Myanmar’s villages and rural areas are fascinating to visit and provide a chance to give something back while you travel. By visiting communities, you will see traditional ways of life and have the chance to interact with local people, experiencing their daily routines and learning about their culture. A number of small-scale tourism initiatives exist in Myanmar that are set up to directly benefit the communities where they are located. From hiking and kayaking, to wildlife watching, to immersion in local life and culture, these are wonderful experiences which also benefit communities. Want your community tourism initiative listed here? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Around Kyeintali you will find beaches, plains and mountains, charming villages and towns, delicious food, bustling markets, incredible biodiversity, and, best of all, friendly, hospitable Rakhine people. This area provides ample opportunities for swimming, hiking and bird-watching.
A simple, family-run guesthouse in Kyeintali can accommodate a small number of visitors. Local guides can take you on a range of activities, including bird-watching, hiking, and exploring nearby fishing villages, learning about local life. You’ll also have the chance to soak up the sun on the beautiful and untouched nearby beaches.
Kyeintali is a 40km bus or taxi ride south of Ngapali Beach, or a long bus ride from Yangon. More information including contacts for booking can be found on the Rakhine Coastal Region Conservation Association website.
KAYAH COMMUNITY VISITS
Well off the tourist trail, remote Kayah State is renowned for its beautiful countryside of rolling hills and its diversity of ethnic cultures which have maintained their traditions to this day. Based from the charming Kayah State capital of Loikaw, programs to visit two villages have been carefully developed to minimize the negative impacts of tourism and maximize the benefits for locals. Both villages provide a fascinating and immersive cultural experience.
A visit to Hta Nee La Leh village offers insights into local culture and traditions, the chance to learn how to use a Kayah catapult, an ox cart ride, and delicious local food. Meanwhile, a visit to Pan Pet village gives tourists a chance to interact with local Kayan people, famous around the world as the long neck Karen, enjoy the local food, and go on a short hike.
Remote and largely untouched by tourism, a visit to the remote villages of Kayah State is a truly memorable experience. Visits can be arranged through Myanmar tour operators.
Danu Trails is a network of trekking routes in the Danu Zone of Shan State, not far from Inle Lake. Visitors can base themselves in the attractive town of Pindaya, famous for its limestone caves. There are 20 different trails mapped out in the Danu Zone, ranging from light half-day treks to two and three day treks where you will sleep in monasteries overnight.
The treks are more challenging, and less touristy, than the Kalaw to Inle Lake trail. The routes take you across beautiful and rugged countryside and through a range of different tribal villages, including Pa’o, Danu and Palaung. Your trek is guided by a local from the Danu area and local people are also involved as cooks and porters. You will have the chance to enjoy local cuisine in private homes in the villages along the route.
Danu Trails provides a unique and authentic trekking experience that engages you with local communities. For more information and for bookings visit the Danu Trails website.
A former hill station during the British colonial era, Thandaunggyi provides a tranquil retreat in the picturesque hills of northern Kayin state. It boats sweeping views across mountain ranges, colonial relics, and an insight into the unique Kayin Culture.
As a post conflict area there has been little development of industry and business around Thandaunggyi, with most people surviving through farming. In 2014, the Thandaunggyi Tourism Development Working Group (TTDWG) was formed, and is currently developing a range of tourism activities, including cycling, hiking, and local life experiences with the aim of providing new economic opportunities for locals. Several B&Bs have recently opened which can accommodate foreign tourists who want to try out these new activities or are just seeking a quiet refuge.
Thandaunggyi is about one hour’s drive from Taungoo in northern Bago Region. Taungoo can be reached easily by bus from Yangon and is also a stop on the Yangon to Mandalay railway line.
AYEYAWADY DOLPHIN PROTECTED AREA
Community-based ecotourism in the Ayeyawady Dolphin Protected Area offers a unique opportunity not just to see the famous animals, but also to experience and learn about “cooperative fishing”: the relationship between traditional fishermen and the endangered Ayeyawady Dolphin that has been practised for centuries and is found only here. This program is designed to support fishermen from six communities in the protected area and give them positive incentives to reduce threats to dolphins and continue the traditions of cooperative fishing.
Fishermen will demonstrate and teach you about how they communicate and fish in a mutually beneficial way with the dolphins, and share their indigenous knowledge about dolphin behaviour and the Ayeyawady River ecosystem.
Visitors travel by boat starting from the Mandalay Jetty to visit cooperative fishing villages located a few hours north, inside the protected area. Village scouts help to search for dolphins along the way, as well as identify birds and other natural attractions of the river. In the villages you will learn about traditional cast net fishing and other local livelihood practices such as peanut farming, pottery, weaving, and local cigar rolling. Your village hosts will tell you stories and folktales and will give you a tour of their village so that you can better understand and enjoy their culture, religion and way of life. Home cooked meals prepared by the communities provide an authentic taste of rural Burmese cuisine.
More information about the initiative is available on the WCS website.
Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary is a secluded paradise for nature lovers and those who want to escape the beaten path. As a major site on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, Indawgyi has long attracted birdwatching enthusiasts who come to see the lake teeming with migratory birds during the winter months.
However, with its natural beauty, charming villages, and peaceful way of life, Indawgyi has more recently started to attract a wider variety of tourists. In 2013, a community group called Inn Chit Thu (Lovers of Indawgyi) was formed to provide tourism services, including kayak and bicycle rental, with profits going into a community fund. Kayaking on the wide expanses of Myanmar’s largest lake and absorbing the simple routines of local life provide a great getaway from the main tourist trail.
The town of Hopin has the closest train station to Indawgyi Lake (about 2 hours’ drive). Alternatively, it’s a 6-7 hour drive from Myitkyina. Foreigners can stay in the village of Lonton on the south-western shore of the lake, where Inn Chit Thu is based.