The year 2020 is coming to an end and it’s been quite a year for everybody. Here is the last update from Myanmar for this year.
Just as the tourism industry worldwide, Myanmar has been hit hard economically and millions of people have lost their income. Unfortunately, there is not such a thing as “furlough” and getting paid or compensated by the government so for many “stay at home” means no money. Apart from tourism, also other industries are hit as borders closed so farmers and factories can’t export their products and people spend the bare minimum to eat rice and fish paste. Latest reports show that percentage of families living in poverty has risen from 16 % in January to 62% in Sept 2020 (read more on the report here).
We usually support a variety of People and Planet projects outside the tourism sector. This time, with funds that we have left, we decided to support people from our own industry who need to feed their family. All our stations around the country have listed the names of boatmen, drivers, guides and other people who are struggling financially. To ease the burden a bit, Exploration Travel is giving almost 100 families 50.000 Kyats (about 40 Usd) to help them in the new year. Several overseas agents have already financially supported guides and other people in Myanmar in the past and their help has been very much appreciated. For other agents; it’s the season of giving, so in case you have any funds that are in search for a good cause, please do let me know how we can help facilitating.
The year did bring some positive changes as well; Exploration Travel decided to stop the foreign franchise and continue with our own name, our own website and own ideas on how to show clients the best of Myanmar. Lalay Lodge (www.lalaylodge.com) opened in the beginning of 2020 with excellent reviews. To ensure continuation of its operations, we decided to take over Grasshopper Adventures Myanmar, a specialist in biking adventures. Besides that, we managed to save some space in our Yangon heritage office space and are now housing our sister company Counselling Corner; a fantastic organisation offering psychotherapy and training and doing a lot of pro-bono advocacy work, for example by hosting radio programs about mental health and training over 100 volunteers at Covid-19 quarantine centres in Yangon. Lastly, we also started selling Myanmar crafts overseas in an effort to support Myanmar craftsmen and culture.
Somehow, the number of active Covid-19 cases remain stable in Myanmar. For the last 3 months, under 1000 new cases are announced daily while an equal number of people recover daily so the number of active cases remains stable under 20.000 (see also this Frontier Magazine article). Not surprisingly, most cases are in cities with high population density, so tourist destinations as Bagan, Kalaw, Inle Lake, Mon & Kayin state, Kayah state as well as Ngapali have had very low numbers of Covid-19 infected people. Bagan for example had only 3 cases since April and these 3 people fully recovered.
Domestic flights have restarted on 16 December although still many restaurants and hotels remain closed. Passengers are requested to show a negative Covid-19 test result and in some areas stay additionally 3-7 days in hotel quarantine while waiting for second test result. The Myanmar government asked Yangon international airport to prepare to reopen from 1 January 2021 although that hasn’t been confirmed yet.
The government has been very cautious to ensure they can control the disease and are working to ensure Myanmar is a “Safe and Enchanting destination".
The amazingly clever and intelligent Irrawaddy dolphin has learned to fish in a mutually beneficial way together with cast net fishermen, termed “cooperative fishing” - a unique phenomenon found in only two other places in the world. The local NGO Nature Advocacy is trying to get Unesco World Natural Heritage status for the dolphin as well as the unique cooperative fishing technique and launched a new documentary during the “Save Irrawaddy dolphin week” in November.
A fantastic 2 days leisurely boat trip starting from Mandalay, includes glamping on the riverside and join a local fisherman in the morning to see him communicating with the dolphins. I do recommend this of the beaten track experience on the river for your clients and support the dolphins as well as the community. While the tour is not luxury, it is very comfortable and sleeping in a tent on the riverside is unique and very much worth doing so. Contact us for more information on this tour.
While we see a light at the end of the Covid tunnel we’re certainly not there yet. We are all eagerly waiting to travel again (and for guides to earn an income) and we have developed a 45 minutes virtual tour showing some of the best temples of Bagan as well as a bit of rural life. We set-up a live Zoom connection between your client and our guide in Bagan who is equipped with a camera stabilizer, headset and an e-bike to take your clients for a live tour around Bagan. Ask questions, ask to move the camera in any direction and have a live virtual tour with a private guide who is your eyes and ears on the ground. Get in touch to ask details how to book this tour.
Talking about “slow travel” and taking this to the extreme; National Geographic’s journalist and story teller Paul Salopek started in January 2013 on a 21.000 mile journey on foot (that’s over 33.000 km!) that will take him from Africa to the rest of the world, tracing the footsteps of evolution and our ancestors. Along the way he is telling stories of people he meets and daily life in the countries he visits. He is currently in Myanmar and I had the pleasure of meeting him a few months ago during a dinner in Yangon. What probably struck me most, is probably his down to earthiness and calmness, how well he is informed and very much in touch with reality and how humble he is.
As a result, National Geographic is publishing plenty of stories on Myanmar including this one about Elephants in Myanmar and the famous Elephant Bill and this one about the use of Thanaka natural skin cosmetic (if you happen to speak Dutch read this version). You can follow Paul on Facebook and I am expecting more stories on Myanmar soon: https://www.facebook.com/OutOfEdenWalk
It’s been a busy year somehow and certainly a year that has given me time to re-think, re-organise and re-charge and I am ready for a more positive 2021.
In case you missed the previous newsletters or simply want to have more graphics have a look at our website: https://exploration.travel/newsletter-for-nov-2020
Wishing you a fantastic 2021!