Burma vacations, small group tour

“This is authentic Burma made easy - with a tour leader to translate tricky menus and find the way to remote villages, plus flights to break up the long days of travel.”

Highlights

Yangon | Shwedagon Pagoda | Bagan | Mandalay | Irrawaddy River | U Bein Bridge at sunrise | Boat tour to Mingun and Sagaing villages | Kalaw | Hill tribe trek | Inle Lake cruise | Floating markets | Visits to artisan workshops | Pindaya | Leg rowing fishermen | Optional: cycling to lakeside villages

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Date
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05 Jan 2019
US $ 2355
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09 Feb 2019
US $ 2475
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12 Oct 2019
US $ 2645
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09 Nov 2019
US $ 2645
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21 Dec 2019
US $ 2645
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04 Jan 2020
US $ 2635
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08 Feb 2020
US $ 2635
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29 Feb 2020
US $ 2635
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10 Oct 2020
US $ 2665
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07 Nov 2020
US $ 2665
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05 Dec 2020
US $ 2665
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Our top tip:
If traveling from October-February, pack very warm layers. Kalaw and Inle Lake in particular can drop to freezing at night.
Trip type:
Small group, min. age 16. Max group size 16.
Activity level:
Moderate. One 5-6hr walk, which can be shortened to 3hrs.
Accomm:
Standard hotels, en suite rooms.
Solos:
Solo travelers welcome. Single rooms available with surcharge.
Included:
Accomm., transport by private bus and internal flights, tour guide, listed activities, intl. flights if booked.
Meals:
All breakfasts, one lunch.
Vouchers
Accepted
Vacation type

Small group vacation

Small group travel is not large group travel scaled down. It is modelled on independent travel – but with the advantage of a group leader to take care of the itinerary, accommodation and tickets, and dealing with the language. It’s easy to tick off the big sights independently – but finding those one-off experiences, local festivals, traveling markets and secret viewpoints is almost impossible for someone without the insider knowledge gained from years in the field. If you’re heading off on a gap year your, perhaps – but for those with a two-week vacation, a small group tour will save valuable planning time.

The leaders are not guides – they’re not there to shepherd you around. Instead, they’ll let you know which local restaurant serves great value food – without running the risk of travelers’ tummy. They’ll allow you to avoid hour-long queues at train stations and attractions.

We like to think of small group travel as the Goldilocks option. It is independent travel without the fuss, worry and bunk beds – and organised travel without the coaches. And it’s cheaper than a tailor made tour. It’s sits somewhere in the middle – and we think it’s just about right.

What are the main benefits?
Big experiences
Have big, life-enriching experiences that would be impossible to organise without lots of time and insider knowledge.

Simplicity
Make the most of your vacation time by letting someone else do the hard work and boring logistics!

Peace of mind
Small group tours take care of the security aspects – and provide a safety net should anything unexpected happen.
Who is it ideal for?
Travelers who are short of time
If you don’t have three months to spend exploring, small groups trips let you cover more ground in less time. Your days are not spent queuing for tickets or finding hotels – so you can squeeze more into your vacation.

Solo travelers who’d like company
Likeminded travel companions plus peace of mind for those traveling alone. Single supplements are usually available – providing privacy if you want it.

Less confident travelers
Stray from the tourist trail without worrying about getting lost, and meet local people without dealing with the language barrier.
Mythbuster
“I won’t get any privacy!”
Couples and friends have private rooms, and you can choose to eat alone or not. Single supplements give solo travelers their own room.

“There won’t be any free time”
Free mornings or afternoons let you explore on your own, or just relax.

“The accommodation will be basic”
Trips are as high or low end as you like. Though off the beaten track destinations won’t have luxury hotels, this is all part of the adventure.

“I won’t like the other travelers!”
Tour operators try to create groups with a similar demographic – age, families, activity levels... Chances are, you’ll even make new friends.

“Will we be following an umbrella?”
No.
Valerie Parkinson
Meet a group Leader
Name: Valerie Parkinson

Story: The first British woman to climb Manaslu, Valerie climbed Everest for her 50th birthday. She’s spent fourteen Christmas Days trekking to Everest Base Camp, and is involved insetting up Responsible Tourism initiatives in the Himalayas.
Roshan Fernando
Meet a local guide
Name: Roshan Fernando

Story: Roshan has led over 130 trips – he adores showing travelers around Sri Lanka. He won the company Leader Award in 2010, but his career highlight was working on their Tsunami Project – which earned him a responsible tourism award.

Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Burma vacations, small group tour

Community:
We are conscious of the economic welfare of local communities and take as much opportunity as possible to buy local crafts and produce (on at least 6 days of the tour). One of our clients’ favourite locations to do this is the famous lakeside market on Inle Lake where locals gather with their colourful boats to sell fresh produce and traditional wares. There is a five day cycle for the lakeside market that literally circles the lake; here people come to sell their traditional wares early in the morning and return to their village for the afternoon. Depending on its current location we will be able to visit it, but if not, there are plenty other places to support cottage industries along the way e.g. seeing how tofu is made and sold with yellow split peas when we pass through KaungDaing.

Act Local:
All of our tour leaders are local and they are given regular training on responsible tourism issues so they can help preserve the way of life in their area. By using local leaders, we also hope they educate their own communities to help them maximise from our visit. Clients also gain a more genuine, passionate insight into the country.

A Fair Deal:
We work closely with our local operator and ensure that all of our guides are local and that in exchange for their expertise that they are paid and treated fairly. Our leaders and guides have been trained in responsible travel and actively encourage our suppliers, drivers, and other members of our team to respect the environment, protect the culture and support the local economy. By using local leaders, we also hope they educate their own communities to help them maximise from our visit.

Kalaw:
In Kalaw we are accompanied by local guides as we explore the area on foot. The tracks we use are centuries old trading routes used by the Pa-O, Palaung and Danu ethnic minorities for moving their cattle and harvesting their crops, and afford spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. This helps support villages not reached by other companies and we will have a warm welcome from the local villagers.

Sanon Restaurant and Training School:
On our itineraries we include a meal at Sanon Restaurant and Training School. This is part of the Myanmar Youth Development Institute and they do great work training disadvantaged youths in hospitality skills.

UK office
It all starts at home so we have first worked to reduce our carbon footprint in our UK offices. Through energy conservation measures and recycling policies in place, we are proud to be actively reducing the waste produced and our impact on the environment. We support various projects all over the world to try and give something back to the places we visit.

Group size
We operate small group tours that have a low impact on the communities we visit and we always ensure our operations do not disrupt or lead to the displacement of local people. This allows us to stay in unique and characterful accommodation that would not have benefitted from tourism due to their limited size.

7 Reviews of Burma vacations, small group tour

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Reviewed on 02 Apr 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Ballooning Over Bagan - that was seriously amazing!

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


It's busy with only a few hours to relax and do nothing, however, it means you really get to know a huge amount. Also, the burmese are so smily and friendly :)

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes - in a country where you feel you have to be careful about what you are supporting, I felt relaxed and as if I was helping local people.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Excellent - I couldn't rate it any more, really really enjoyable. I learnt a huge amount about a people and a place, and it helped me realise how much more there is going on in the world.

Reviewed on 12 Mar 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Learning about Myanmar.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Research as much as you can before you go so that you have an idea what to expect.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


To some extent. We bought local goods & supported local restaurants serving food. We also did our best to minimise use of plastic.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


A bit lime the curates egg.

Reviewed on 12 Mar 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


1. Memorable: the friendliness of the Burmese people, the close-up look at the cottage industries we were taken to see, and the cruise at Inle Lake.
2. Exciting: Sunrise over Bagan and the U-Bein bridge; visit to the Red Mountain vineyard, the Irrawaddy river cruise, the New Moon festival and parade at Inle Lake.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Take spare camera batteries; be aware that the program is quite intensive and there are few coffee breaks.
No formal clothing required; below the knee shorts or 3/4 pants are ideal at all times at this time of year. (Dry season)
Be prepared for the amount of rubbish and lack of rubbish bins.


3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


We were encouraged to support local shopkeepers and gift sellers and we did.
No particular environmental awareness-raising although the leader was conversant with the need for this. There is no doubt that environmental degradation is a huge issue across the country (Slash and burn and lack of education about disposal of rubbish particularly plastic-except in Bagan).

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is superb, we would rate this 8.5

Reviewed on 18 Nov 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Seeing Shwe Dogon and the Royal barge at sunset
The boat ride on Inle Lake

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


You need to be fit and healthy to enjoy all the activities especially the bike ride. Don't take too much luggage, laundry service is available everywhere. Also there are now ATM's in every town.
Cycle helmets are provided.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


We were assured by our guide that all the hotels and restaurants we used were privately owned and not government. This was positive for local employment.
We learned a lot about organic farming from our trekking guide and all enjoyed eating in a village family home.
I think the people of Myanmar are very aware of sustainability and environmental impacts. We ate locally and shopped from local markets thus supporting the economy.
Most importantly for me as with nearly all group trips was the intrusiveness of photography. I would like companies to ask that groups do not take photographs of local people bathing, eating or any other activity which is part of their own private daily routine. There are plenty of opportunities to photograph markets and workshops which will include local people. During our trip we saw only one notice asking us not photograph people in situations which might cause embarrassment. This was largely ignored. Would it be possible to ask trip guides to talk about this at the initial briefing.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Almost perfect.
Our guide was fun as well as being really informative.
Apart from the hotel in Yangon all the accommodation was much better than I expected.
We had virtually no free time as the guide offered so many options. This was wonderful as we packed as much as possible into the 2 weeks.

Read the operator's response here:

Thank you very much for your feedback on your recent trip to Burma and I am glad you had such a positive experience traveling with us and you felt local communities benefited from you traveling there. You raise a very valid point in regards to photography and what you felt was intrusive on the daily lives of the local population.

We would certainly hope that all our clients are sensitive when it comes to people photography, but believe that our leaders need to reinforce the need at times for privacy and indeed permission to take certain shots . I have spoken to the relevant people here that conduct leader training and this will I assure you be placed firmly on the agenda of future training however at times this can even with the best will be hard to enforce.

Reviewed on 30 Jan 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Hard to choose, but watching the sun set over the plains of Bagan would be very hard to beat. The most memorable aspect would be the people themselves, they were beautiful, gracious and friendly.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


(i) Bring enough dollars as at time of writing there are no ATMs. You will need dollars both to exchange and to pay with. Make sure they are immaculate !
(ii) Bring spare memory cards and make sure your camera is working, but don't get too obsessed with taking photos or you will miss some wonderful moments.
(iii) Be very careful crossing the street (and walking on the pavements) in the cities
(iv) Bring any medication you could possibly need
(v) Be prepared for lots of early morning starts

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Not sure. We had local guides and were taken to watch local craftspeople. When we went to the cheroot-making workshop and I asked about working hours, I was told 12 hours a day, 365 days a year. The lacquer workshop manager told me all the workers were related to him. Watching the ladies with rings on their necks at Inle Lake was a bit zoo-like and uncomfortable. So I am unsure what difference our presence made except when we bought direct from the workshops I hope the workers benefitted more than if we had bought from a shop. If we are condoning poor working conditions or exploitation I would be unhappy about this. Also people selling souvenirs at temples were desperate for our business and this was uncomfortable too. I would hope in future fair trade will prevail and everyone will benefit.

Environmentally, we took planes and buses but it would have taken a long time to walk!

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


I found it an incredible experience as I had little prior knowledge so it was all a wonderful surprise. We covered great distances and saw all the main sights that all tourists see. What I would love to see is all the other bits!

Our guide Nathan (aka Nay) was charming and helpful. He talked a bit about how people live but I was conscious people living in Burma/Myanmar still have to be careful. I would love to know more what life is like now for them.

My overall impression is of a beautiful rich country full of people living a hard existence with no free education or healthcare. So prepare to have your thoughts provoked too !

Read the operator's response here:

Thank you for taking the time to provide your feedback on your trip to Burma especially the aspect of whether your trip benefited the local population. I originally helped set up the trip and researched the Itinerary you did and visited the places you have highlighted. With an emerging destination like this it is very hard to ascertain the level of working practices especially on Inle lake. I did visit in the off season and spent a day with the Ladies of the Padaung when there was not another tourist all day. The ladies told me that they go home 2-3 times a year and that the money they earn is one of the main sources of income for the village communities they come from and that they have benefitted from the increase in tourist numbers, one of the ladies did say she wished more tourist would talk to her rather than take photos as she likes to hear different languages. We also visit the Local land based market on the lake which again gets money directly into the local economy and away from the floating market. We will continue to get feedback from clients and leaders and only visit businesses that conduct fair work practices, however with a lack of regulation this is an ongoing process.

I am glad that there were many positive aspects to your vacation and thank you for highlighting your concerns.

Andrew Appleyard

Reviewed on 01 Jan 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Hi fellow travelers. It is New Years morning and I want to thank you for your support which allowed me to have two wonderful experiences during our time together.

The first was in the Ananda Paya temple with the four 14 foot high Teak Buddhas. One had a pose of peace that profoundly affected me. Another had a pose with his left hand pointing up that there is nothing to fear. I entered the temple feeling upset and I left the temple feeling very calm and connected.

The second was at Inle lake (Shwe Indein Paya where you saw over 1057 stupas on the hill builtfrom as ancient as 232 B.C) where we stopped before lunch. I received a message in the temple that within 3 years time my life will be simple and calm.

I am not a practicing Buddhist but the experiences were profound and left me feeling calm and optimistic.

I wish you all everything of the best for 2013 Yehudi

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Avoid Deli Belly

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


On balance we took more than we gave back.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Very enjoyable and a great group and guide. The group was diverse and interested and I had many good conversations.

Reviewed on 22 Jan 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


The trip on Inlay Lake was the most memorable because I had no previous mental image of this place and the complexity of life on and around the water. Out on the lake it is still possible to forget that this country is in turmoil and the future far from certain.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Be prepared for very early morning starts and very long days - its worth it, but it is a tiring itinerary.
Myanmar is not a nice place and its few heritage sights are being trashed at an alarming rate, so this is a chance to catch a glimpse of a way of life which is about to disappear. You can expect to feel a bit voyeuristic and to be baffled by what is going on. Remember that you are visiting one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


No - except, maybe, by benefiting the guide, Min Zaw Lin, who fully deserved our appreciation. Myanmar is an environmental disaster in the making and western concept of conservation are alien to the current regime and situation so all that you could say is that we did not do much to make the situation worse than it is, except by leaving a heavy carbon footprint.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Dodgy - I am not particularly proud of being in Myanmar at the moment because the presence of tourists suggest that local people may get rich quite quickly and probably distorts their views on other countries - the vacation experience leaves a rather nasty taste in my mouth.

Read the operator's response here:

Burma has only recently opened up to tourism and because of its huge boom in popularity in less than 2 years parts of the infrastructure are not handling this as well as more developed countries might . Everyone visiting Burma for the first time will want to visit the key places ; Bagan , Mandalay , Inle Lake.

The Burmese for now are not used to huge numbers at the key sights and everyone visiting Burma for the first time will want to visit the key places; Bagan , Mandalay , Inle Lake. I was in Burma in 2011 and at that time I did not see evidence of its sights being trashed. However with the increase in visitors it may well be that certain aspects of preservation are being overlooked.

As you can imagine it is a hard country in which to gauge the effects of tourism as we are in the early stages of sending groups there and the government is not forthcoming with information. I can reassure you that we do try & minimise our impact there by traveling in small groups( we will be reducing our group size to 16 as of April 2013). We also use locally owned hotels and as far as possible vet that all businesses we frequent are not linked to the regime

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