The Astonishing Forest of Stupas at Kakku, Myanmar

Kakku, an on-hill pagoda complex, is one of the most remarkable sights in Shan State, home of the famous Inle Lake. Arranged in neat rows sprawling over the hillside, the remote site offers to travelers an off-the-beaten-track experience as it is only recently opened to visitors.

A glimpse of Kakku

Kakku, as mentioned, is a complex of some 2,500 stupas sprawling over a square kilometer on Shan Hills. From a distance, the stupas all looked the same. But getting closer, one could see that they are actually all different. Their color varies from pale beige to intense pink; beautiful Buddha statues of all sizes were hidden inside, and many of them were decorated with the most amazing carvings of mythical figures. So with 2,478 stupas, there’s a lot to explore.

At the center is the 40 meters high main stupa, surrounded by mostly well preserved smaller ones. Most still have the ‘hti’, a top element shaped like an ornamental umbrella. The centuries old pagodas are made from brick and plastered with stucco, a lot of which has crumbled off. Some of them have trees and bushes growing out of them.

The first stupas date back to the 16th century. As centuries passed, more and more stupas were added, until the field we know today was created. Every period had its own architectural style and that’s what makes the stupas incredibly diverse and interesting, and also super photogenic.

When to travel there

The site is best visited during the Kakku Festival, held during Tabaung, the 12th month of the traditional Burmese calendar (around March in Gregorian calendar), which marks the end of the cool season. During the 9-day festival, villagers from miles around come to pay their respects to the stupas wearing their best traditional finery.

How to travel there

Due to its isolated location, it takes considerable effort to get to Kakku. The 60-kilometer drive from Taunggyi takes 1.5 to 2 hours; and from the west end of the lake, it takes another hour extra. A scenic ride through the hills over small winding roads with Pa-Oh villages, houses of wood and bamboo and fields with crops as onions and garlic leads visitors to the final destination. Alternatively, a very stunning but challenging trek through the hills takes 5 to 7 hours, depending on the starting point.

Fees & Opening hours

Admission to the site is US$ 3 per person. Since the site is being administered by the Pa-Oh tribe, in order to visit Kakku, visitors must hire a Pa-Oh guide in the town of Taunggyi, who charges a fee of US$ 5.

Feeling tempted? Check out our inspiring journeys to Myanmar and more trips across 10 Asian countries.

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