International Women’s Day – 8th March – celebrates the achievement of women and focuses on global gender equality. We wanted this issue to highlight some of the female characters that shape Myanmar’s tourism industry. Burmese hospitality is famed for genuine warmth and it’s often the women who have a knack for easily making guests feel at home. From leading teams and creating great experiences, to starting and managing hotels or restaurants, we’ve identified a few communities or women with interesting stories behind them:
1. E Thi (ET) was a famous female fortune teller who passed away in 2017. She was popular with local women and inspired other female fortune tellers who have now set-up shops around the Shwedagon Pagoda. Visit them for your draw on life and love, or simply to find out the most auspicious flower you should be offering at the pagoda.
2. Tour guiding has traditionally been a male dominated career but we’re seeing the rise of ambitious young ladies across the country. They provide a different perspective on life and culture in Myanmar, along with homely anecdotes passed down from mother to daughter. Ask your travel agency for a female guide next time.
3. Ann is a remarkable native Intha woman at Inle lake who is always coming up with new ideas to sustainably develop and protect her home at the same time. Between her efforts in conservation, waste collection and management, helping with the development of the lotus weaving industry, and managing 2 hotels (Ann Heritage Lodge and Shwe Inn Thar), Ann does it all.
4. The long-neck Kayan women from Panpet village may be the most famous one, but we celebrate the many others here as well. Travel to a region south of Loikaw and meet tribe women wearing bands of strings covered in lacquer, elaborate silver jewellery or decorated head pieces. During excursion with a village community guide, learn about their different cultures, beliefs and practices. Despite their tough lives, the women are gregarious and funny, with big smiles and home-made rice wine in hand.
5. Nothing beats mum’s cooking! Home-cooked food has an irreplaceable quality and is difficult to find as a tourist. Khiri Travel develops excursions which often invites you to be a guest at a local family’s home, and have a meal prepared by the best cooks – the women! Aside from the delicious experience for guests, the income helps women earn their keep without having to leave their home and kids behind.
6. Theingi is a vibrant author, food lover, artist and former secretary of Aung San Suu Kyi. Originally a solo-exhibiting painter, she courageously stood with the opposition movement in the uprising of 1988 before being arrested and put in Insein Prison for 3 years. Her spritely manner never wavered and she published a humorous book of her time there, “Nor Iron Bars a Cage”, along with 19 other titles over the course of her writing career.
7. The women of Chin state are known for their facial tattoos and complicated weaving techniques. Visit towns like Mindat or Kanpetlet to relive their tattoo stories and learn to identify different tribes based on their inkwork. For intricate hand-woven pieces, the journey can be far easier. Sone Tu Chin Weavings, founded by Mai Ni Ni Aung, on Bogalay Zay Street tirelessly works to preserve the fading tradition with pieces exhibited in museums around the world.
8. Visit the Shan palace in Hsipaw and meet Fern who receives visitors daily. She tells the romantic and heart-wrenching family history of Inge Sargent, the Austrian lady who became the Mahadevi (queen consort) of the Shan State Hsipaw. Travelling within permitted boundaries of Hsipaw with a licensed guide remains entirely safe.
9. Rarely written about in guide books, Pakannge (little Bagan) is just 1.5 hours’ drive South of Bagan. The village of Salay is rural Myanmar life untouched and Salay River View Inn takes in all of its charm. Together with her husband, Win Thida Khine has created this beautiful riverside boutique guesthouse with 14 rooms, providing a quiet escape and job opportunities for young locals from the surrounding villages.
Led predominantly by Burmese women, Khiri Travel is passionate about creating sustainable opportunities for women across the country. From setting up cooking classes in a stilt home, to a kayak rental business, to supporting over 50 women in their leg-rowing competition practices, the team keeps an ear to the ground for projects and initiatives to help with.
Melissa Tan is General Manager of Khiri Travel Myanmar and has been sharing her experiences travelling in Myanmar in our monthly column.