I’ve worked for Audley for over six years now, and over that time, I’ve been lucky enough to take a number of research trips. I’ve trekked to remote Vietnamese caves, seen the sun rise over the Taj Mahal and sampled fresh Mauritian seafood.
But, my best experience so far has been on my most recent trip to Myanmar (Burma). A small group of us set out to explore the country with a focus on responsible travel. Our aim was to seek out community-led experiences for visitors that have a positive impact when you visit and put your money in the right hands.
This led us on a journey from the remote tribal communities in Loikaw, a region that’s only recently opened up to foreign visitors, to the backstreets of Yangon and the inky waters of Inle Lake. We focused on the people we met, rather than a list of must-see-sights to cross off a list, which led us to some of the most genuine experiences I’ve had.
We slept in locally owned properties, from a simple stilted house in Histe on the banks of the Ayeyarwady, to a comfortable British-colonial inn which had been lovingly restored by its Burmese owners.
While most visitors simply boat across Inle Lake, we visited nearby Nyaung Shew village, where Kyaw Swar and his family run a small restaurant. Wanting to support the younger families who were struggling for income, he runs a ‘hide-and-seek’ cooking class, which begins with a scavenger hunt across the village (the families are paid in advance for the homegrown ingredients). With a printed list of Burmese phrases, we ran from house to house asking for garlic, green beans and ginger, pausing for fresh green tea and clumsy attempts at Burmese conversation.
I also got to see firsthand what a difference money from tourism can make, when funnelled into the right place. In Bagan, we met Win Bo, one of our regular guides. He proudly invited us to see his family home and small shop, which he has funded from his work as a successful guide. We met his son who, he shyly admitted, would be following in his footsteps too.
As we explored, we also tried to limit our footprint, by using refillable water bottles and avoiding disposables — which, in a country where palm leaves are the ideal lunch wrapping, was relatively easy.