Most of northern Myanmar is closed to foreigners, largely due to the history of conflict between the army and ethnic militias in Kachin State. It most recently flared up in 2011 and the army has been accused, with good evidence, of atrocities including the torture and extra-judicial killing of civilians.
For tourists, this has meant some additional travel restrictions (such as blocking land or water routes to Myitkyina). Those parts of the north that can be visited, however, are safe and offer some of the country’s best opportunities to spend time with local people. One way to do this is to take a boat trip on the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River north of Mandalay around Katha and Bhamo, where long journey times and a scarcity of foreigners make it easy to get a sense of provincial life. Heading northeast from Mandalay instead, towards the Chinese border, treks from towns such as Hsipaw into the forested interior offer up the opportunity to stay in ethnic minority homes in traditional mountain villages.