!Casey is the Andean guru,Rocky the pioneer of many Mexican runs( and more recently Peru),and Greg the Chiapas and Northern Central America jungle master.They have well over 500 (?)1st D's between them.I know Greg had 250 + and has added more.They should fare well in Myanmar.
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Old 03-09-2016   #9
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Hey, I saw that link earlier, but thanks for sharing! I'm pretty sure we say Myanmar now, not Burma, get it together Steamboat Pilot.

I'm familiar with all those guys, if anyone can pull off some major descents they are stacking their team to get the best chance at success. It will also be helpful in that a lot of their boating history (especially Rocky) involves a lot of limestone and the issues it brings to river running. Eastern Myanmar is almost all limestone (with some exceptions obviously) so Rocky should have a great feel for what can and cannot be done there. I'm excited to see what happens, especially after watching Ben S and Chris K get shut down there recently on their Irrawaddy source to sea.

Sounds like Greg is the guy to talk to about travertine, there is a river up in Shan State that looks like it is just travertine drop after travertine drop, for a few kilometers. Oh, the possibilities!!
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Old 03-09-2016   #10
 
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Yeah I love travertine runs...It would be hard to beat northeastern Chiapas for committing canyons full of travertine slides and falls of all sizes...Tobasco,the Yucatan,the Peten, all of Belize except the Maya mtns.,and parts of Alta Verapaz,GT.,are limestone/travertine zones,where there is water and even a little gradient there are runs with lots of ledges and falls with a beautiful turqoise color...Croatia and the Huasteca too...SE Asia may have as much..but Fossil is the best ,jk.

Must be pretty damn difficult to turn back Ben and Chris.
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