Please see below our broad-strokes, tentative itinerary for our Myanmar course. We are so excited to start our journey together in just about two weeks. So, without further ado:
Orientation in Bangkok & Bagan
We instructors will meet you students at the Bangkok airport. While we wait for our Myanmar visas to be processed, our new Dragons family will spend a few days exploring Bangkok and starting our first phase of orientation. After we get our visa, we will fly to the Golden Land of Myanmar to continue our orientation among the over 10,000 temples of ancient Bagan. The temples, which date from the 8th to the 11th centuries, are situated among the old Banyan trees that lie nearby to the Ayeyarwady River. While we explore the many temples, we will get to know one another, be introduced to Myanmar society and culture, and engage with Dragons ethos and philosophy.
To cap off our time in Bagan, we will hike up Mount Popa to learn about pre-Buddhist spiritual practices in Myanmar. On Mount Popa we will observe Nat culture (traditional spiritual practices) and take time to explore our own spiritual paths. Then we will travel to Kyaukpadaung to stay in a monastery while helping the community to build adobe houses and teaching English to the initiatives and students there.
Shan State (Kalaw and Inle Lake)
Next we will make our way to remote Shan State in the east, where we will trek through stunning hills and lush rice paddy fields to visit remote hill tribe villages. Individual homestays with local Palaung and Danu families will give an up close glimpse into life in Myanmar’s border regions and will also provide an opportunity to practice our budding language skills. Through sharing in chores, meals, and storytelling with our host families and community we will learn more about ethnic relations and resource conflicts in the area and gain insight into how recent reforms are affecting Myanmar’s rural communities. To cap off our time in the Shan State we will trek along the edge of idyllic Inle Lake where we will also board long-tail boats to Nyaungshwe, a lakeside village where we will be able to pause and take stock of what we have experienced thus far.
Next we travel to the fabled Mandalay, Myanmar’s last royal capital. We will be welcomed into Phaung Daw Oo, a monastic school that provides free education to 6,000 students and novice monks. With the school as our home base, we will explore the wonders of the old city, taking a rest from the midday heat in quiet temple corners and some of Mandalay’s sacred hills for lessons in Myanmar’s history, language and religion, including meditation practice. In the evenings we will have time to connect and share life-stories with Phaung Daw Oo’s students, exploring the central role that monastic education plays in local education and development. This is also a time for our Dragons family to reconnect as a group and formulate our intentions and expectations for the coming four weeks of travel.
Southern Chin State
We will then head to Kanpetlet Townships, Southern Part of Chin State in the west of the country where we will hike up Nat Ma Taung (Mount Victoria), which is the second highest peak in Southeast Asia (not counting the super tall mountains in Myanmar’s northern Himalaya region). This region is filled with evergreen, deciduous, and pine forests as well as hill savanna with over two hundred bird species. Cherry trees burst with pink blossoms and there are many butterfly and reptiles species too. After three days of trekking, we will stay in villages to learn about local culture. Many of the households in the region have gardens with abundant coffee, tea, fruits, and vegetables. This is a majority Christian area, so the landscape is dotted with crosses and churches rather than pagodas.
Our next destination will be Yangon, Myanmar’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, as well as its most recent capital before it was moved to the newly-built city of Naypyidaw. In that city of about seven million people, students will be able to visit and volunteer with local organizations based on individual interests. As a group we will meet with key development organizations and political groups to hear what some of the country’s most influential leaders have to say about Myanmar’s past, present, and future, which will provide us with a macro perspective to juxtapose our months of local and community-based learning.
Naypyidaw, located near Pyinmana, officially replaced Yangon as the capital of Myanmar in November 2005. The huge newly-built (in 2009) Uppatasanti Pagoda, a replica of Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda, is massively impressive. We will visit the National Museum which possesses a range of artifacts from Myanmar’s past. We will see the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the vast thirty-one building parliament, which is next to Nay Pyi Taw’s widest highway, which often has 12 completely empty lanes heading in each direction. Naypidaw is a strange new city, which largely has yet to be filled with people or local life and is largely devoid of a developed culture since it is so new.
The students will then research, organize, and execute a period of student-led travel to an area of their choice (within limitations!). One option is to take us to Hpa-an, the capital of Kayin State in Myanmar’s south, along the border with Thailand, which is a picturesque small town along the eastern bank of the Thanlwin (Salween) River. This area of Kayin State has beautiful caves, mountains, monasteries and lakes. It might be possible to cross overland from Hpa-an into Thailand’s Tak province and make our way back to Bangkok that way.
Course-End & Transference
We will then finish off the course with a couple days of rest, relaxation, and processing during our transference time. This is a time to reflect on all that we have seen and experienced, and process the adventure to bring back to our lives back home and into the future. It is also a time for us to come together as a group and say our (temporary) goodbyes to each other and to the country and culture that had hosted us for three long months.
Please keep in mind that this is a tentative itinerary and sometimes we have to change things based on current realities on the group. We greatly appreciate your flexibility on this!
In a week or so we will be posting a more specific, detailed itinerary for our first month in country, so stay tuned for that!
Siang, Nikki and Parker