The Shan Highlands

Myanmar’s Hills Beckon

Myanmar has become famous as the road less travelled attracting tourists. Its breathtaking, untouched natural beauty against the backdrop of which we see countless pagodas in every city, town and village, has led to a flurry of tourist activity.

The Shan Highlands

Myanmar, interestingly also offers numerous hills less climbed-that crown its northern fringes. The mountains and hills are largely along the borders of the country with neigh- boring India, China, Laos and Thailand, and in the past, served as barriers to entry. The opening up of the country and tourist foot falls increasing have led to increased interest in the exploration of Myanmar’s highlands, which are now catching the world’s eye. Highland is a term used for a mountainous region that rises above the surrounding areas. It could be a mountainous plateau, hilly terrain or even steep, high mountains. These less explored hills and mountains, with their snowclad peaks and rugged, steep climbs uphill, offer Alpine climate, thick natural forests, and a flavour of life unseen elsewhere. Many of them are not even inhabited due to tough living conditions and climate.

The Shan Hills

The Shan Hills (Shan Yoma), also known as Shan Highland, is a vast mountainous zone that extends through Yunnan to Burma and Thailand. The whole region is made up of numerous mountain ranges separated mostly by narrow valleys as well as a few broader intermountain basins. The ranges in the area are aligned in such a way that they link to the foothills of the Himalayas further to the northwest. Just behind Mandalay rise the first majestic foothills of the Shan Plateau, which can reach a height of over 2000 meters. This mountainous landscape is very beautiful, and the mild climate made the region very popular with the British. During the day it is pleasantly warm, but at night the temperatures can drop dramatically due to the altitude.


The area of the Shan Highland is a combination of hill ranges, steep river valleys and a few elevated plains, also known as the Shan Plateau. The high plain averages about 1000 metres in elevation, and is sparsely populated.


The name of the massif or system of ranges is derived from the Shan State and its peoples, said in its turn to be derived from the word “Siam” that occupies most of the Shan Highland area. Since it was relatively unexplored until recent times, the Shan mountainous region was referred to as the “Shan Plateau” in geographic works of the British colonial period.


Geologically in the Shan Hills and their southern subranges, layers of alluvium are superimposed on hard rock. Karstic ranges are common, for large tracts of the hills are limestone. The Shan Hills are an important silver and ruby mining area. The Shan Hills straddle central eastern Burma and north-western Thailand. They rise steeply from Burma’s central plain and stretch for hundreds of kilometres eastwards into Thailand’s northwest. The average elevation is around 1000 m. The surface of the system is cut across by steep river gorges, part of the drainage basins of the Chao Phraya, the Irrawaddy, the Sintaung and the Salween or Thanlwin River which cuts across the plateau in a north/south direction.

Sub Ranges

Daen Lao Range. The Daen Lao Range or ‘Loi La Range’ range is located in the southern and south-eastern area of the Shan Hills. It separates the Salween watershed from the Mekong watershed. The Daen Lao Mountain Range begins at Chiang Saen in the east and Doi Chiang Dao (2175 m) is one of its highest points. The Daen Lao subrange includes Doi Nang Non (The Sleeping Lady), a karstic formation at its southern end with waterfalls and caves.

The Karen Hills

The western end of the Shan Hills system is not clearly defined, with the Karen Hills in the southwestern area of the system beyond the Salween. Geographically the Karen Hills are the southwestern projection of the Shan Hills. They are also referred to as “Kayah-Karen Mountains”.

Thanon Thong Chai Range

The Thanon Thong Chai Range is the southernmost prolongation of the Shan Highland system. Southwards from the Daen Lao Range a series of mountain ranges extend in near-parallel fashion above the Shan Plateau rising up to heights of 2500 m, with the Dawna Range in the west reaching the beginning of the Tenasserim Hills further south.

The highest mountain in the Shan Hills is Loi Leng with a height of 1823 meters. It falls approximately 45 km south east of Lashio.  Other mountains of the Shan range include Loi Pangnao, Doi Inthanon and Mong Ling Shan, all over 2500 meters above sea level.

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