Tourism in Myanmar is in its infancy, where even street vendors pay a rare tourist any attention. In this regard, canned guidebook experiences rife in destinations like neighboring Thailand have yet to be developed in Myanmar. Experiences here are unique and authentic. Glance below at only a small selection of the variety of things we can arrange.
For centuries puppetry performances were the movies of the time, popular all night performances that ran dusk until dawn. In recent times, the art has all but died off with TV and cinema, but one artist and his family are helping to save Myanmar’s puppetry tradition. As a child, Khin Maung Htwe (U Htwe) would accompany his mother to traditional all-night puppet shows. His love for Myanmar puppetry grew and he eventually quit his merchant marine post to pursue his dream of operating a marionette theater and producing shows. Since 2006, U Htwe has been on a mission to revive this traditional performing art. U Htwe is busy connecting the few remaining puppeteers and the country’s younger generations, working with octogenarian puppet masters whenever his troupe performs at home and at major shows in Thailand, Singapore, and Western Europe.
During this delightful private encounter, learn all about the art from U Htwe himself, from stories, puppets and styles, production and enjoy learning to manipulate the puppets hands-on. Afterwards, the lights are dimmed and the marionettes in their striking sequined boldly-colored costumes spring to life, dancing in circles and revealing world of mystical beings, animals, and royalty. Upon departing, you will receive a magnificent hand-made puppet made by U Htwe's brother, whom he describes as the best puppet crafter in Myanmar.
Along with Cappadocia in Turkey, one of the greatest balloon experiences in the world. Indeed, no journey to Myanmar is complete without enjoying this exhilarating once in a lifetime experience. This one-hour untethered drift at sunrise provides a breath taking eagle's eye view of the hundreds of magnificent ruins spread across the plain in Bagan.
The international operator has a long record of safety. Note the flights can fill months in advance, and if seeking a private balloon availability may be limited. Note the balloons do not fly in the off season.
One of our favorite places to explore in Asia on two wheels! Inle Lake, in the mountainous Shan State brings together a picturesque lake setting, fascinating mix of hill tribe and cultures, and pleasant biking through villages, farm land, bamboo forests, markets and temples. During our exploration, we'll also use a boat to reach areas of the lake ideal for biking, and exploration by foot.
Our Myanmar cycling trips began in the 1990s through our adventure outfit VeloAsia, and are suitable for all ages, with any cycling per rider's preferences. With our boat, we can easily provide for those who want to cycle more, and those less. For any children along, they will delight at the special stops we have planned for them.
For many years, cultural and political limitations on artistic expression drove artists underground. However, in recent times, a small group of artists spread around Yangon, and traditional craftsmen in Mandalay, are beginning to emerge onto Myanmar's nascent art's scene. Still, galleries in town are not so easy to find, especially the home-based ones. During this "art crawl" in Yangon, we will make contact with some of the country's premier artists, such as Aung Myint in his Inya Gallery, housed in a two-room garage.
These artists are working to build a viable art scene in Myanmar, but they also share a dedication to preserving their culture. Burmese culture and history live on in their artwork, and the influence of the past masters are visible in today’s works, some quite successfully including Min Wae Aung, an internationally-acclaimed artist, whose renditions of Buddhist monks sell for up to twenty thousand dollars in Hong Kong, London, and Paris. With the absence of any national art museum in Myanmar, it has also fallen to people like Mr. Aung to preserve the historic paintings of the nation and he has a collection that he calls the “Old Burmese Masters”, and is finishing construction on a new gallery in Yangon to house them adjacent his existing studio which we will pay visit.
Please note artists visited are by availability, with advanced lead time providing a greater chance to coordinate schedules.
Mount Popa is a sacred mountain located about an hour's drive southwest from Bagan and this remarkable place is worth your time for several reasons.
The mountain of Popa, formed by volcanic activity is not actually the sacred site, but is the towering dormant vent located along it's side, Taung Kalat (pedestal hill), which rises 657 meters (2,156 ft) above sea level. Dramatically, a Buddhist monastery is located at the summit of Taung Kalat with a stairway of 777 steps to the top. The setting is quirky, with hundreds of wild monkeys lazing on the stairs, seeking food handouts. At the top, one if greeted with stunning, panoramic views of the region and typically a collection of pilgrims and monks, many who have never seen nor met foreigners and may request photos with you.
However, the real prize of Popa is the resort on the mountains side, with breathtaking views of the plains all the way to Bagan, as if on the summit of Kilimanjaro. The sumptuous resort was built with unlimited funds by the former junta and is a favorite for many of our past travelers. Note: we may arrange cycling from Bagan if you are interested in cycling some or all of the 40-odd miles.
Mandalay is where one of the strictest and untouched practice of Buddhism remains. Buddhist monks from Japan, Thailand, Korea and Vietnam come to study this devout Buddhism typically not as strong in their respective countries. The State Pariyatti Sasana University in Mandalay offers the highest form of study in the country and is attended by couple hundred of graduate-level student monks, the country's brightest. During this delightful visit, mingle with these students, many of whom are fluent in English, engaging, and very curious about life outside of Myanmar. In turn, they are eager and happy to discuss their life as a student of Buddhism in this remarkable place
If you've children, we highly recommend spending time at a local school, even if just a couple of hours, mingling and teaching local hill tribe children English. Many have ever met foreigners and are delighted to hear actual English spoken by a native speaker. English is a critical skill that enables some to make the jump into better paying work in tourism or to higher-level schooling.
This humane sanctuary provides care for retired logging elephants, some who are decades old. Learn about the day-to-care of the elephants, spending time washing, feeding, and even playing in the river with the animals. The setting is in a bucolic river valley, with jungle all around.
An annual Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda festival is the country's largest, celebrated over nearly three weeks on sublime Inle Lake during the October and November months. The colorful festival has been a feature of our Myanmar photography trips for over a decade and we always encourage adjusting your travel dates to make the festival if possible.
Like many places in the region, such as Bhutan (see our Bhutan festivals trips, usually in September), festivals can be the most fascinating time to visit. The is very true for the annual Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda's Festival on Inle Lake which is the country's largest. Celebrated over nearly three weeks each October, it is attended by diversity of hill tribes from throughout the region—from the plains, mountains, and from small remote villages— everybody is here to gain merit and enjoy the festivities. Like most of life on Inle Lake, the festival is a water bound one. From one of the most famous shrines in Myanmar, Phaung Daw U Pagoda at Inle Lake, five small sacred Buddha images are once a year are ceremonially rowed around the Lake in a colorful barge accompanied by many other boats with Inle leg rowers.
Note: Myanmar combines well with Bhutan, more so during the festival season when you may attend premier events in both countries with advance arrangements.