The ‘little differences’ of Myanmar

December 23, 2012

Since I watched Pulp Fiction, I started to look for the “little difference” in foreign countries. In my favorite dialogue (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Pkq_eBHXJ4) John Travolta as Vincent Vega is talking about his life in Europe. He says: “But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It’s the little differences.” For example: They call a quarter pounder at McDonald’s a “Royal with cheese”.

In Myanmar and all over Asia, there are vivid, “big” differences everywhere, but most of them a well-known from documentaries, books and pictures. But there are also the little differences. For example: instead of a Big Mac Indian McDonalds sells a Chicken Maharaja Mac.

Myanmar is full of little differences. It starts with the traffic: they used to drive on the left side, but from one day to another they changed it (in 1970). And now they drive on the right, but the majority of drivers still sit on the right. The funny reason: former President Ne Win had a dream about it. The not so funny consequence: they have more accidents all over the country.

Another example: motorbikes are forbidden in Yangon. I just a heard the story that one day a guy was driving alongside a generals car, pointing with his finger like he is holding a gun to the head of the general. Since that day the general was so afraid of assassination that he forbade all motorbikes in the city. Although Yangon isn’t the capital anymore. They move the capital in 2005 to Naypyidaw, a town in the middle of the country and a town that wasn’t on any map before. There are different theories why the generals did this: from security-reasons to superstition.

It’s possible to continue with the list: they sell gasoline in Whiskey-bottles, they only accept dollar bills which a very clean and not creased, they don’t have a family name.

Two french guys made a funny movie about it: “Burma: The Dictatorship of the Absurd” (http://www.happy-world.com/en). It’s worth a look!

Caspar Schlenk. December 23rd, 2012

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Source: www.go-myanmar.com

A trip down south

August 13, 2013

Travelling to the south of Myanmar has long been possible by air, but foreigners were until recently restricted to the city limits of Dawei, Myeik and Kawthaung – and such trips were usually the preserve of businessmen and NGO workers. Earlier this year, that all changed. Theoretically, it is now possible to travel the length of Mon State and the Tanintharyi Division (also known as Tenasserim, after the 1,700 kilometre mountain range the forms a barrier between Myanmar and Thailand) – making the journey from Yangon to the southern tip of Myanmar at Kawthaung over land.

But having recently undertaken a trip to this region, the theory proves different from the practice. The truth is that any form of tourist infrastructure stops at Mawlamyine – from there southwards, you are on your own. The train goes as far as Dawei, but you are likely to be told in Yangon that you cannot buy a ticket, despite the prices being advertised on the boards in tourist dollars. And it can be the same story with the bus. Your best bet is to get a train or bus as far as Mawlamyine, and then get a ticket on from there. If you encounter resistance, head to the immigration office, where the staff are usually helpful in reiterating to ticket sellers that foreigners can indeed now travel south.

I travelled with a friend during the Thingyan New Year festival in April, so things were made even trickier by many offices being closed. Through a mixture of determination and blind luck, we found our way to a pick-up station fifteen minutes by motorbike taxi from central Mawlamyine, from where we got on a very crowded vehicle to Ye (no buses were running). This journey was extraordinary for a number of reasons: it was dangerous (sitting on the roof of a fast moving pick-up truck on bad roads for over five hours); extremely uncomfortable (ditto); and utterly fascinating (the wonderful people, the Mon hill scenery, the sheer unfamiliarity of everything and the assault on the senses). There were numerous military checkpoints along the way, but, surprisingly, none of the soldiers batted an eyelid at the strange, sunburnt white men on the roof.

We had an overnight stay in Ye (choice of hotels: one) – you can read more about things to do here. At Ye railway station we found a typically chatty Myanmar station master, who spoke to us for about half an hour in broken English while are tickets were being prepared (that’s pretty much the standard waiting time for buying tickets!). Why they will sell foreigners tickets here, in the middle of nowhere, but will not do so in Yangon is one of the many mysteries of Myanmar travel.

The train itself changes in Ye: it is the end of the ‘main line’ from Yangon, and the start of the journey on an even slower train, with carriages barely bigger than a minibus. Although it still uses the same gauge as the rest of the Myanmar network, this section is quite unlike any you will experience going between major cities; it twists and turns through the Tenasserim hills towards Dawei, literally pushing through the thick jungle growth. You have to be careful when taking photos not to be constantly hit by stray bamboo. The lack of development in this part of Myanmar is also a real eye-opener: as we snaked our way slowly through the villages and trees there was absolutely nothing that appeared different from how it would have been a hundred years ago, apart from people’s clothing and the odd mobile phone.

When we arrived at Dawei railway station, it was late in the evening, and we crashed at the only accommodation we could find there (it is a bit of drive into town, and there seemed to be a shortage of pick-ups and taxis). We paid K2000 for the night, which is extraordinarily cheap – but you get what you pay for. The staff were friendly, but my ‘room’ was about twice the size of my body (I’m tall); it had no ceiling (it did have walls); and it had no mattress (just hard wood and a very thin mat). They also started playing rock music at 4am. After one of the more restless nights of sleep I have ever had, it was refreshing to move to a proper guest house the next day, of which there are plenty in central Dawei.

Dawei is typical of a number of towns in Myanmar, in having a degree of colonial charm mixed together with less appealing newer developments, which have been (understandably) built on the cheap. It’s worth wandering around for a few hours, and nearby you can also find Maungmagan Beach. You can read more about what to do in and around Dawei here.

Despite a strong urge to explore further south towards Myeik and Kawthaung, we ran out of time at Dawei. Over land journeys everywhere in Myanmar tend to be time- and energy-sapping affairs, and travelling in this part of the country really takes it out of you – even more so given that English levels tend to be much lower in less developed areas, so navigation isn’t always straightforward. But in getting to see an amazing part of the country that has effectively been off-limits for over 50 years, it is more than worth the effort.

Some notes:

If you’d like to see some more photos from this trip, check out our albums on Facebook and an even wider selection on Flickr.

You may have noticed a lot of ‘mights’, ‘shoulds’ and ‘best bets’ in this blog. That simply reflects the nature of travel in more far-flung parts of Myanmar; there are no certainties.

If you are interested in travel to the Myeik Archipelago, further south, then check out this article from theNew York Times.

Marcus Allender – founder, Go-Myanmar.com. 13th August, 2013

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Source: www.go-myanmar.com

Monywa

OverviewAccommodationGetting ThereGetting Away

Monywa – the city

Monywa is situated on the banks of the Chindwin River 136 kilometres west of Mandalay. Because of the industry that surrounds the town, it has a more dynamic feel than other regional centres in Myanmar: its riverfront is enjoyable to amble down; it has some lively markets; and its main street (between the clock tower and the Bogyoke Aung San statue) comes alive after dark, with a vibrant atmosphere and numerous food stalls and beer stations. Bear in mind, however, that this is small-town Myanmar, and places close early.

There are a fewATMsin Monywa that take foreign cards, including a KBZ bank ATM on the main street between the clock tower and the statue.

There are a number of points of interest in the surrounding area, all needing a taxi or pick up to reach:

Thanboddhay Pagoda & standing Buddha

Turning off the road to Mandalay south east of town is the spectacularly colourful and uniquely styled Thanboddhay Pagoda (Thambuddhei Paya), which houses over 500,000 Buddha images and features many hundreds of golden spires (K3000 entry fee).

There is a colourful watchtower on the monastery site which offers views of the pagoda and surrounding plains.

Bodhi Tataung Laykyun Sekkya standing Buddha

Further down the same side road is the Bodhi Tataung Laykyun Sekkya standing Buddha statue; at 116 metres, it is the second tallest statue in the world (and second tallest Buddha). It is located at the back of a large religious site with bodhi trees, gardens containing hundreds of sitting Buddhas, and a huge reclining Buddha lying in front of the Laykyun Sekkya.

The interior of the main structure features depictions of Buddhist teachings, including some alarming images of depravity and the punishment of evil-doers, plus some propaganda photos of the generals who were in power when it was completed in 2008. You can climb several floors – although the interior is not yet completed to the top.

Hpo Win Daung caves

The Hpo Win Daung caves (also variously spelt as Hpowindaung, Powintaung and Po Win Taung) can be found 25 kilometres west of Monywa, on the western bank of the Chindwin River. The 947 caves that make up the complex were built between the 14th and 18th centuries, and contain ornate mural paintings and hundreds of Buddha statues.

The Hpo Win Daung Festival takes place here in November at the caves, and is Monywa’s biggest festival of the year. To find out more, go to festivals in Myanmar.

Ledi Kyaungteik monastery

Also near Monywa is the Ledi Kyaungteik monastery, in which Buddhist scriptures have been inscribed on 806 stone slabs and Kyaukka village, known for its unique style of lacquerware.

For a wider selection of photos from Monywa and its surrounding area, go to our Flickr photo set.

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Source: www.go-myanmar.com

Kalaymyo (Kalay, Kale)

OverviewAccommodationGetting ThereGetting Away

The remote town of Kalaymyo lies in a rustic part of Sagaing Division, very close to the border with Chin State; much of the population belongs to the ethnic Chin group, and Kalaymyo is the gateway to northern Chin State.

Most Chin are devout Christians (as opposed to the Buddhist majority in Myanmar), and this gives Kalaymyo a fascinating cultural mix – it is almost literally split down the middle between the Chin and Bamar groups. There are said to be over 600 churches in the city, some only frequented by two or three families. The majority are Baptist, but there are also churches belonging to a range of other denominations, including Catholic, 7th Day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witnesses and more.

Such are the levels of religious observance that many houses in in Kalaymyo have signs proudly displaying what church the occupiers belong to; many churches can be found on the main east-west road running through Kalaymyo, particularly on the west side of town where most ethnic Chin live.

Swimming at Kyauk Ta Lone

For a different type of activity, Kyauk Ta Lone (meaning ‘One Rock’ in English) is a swimming area set in a beautiful valley to the west of Kalaymyo, located just over the border in Chin State. A popular spot for young locals to hang out, you can swim either in natural pools or in the fast-running (but safe and shallow) river; there is also an outdoor beer station. Check out our YouTube video from Kyauk Ta Lone.

To get to Kyauk Ta Lone, head west out of town and turn right on the small road immediately before the Chin border point, after which you head up the valley for about one kilometre. You can take a taxi or hire a motorbike for K8000 per day at Taung Za Lat Hotel (opposite the airport, which is unusually situated right in the middle of town!).

Electricity supply is limited in Kalaymyo, often only being on from 6 to 11pm with the use of a generator.

For a wider selection of photos from Kalaymyo and its surrounding area, go to our Flickr photo album.

‘Wuthering Heights’, Fort White and heart-shaped Rih Lake

Kalaymyo’s remoteness holds its own appeal, as does the access it provides to mountainous northern Chin State.

The mountain road into Chin State, towards Falam, is stunning and takes in a windy spot that offers 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, dubbed ‘Wuthering Heights’ by some locals – although don’t expect villagers in the area to necessarily know it by that name! It can be found two and half hours’ drive to the west of the Kalaymyo, five kilometres up a road which spurs off towards the town of Tedim; you will know you are there when the road opens out with panoramas on both sides, and there is a large metal memorial cross on your left hand side. See our YouTube video from Wuthering Heights.

During the Second World War, these mountains saw a large amount of fighting between the Japanese and British as the latter withdrew from Burma in 1942, and just downhill from Wuthering Heights are the remains of a military outpost called Fort White; only some bricks remain set down from the road, but you will get a sense of what it would have been like to be stationed in such a remote place.

Further westwards on this road, beyond Tedim, is the famed Rih Lake. Located right on the Indian border about one day’s travel to the west of Kalaymyo, it is uniquely shaped like a heart, but the lake itself may disappoint those who make the significant effort to get there; it is not particularly impressive and its edges are muddy. However, the road there is beautiful and foreigners are usually allowed to go to India for a few hours via the border crossing (note that this is not an offical border crossing point).

We offer tours of Myanmar that include Kalaymyo and the surrounding area – find out more here.

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Source: www.go-myanmar.com

Northern Chin State diary – opening up to foreigners

September 05, 2013

I began my journey in Kalewa, which is to the east of Kalay and can be reached by bus or by boat up the Chindwin River from Monywa Monywa. The Head of Surveillance I met in Kalewa told me I could go to Falam, Hakha and Tidim but said it would be difficult without a guide as I cannot speak Myanmar, and nobody speaks English there. But after having a very simple chat in Burmese, he told me I’d manage. He gave me his number and told me to call him if I had any problems.

I took a 7am pick-up to Kalay and arrived at around 9am. I then found a motorbike taxi and asked the driver to take me to the bus station from which I could go to Tidim, Hakha or Falam. He stopped on the way to ask a policeman if it was ok for me to go there; I was then asked if I have a permit. I didn’t have one, told the policeman I didn’t think I needed one, and asked where I can check if I really needed a permit. He told me I could risk it, but they might turn me back at the Kalay checkpoint.

The checkpoint was only 16km away, so I decided to go and check; it was no problem. When I started asking questions, the guy at the checkpoint just took a map of Chin state from the wall, drew lines on it, circled open towns with a marker and asked me to give it back when I was finished with my travels!

It was Saturday, and because Chin state is very Christian, there are no buses on Sunday – which meant I would have to wait two days if I wanted to take the bus. A motorbike taxi driver told me he could take me there and we just continued driving – eight hours on a motorbike in the mountains. This turned out to be a two day journey (207 km one way) and cost K65,000 (room, food and petrol included), and I feel like it was a fair price.

We stopped in Falam as there were some problems with the chain, so I went to a tea shop. There I met a local called Daniel, who knew ten languages – the majority were dialects but he spoke decent English. We agreed that when I am back to town, I would give him a call and he would show me around.

In Hakha we stayed at Rung guesthouse. I paid K10,000 for my room and half the price for the driver’s room. I got discount as I stayed two days – normal price for foreigner is K15,000. The room had a shower and western toilet. I saw two other places which looked more plush; one looked like it had been built recently. The girl at reception didn’t know if other guesthouses had licenses. There is lots of construction work going on in Hakha at the moment, so there might be more guesthouses soon.

I was surprised so many people spoke English and couldn’t understand the Kalewa policeman’s concerns. I met a few people as well with whom I was not able to communicate in Burmese – they only knew Chin. Along the main street I saw three internet spots – two of them were open on Sunday and the internet speed was really decent (probably because it was Sunday!). A handful of simple convenience stores were open but almost everything else was shut. There is a restaurant with good food called Chin Taung Taan, which you can find just to the left when you face the clock tower in the centre of town. Its existence is not obvious as it is on the first floor and signs are only in Burmese.

I was told that the bus back to Falam and Kalay leaves at 6am; the girl in the guesthouse told me it sometimes leaves at 5am. I decided not to spend an additional day in Hakha and woke up at 4.30am. The bus turned out to leave at 5.40am, but I am pretty sure it could easily be a bit earlier or later. I was in Falam at 9am. There were four landslides on the way and the guys got out of the bus to remove the stones and make the road passable. I went with Golden Lion Express Hakha Kalay, and the ticket was K2000.

In Falam I stayed at Moon guesthouse and the owner is a charming, very welcoming person and speaks English. The room was K8000 and I got a key to a private bathroom with a western toilet. I saw two internet cafes in Falam, and they were open till 9pm.

I met a guy in Falam called He Dun who speaks very good English; he shared many interesting stories with me, and his knowledge of Myanmar and Chin state was really impressive. If you go to Falam, I’m sure He Dun would be happy to meet you. He gave me a list of places that are now open to foreigners in northern Chin. From the south, heading north, these are:

Hakha, Falam, Taingen, Tedim (Tidim), Tonang (Tonzang), Cikha (Chikha).

The regular bus from Hakha to Kalay leaves at 7am and costs K3000. However, as the road is very bumpy I decided to go for the later, more luxurious minibus, which left at 9am and costs K7000. We arrived in Kalay at 1pm.

Each time I took a bus in Chin state it stopped at some point near the beginning of the journey and everyone prayed. Religion plays a huge role here and the biggest group are the Baptists. Typical names in Hakha and Falam were “Mercy” tea and net café, “Holy” guesthouse, “Nazareth” fashion shop, “Genesis” café, and my personal favourite – “Blessing” internet café!

This was my second visit to Chin state and I find it a little bit strange to feel the difference between Christian and Buddhist people in Myanmar. Dogs definitely look better in Christian areas; in Buddhist states dogs tend to look miserable. But nevertheless I twice saw people kicking them… that’s their life. On the other hand, I feel super safe in Buddhist areas, where I might be happy to leave the door to my room open when I’m having a shower; the padlocks and chains in Chin state made me feel a bit uneasy. I’ve never had anything stolen anywhere in Myanmar, but the feeling of trust definitely seems to change.

In Falam I was taken by a guy from my guesthouse to a Baptist church and after a mass, a woman approached me and was trying to explain something. I told her in Myanmar that I didn’t understand but she kept on speaking Chin. I just left but she followed me, I turned out and repeated I didn’t get the point, so she pulled my bag and wanted to open it. I guess she wanted to be offered some money. It might be simplification referring to religion but this is just what I noticed.

I was told that the last foreign traveller in Falam was in October 2012. I am really glad I did it; this part of Myanmar is amazing nature-wise and people are so happy to see foreigners. Of course the poor infrastructure can make travelling hard, but the area has a lot to offer and is still untouched – which is a great value. Strongly recommended!

Dagmara Bałusz – 3rd September, 2013.

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Source: www.go-myanmar.com

Textiles, gems and handicrafts – a shopper’s delight

October 18, 2013

Nowadays, most of the stuff we buy is mass produced, the focus is on cost and quality is a secondary consideration. Therefore, one of the beauties of Myanmar is that, as a result of having a limited access to modern techniques and technologies, most products are made using using traditional methods and locally sourced resources. Trades like mining, weaving and carving still form an important part of the Myanmar life. In the markets you will find a wide variety of products made from materials like bamboo, cotton, silk, teak wood and precious stones. However, with so many options its hard to know which souvenirs to bring home with you. To help you out, here we highlight a few things that you should definitely save a space in your suitcase for.

The first is lacquerware, a product that you are bound to see all around the country. Traditionally, it comes from Bagan and there, in amongst the temples, you will find workshops which are open to visitors. Made from carved bamboo, the product is lacquered and then decorated with intricate hand-painted designs. Apart from the traditional designs, more modern designs are appearing, with brighter colours and bolder designs, for a more luxurious finish look for the lacquerware decorated with gold-leaf. It comes in many different forms, including cheroot cigar boxes, bowls and plates and the best thing is that it weighs very little, so no need to worry about excess luggage.

Another iconic product that you are likely to come across whilst on your travels around Myanmar is the parasol. Used throughout Asia, the parasol is considered a necessity when heading out onto the street to protect yourself from the sun. In Myanmar, many still favour the traditional style, made with bamboo (for the frame and handle) and cotton, which is stretched over the bamboo frame and then decorated with a hand-painted traditional Myanmar design. It’s common to see monks carrying an orange version of the parasol as they go through the streets on their morning rounds. They are made in Pathein, and if you get the chance, you should visit one of workshops where they will be more than happy to show you how they are made, as well as the different sizes, designs and colours that they produce.

If you are looking for an extra special souvenir, why not invest in one of Myanmar’s precious stones. Rubies and sapphires are popular, but jade is the stone that is most abundantly available and precious stone experts should head to the jade market in Mandalay to negotiate a good deal on a top quality stone. However, if you don’t want to blow your travel budget all in one go, fear not. There’s plenty of slightly lower quality jade available in the tourist markets, so you can pick up a nice bracelet or necklace for around $10.

Finally, probably one of the first things that you will notice about the people of Myanmar is theirtraditional dress, as it’s still common for men and women to wear the ‘longyi‘, a type of wrap-around skirt. They are normally made from cotton or silk, which is woven into unique patterns with each ethnic group and region having an identifiable design. If you visit Inle Lake, you are bound to be taken to the weavery where you can see the whole longyi making process and the designs specific to the Shan State. In the Bogyoke Market in Yangon you will find textiles from all over the country; look out for those from the Naga tribe, which are particularly desirable.

Of course, there are many more exquisite souvenirs to buy apart from these, so take your time to explore the markets and don’t pass up the opportunity to visit workshops, where you will see local people crafting beautiful objects using age-old techniques. You really will be impressed.

Carin Cowell – 18th October 2013

Carin Cowell is an independent online marketing and tourism consultant. Find out more here.

For more information on shopping in Myanmar, go here.

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Source: www.go-myanmar.com

The Bay of Bengal – a beach lover’s paradise

December 03, 2013

As a country barely touched by tourism until recently, Myanmar is an ideal place for “discovery” and this includes the uncovering of virtually untouched beaches. In this article we highlight the three most popular – but don’t worry, there’s plenty of space for everyone. Yet to be known on an international level, these beaches have managed to retain their ‘virginity’ unlike those of neighbouring countries. So, if you wished you’d been in Thailand twenty years ago, now is the time to explore the Bay of Bengal and lap up the peace and tranquillity, for now…

Chaung Tha is one of the beaches closest to the former capital, Yangon. Just 6 hours away by bus, it is popular with young local couples on their honeymoons. The big resort hotels are situated on the main beach and across the road you can find the guest houses and restaurants. The beach itself is wide and spacious. The locals don’t usually swim, but enjoy beach walks and splashing around in the waves. To the north of Chaung Tha there are several other beaches, with a much more intimate feel, that can be reached by bike or moped. Here you can find peace and relax in the shade of the palm trees.

In the evenings, head to the south of the town where there’s a good variety of restaurants serving great value seafood and a night market. When you’ve had enough of the beach, go for a wander around the village; along the narrow paths behind the main road you’ll find beautiful traditional teak and bamboo houses and locals going about their daily life. A little bit further on, and up a very steep hill, you can visit a recently erected Buddha monument.

Ngwe Saung, despite being just a little way south of Chaung Tha, has a substantially different atmosphere. To begin with, most of the visitors are foreigners and the majority stay in the luxury beach-front resorts; there aren’t as many budget options in Ngwe Saung. The beach is beautiful, long and has a chilled-out atmosphere, making Ngwe Saung the perfect place to relax and recharge your batteries. The beach-side restaurants serve gourmet seafood dishes and overlook the ocean which glitters from the lights of the fishing boats in the evenings.

Ngapali is probably the most well-known beach destination in Myanmar. Despite being a long, long way from any of the main cities it has developed a great reputation from its stunning white sandy beaches, luxury resorts and fantastic seafood. This is helped by the fact that it has an airport (Thandwe) with daily flights from Yangon and other destinations around the country, making travel herequick and comfortable (but not necessarily cheap). Similar to Nwge Suang in that it is hard to find budget accommodation, it differentiates itself by have a vibrant local community, with restaurants, cafés and craft shops. Most visitors hire a bicycle and spend at least one day exploring the countryside and villages that follow the coastline. In the evenings, you can watch the fishermen heading out to sea and the fisherwomen collecting up the fish that have been laid out on nets, after drying in the sun all day.

Whichever of Myanmar’s main beach destinations you choose to visit, you can be sure that there will be beautiful sand, a relaxing atmosphere and great seafood. Chaung Tha is much more appropriate for budget travellers, Ngwe Saung is for those who want to disconnect and Ngapali is fantastic choice if you’re willing to fly.

Carin Cowell – 3rd December 2013

Carin Cowell is an independent online marketing and tourism consultant. Find out more here.

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Source: www.go-myanmar.com

Solitutude at Indawgyi Lake

December 21, 2013

Tourism high season in Myanmar is in full swing, and once again this year tourist infrastructure in the major destinations is straining. Independent travellers looking to escape the stumbling crowds of elderly European tour groups and the price gouging of the big four destinations are looking for off-the-beaten track destinations. Indawgyi Lake in remote Kachin State provides a perfect option.

It’s a long 16-hour train ride from Mandalay, or a shorter 4.5-hour train journey from Myitkyina to the closest train station to Indawgyi Lake (Hopin). From there it’s a minimum two more hours along a bumpy road to the village of Lonton, which has the only guesthouse where foreigners are allowed to stay at Indawgyi Lake.

What awaits there, is a tranquil and secluded paradise. This is a destination that sees very few tourists. As a result, what you find are people living a simple, traditional, rural lifestyle, who are still excited to see foreigners in their community. And Indawgyi Lake itself is a beautiful place. Surrounded by mountains and with pristine water, you could easily spend days just admiring the views from the large balcony of the lake-front guesthouse.

However, Indawgyi Lake has recently become something of an adventure destination as well. Previously, the only viable way to explore the lake was by comparatively overpriced motorboat rental (K65,000 per day as opposed to around K20,000 per day at Inle Lake). Inn Chit Thu Tourism Group, however, has recently started offering a range of tourism services there, such as kayak and bicycle hire, trekking and even recreational fishing.

Inn Chit Thu (Lovers of Indawgyi) Tourism Group is a community based organisation made up of local people, and their profits go into environmental conservation and livelihood projects of their own choosing.

Although it’s a long way to travel, Indawgyi Lake links well with other Myanmar destinations. From Hopin, it’s only five hours train ride south to Katha (best known as the former home of George Orwell and inspiration for his novel Burmese Days). From Katha, you can take a boat along the Irrawaddy River to Kyaukmyaung or Mandalay, from where you can easily press on to Bagan.

On such an itinerary, visiting Indawgyi Lake instead of Inle Lake makes a lot of sense. You might not see leg-rowing or floating gardens at Indawgyi Lake, but you also won’t be assaulted by the constant sound of boat engines or be surrounded by thousands of other tourists. Instead, you’ll find stunning natural scenery and experience peace and quiet at a destination largely untouched by tourism.

The tourism development at Indawgyi Lake was supported by Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and is part of a wider conservation program undertaken by the Myanmar Forest Department in partnership with FFI. Funding is provided by the European Union and several other donors.

Check out Go-Myanmar’s bumper section about Indawgyi Lake for more information.

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Source: www.go-myanmar.com

Crocodiles, dolphins and migratory birds in the Delta

January 26, 2014

Nature and wildlife tourism in Myanmar is still in its infancy. Wildlife reserves in Myanmar are generally under-developed and difficult to reach, meaning that few tourists make the effort to visit them. Meinmahla Kyun (Meinmahla Island) in the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) Delta Region, however, provides an accessible three-day excursion from Yangon for visitors wanting to add a nature component to their Myanmar tourism itinerary.

Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary is the premier place in Myanmar to see saltwater crocodiles. Creeping along the island’s mangrove-lined creeks by canoe while observing these creatures, either during the day or at night, is a thrilling experience and worth the trip by itself. Additionally, during certain months of the year, it is also possible to see the rare Irrawaddy Dolphin (November to February); a large population of migratory waterbirds (late October to early March); and an overnight trip camping on the nearby Turtle Island to see turtles nesting or hatching is possible from October to March.

Meinmahla Kyun was hit heavily by Cyclone Nargis and international NGOs have been working on mangrove restoration in the area since then. As a result, a mangrove walkway, nursery and information centre can also be visited on the island.

Facilities at Meinmahla Kyun are basic, with the FREDA Guesthouse the most comfortable option for visitors. One of the four rooms has a private bathroom. Otherwise, accommodation can be arranged at the ranger stations, which is generally mattresses on the floor with mosquito nets provided.

Visitors to Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary need to travel via the Sanctuary Headquarters in Bogale. From there, the Sanctuary staff can arrange the boat trip to Meinmahla Kyun, as well as accommodation and guiding by canoe. It’s a good idea to call them in advance to let them know you’re coming (Ph. +95 (0) 45 45578).

For information on getting to Bogale, click here.

Fauna and Flora International, the world’s oldest conservation organisation, has been supporting Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary since 2012. For more information please visit www.fauna-flora.org.

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Source: www.go-myanmar.com

Feel the ‘shwe’ – Myanmar’s golden pagoda highlights

February 19, 2014

In Myanmar, “shwe” means gold and you don’t have to be here long to see that the country really lives up to its reputation as the “Golden Land”. The landscape of Myanmar is dotted with pagodas and stupas that are sure to dazzle you, but with so many around, choosing which ones to visit can be a challenge. To help you on your journey of discovery, here is a selection of a few that you should definitely take the time to see.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

You can’t visit Myanmar without going to its most sacred religious site, the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Believed to be the oldest pagoda of its kind in the world, it measures a staggering 99 metres and can be seen from miles away. It’s not only these stats that make it important, but that it contains relics from four buddhas. As tourism has taken off in Myanmar, the number of visitors to the pagoda has dramatically increased and all through the day there’s a steady flow of pilgrims, monks and foreign tourists circling its base. However, the most popular time to visit is at sunset. As the sun dips the pagoda is illuminated, creating a stunning impact against the dark night sky.

Shwezigon Pagoda, Nyaung U (Bagan)

The archeological site of Bagan is literally flooded with stunning temples to visit. Many have become charming crumbling ruins after centuries of neglect. However, there is one that has managed to keep its gleam. The Shwezigon Pagoda, which overlooks the Ayeyarwaddy River, is the only pagoda in the Bagan area to be covered from top to bottom in gold leaf. Its location, on the edge of the Nyaung Utownship, makes it a great place to start your tour around Bagan. As you enter, you will find the covered walkway lined with stalls selling souvenirs and buddhist paraphernalia. Considered by many Buddhists as one of the most important temples in Bagan, its definitely worth a visit.

Shwesandaw Pagoda, Pyay

Pyay is a city that is not very well known as a tourist destination. However, located at the crossroads of two main highways, many travellers find themselves here mid-journey. If this happens to you, make sure you spare a few hours to visit the Shwesandaw Pagoda (not to be confused with the temple of the same name in Bagan).

Having taken the lift up to the top of the hill, you are greeted by one of the most majestic pagodas in the region. It also benefits from great views of the city and the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) river, enveloped in the lush green vegetation of the jungle-like surroundings. To one side there is an enormous and eye catching statue of a sitting Buddha, who appears to be watching over the temple. There is also a small, but interesting, collection of photos showing the pagoda through the years.

You’re sure to come across very many temples as you travel around Myanmar. Each has its own story and unique features. This is a selection of a few of the temples in Myanmar that stand out from the crowd, but there are many more that deserve a visit. So get ready to discover “The Golden Land”.

Carin Cowell – 18th February 2014

Carin Cowell is an independent online marketing and tourism consultant. Find out more here.

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Source: www.go-myanmar.com