Adventure and Culture - Dec 17 - Dec 23, 2017

Traveler: Koy T. - Local specialist: Anne Cruickshanks

We are a family who travels a lot – for work, adventure, and play. We travel together and individually from places as diverse as Afghanistan and Ethiopia. So we are capable of organising stuff ourselves. Sometimes though life is too busy, and coordinating the views and opinions of 4 sets of people living in different places is just too daunting.

We knew we wanted to travel around Burma. I knew we needed someone to organise and advise. I can’t remember how I came across kimkim and their partner in Burma Myanmar Pure, but as soon as I was put in touch with Anne Cruickshanks at Myanmar Pure, I knew I was having a conversation and not being sold to. How do I know? Well, there are serious ethical issues surrounding the decision to travel to Burma and everyone in the family was uncomfortable. Anne did not shy from the questions we were asking but provided us with perspectives to help us make our own decision.

On the design of our trip and the itinerary we communicated a lot. Anne wanted to make sure she knew exactly what we wanted – what kind of experiences did we want? How active? How adventurous? How much travelling from place to place and to what? We went through a number of itineraries. Anne didn’t mind starting again if we felt it was not quite right. At the last minute Anne accommodated an extra person in our group – it was not trouble whatsoever (or rather it might have been, but Anne did not let on for an instant).

We had seven days and we went to Mandalay, Bagan, and Lake Inle. We had three separate young guides – obliging, positive and informed. They knew just how much to join in and how much to stand back.

Nay cycled us around Mandalay – round back streets, up hills, onto tiny ferries, around markets, into Muslim and Buddhist communities, along rail bridges and gave us a lovely Burmese picnic by the Irrawaddy surrounded by munching cows. In the evening we visited a proper local temple with rituals that were more fairground than religious. Then a really great barbecue shop. Nay was great company.

Thet Wai took over at Heho, meeting us with bikes almost straight off the plane to cycle to Nyaung Shwe. We had a truly lovely snack break in a village with exceptional food. Then we cycled to Nyaung Shwe on Lake Inle (through rice fields – stopping and asking farmers dumb questions). A great lunch.

Everyone travels by boat across Lake Inle, and everyone visits weavers and local crafts shops. It is touristy and it is designed to make you buy, but hell you have to give something back. Wai gave us a really good tour of the floating gardens and of the floating/stilt houses, shouting with joy when we found a pig house sitting over the water, inaccessible to dry land. A suggestion here – some of the houses are beautiful and spectacularly painted. Don’t waste time watching the sunset over the lake, ask to stay in the village on the water and watch the sun go down on the houses (we didn’t but I wished I had). Lake sunsets are boring – you can see them anywhere. We swam from a house in the middle of the lake and watched a couple having their wedding photos taken (people don’t usually swim…).

The undoubted highlight was Wai taking us to have lunch with his family (absolutely incredible food and so welcoming and curious about us), and then to great hilarity giving us a go with leg rowing on two of the family boats). We all had a go and it was brilliant. This is something people don’t do – and it was Anne and Wai that made it possible. I predict it will be the next bog thing at Inle.

The next day we had a gentle walk around the hills and good noodles in a place with a great view. Thet Wai is a legend.

The final stop was Bagan with a new guide called Arkar. He was laid back, patient and very good humoured. A really good guide. We had a day’s fun zooming around the temple complex on electric scooters (all coloured like Power Rangers) and eating in local places. Brilliant. We had final cocktails on our own boat watching the sunset over the Irrawaddy (best boat and best position).

All the hotels were very comfortable and well situated.

So thanks kimkim, Anne, Nay, Thet Wai, and Arkar. You are brilliant. It was an extraordinary holiday – open to what was going on in the wider country, but adding value to people working hard to make a living at a local level.

Koy, Hilary, Doy, Guy and Matt. December 2017

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Anne Cruickshanks, local specialist, responded to this review:

Thanks, Koy & family, for sharing your experiences in Myanmar! Your descriptions are so vivid, I am sure you will inspire other intrepid travelers to come for a visit. I'm so glad we were able to work together on planning this holiday- it was a memorable one for our team and they loved reading your feedback. All the best to you and your family!