The north-eastern town of Hsipaw is nestled in the green lap of the Shan Hills, home to the Palaung people, master tea growers and cultivators. From the foothills, it is at least half a day's trek through winding jungle trails to reach the villages. Tensions between the local guerrilla militia and the government army have shadowed this area for decades, the proximity to the Chinese border fuelling illicit trade in opium, rubies and teak, which fund both sides.
We meet a man with a rifle. Around noon, a gunshot cracks through the air in the lush mountain valley. "Somebody is probably just hunting monkeys." We exchange side glances. We haven't seen any monkeys in Myanmar so far.
Bamboo mats line the village road, strewn with dark green tea leaves laid out to dry in the sun. They emit a strong, musky smell. Our guide shows us an empty silo at a farm, where families with more than three boy children would hide their sons when the militia came recruiting.
After a dinner of tea leaf salad, we tell riddles around a camp fire. Aung-San tells us about his crush on a girl from the other village. We laugh together.
On the 16 hour river ferry to Bagan, days later, a young woman from Pakokku sells us a blanket her grandmother has made and tells us she is afraid of Chinese gangsters. They kidnap children.
A monk smokes a cigarette and plays with his smartphone while prayers boom through loudspeakers during a pagoda festival.
We finally find wifi in a sushi bar in Yangon. I have a beer, the first one in two weeks, and try to update my instagram. Slapping a filter on these experiences feels weird. I know I am privileged to be able to come, to leave, to return if I want to.
And I already really, really want to.