Think of yourself as an expat in Yangon and are leading an interesting lifestyle that keeps you busy with work, sports, social networking and a bit of travel in the region. Then your curious friends and family want to know where you live, what you’re doing in Myanmar and have booked their flights to Yangon. While it’s nice to show them your favourite Yangon spots for a few days, you have a full-time job and Myanmar has so much more to offer – what do they do next and how do you arrange that?
The solution: get in touch with a local travel agent that supports communities throughout Myanmar and specializes in customizing trips for friends and family of expats. Even in Yangon, there are hidden gems to be discovered with the right expert local guide. A good travel agent will understand interests and focus on different experiences such as culture, religion, adventure or nature. Fuss-free travel starts from a pick up at your Yangon residence or their hotel, and returns them safely at the end. A well-planned trip will take away the planning hassle of you trying to join for weekend, in a logistically-challenging area upcountry (when websites break down and payments don’t go through).
For people who have never used a travel agency before (and it’s not just the millennials) there is always the fear of a travel agent being too expensive. A reputable travel agent will stick within your budget and makes its money from well-negotiated contracts with reliable partners that often end up being even cheaper than booking directly with the hotel or on online websites. Good travel agents will also support the right communities or hotels who treat employees correctly, and ensure kyats flows where they should.
The main advantage though, is that a good travel agency connects all the dots effectively and swiftly. Routing, accommodation, flights, timely transfers and the fun activities along the side. The partnerships a travel agent has often allows you to be invited for wonderful local interactions you would struggle to create otherwise. And in case of changing plans – you have a safety net. Travel agents have the right connections to adapt quickly and make things happen. Finally, the experience of planning thousands of trips counts when ensuring a multi-generational family has a blast. Go local and let your travel agent show your friends places you can’t find online, while making the trip so effortless even your 80 year-old mother-in-law will come back smiling!
For first-time Myanmar visitors, these are our highlights, done right:
- E-bike or horse cart your way between the hidden temples with no other tourists
- Leave the temples behind and explore the dry zone villages
- Swing into the sunset overlooking the temples
- Help the elephants with a visit to the sustainable Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp
- Bike towards Inle Lake or Indein, stopping at viewpoints en route
- Trek the 3 lakes and visit different trips along the way
- Bike and Hike the banks of Inle Lake
Our picks for visitors who have done the usual spots:
Mon & Kayin states
- Visit the newly discovered “water cave”, see thousands of bats flying out at sunset
- Climb Mt Zwekabin
- Kayak through paddy fields, take a boat trip on Thanlwin river and visit U Na Auk village
- Enjoy local home cooked food
- Take the train back to Yangon (at least for a part of it)
Kayah State & Samkar Lake
- Interact with different Kayah tribes, learn about their totem poles
- Drink the local wine while tasting some Kayah sausages
- Trek to the Lisu tribes and have lunch on a small island in the middle of Pekon Lake
- Visit Phayartaung monastery and the ancient stupas sites free of souvenir shops
The dry zone
- Spend a morning as a fisherman in Yenangyaung
- Stay in a riverside lodge in Salay or support a community homestay project
- Visit remote Bagan-era pagodas, old colonial houses and famous wood carvings in Yoke Sone monastery
- Visit the endangered Burmese star tortoise in Minzontoung and walk around the park with a ranger
- See the village with 1000 water buffalos and learn to make a Yandabo pot
- Trekking in Hsipaw and take the train over Gokteik viaduct
- Take a 4-wheel-drive adventure from Taunggyi to Keng Tung visiting colourful tribes
- Do the Danu trails near Ywa Ngan and Pindaya for some good off the beaten tracks
Hope this all helps to give you some inspiration on where to send your mother in law (or other relatives and friends) next times she comes and visits you in Myanmar.
Edwin Briels is MD of Khiri Travel Myanmar and has been working over 15 years in travel in Myanmar and will share his experiences traveling in Myanmar in a monthly column.