June 30-July 3: Yangon: We meet-up in LA and board our overnight flight to Hong Kong, where we will have a few hours in transit before flying to Yangon and arriving around midnight on June 30. Upon meeting the rest of our team members coming from international locations at Yangon International airport, our group will finally be complete. We’ll start our orientation in the capital of Yangon, taking in the colonial history, 21st century development and bustle while sipping our first cups of Burmese tea. We’ll explore this urban hub and how it exhibits the changing face of Myanmar’s traditions as the country steps into a globalized world while simultaneous setting group and individual goals for course.
July 4-6: Bagan (Ancient Capital): In Southeast Asia, Bagan invokes a sense of forgotten wonder — an ancient and mysterious temple-strewn landscape where once-great ruins leave you feeling inconsequential and humbled in the face of human history. In Bagan we will start our discussions of Myanmar’s complex history on the dry riverbanks of the Irawaddy River, considered to be the cradle of Burmese civilization. Just as the landscape of Bagan is shaped by its thousands of pagodas, so too is Myanmar history inextricably bound to Theravada Buddhism. It is here that Myanmar’s unmistakable script first originated, and it is in Bagan that we will have our first language classes. After taking some time to explore this fascinating landscape of ancient pagodas, learning how local craftsmen and women shape bamboo into beautiful lacquerware pieces, getting to know one another more deeply and forming as a travel group, we’ll hop on a bus to Kalaw and head toward the cool, verdant Shan Hills.
July 7-13: Kalaw and Sinleh (Shan Hills Homestay): In Kalaw, we’ll transition away from our travels and settle into a sedentary pace of life while trekking through the cool mountainous vistas of the Shan plateau. We’ll spend a day exploring Kalaw before embarking deeper into the highlands toward our rural homestays in Sinleh with Danu and Palaung ethnic minorities. After spending the first portion of the trip getting oriented in this fascinating country and learning how to navigate its culture, we’ll experience Myanmar hospitality firsthand by being welcomed into the homes of local families for a truly immersive experience. Here we’ll work with our hosts in the fields, help with chores around the house, learn about local traditions and generally discover what it means to live simply and selflessly in Myanmar.
July 14-17: Inle Lake/Taunggyi: One of the jewel’s of Myanmar’s highlands, albeit with a unique connection to tied to the water, Nyaungshwe is a maze of stilted communities lining the banks of the lakeside. Here people are inextricably linked to Inle lake and the fisheries therein and we’ll have an opportunity to explore Myanmar by boat, floating among the buildings and gardens that have been suspended on stilts over the lake’s smooth glass surface. We’ll talk with activists, fishermen and ecologists about the challenges of local sustainability amid the breakneck pace of development and the monumental economic and ecological changes that have taken place in just the last five to ten years. After two days, we’ll make our way toward Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, where we will collaborate with a local school called Theik Khar Myanmar Institute (Dignity Myanmar) to see the vision of Myanmar democracy through the eye of young passionate local students. We will taste tofu-Shan-Noodle and sticky-rice while reflecting our journey. From Taunggyi, we roll down the hill toward the arid valley and ultimately Mandalay.
July 18-21: Mandalay, Phaung Daw Oo (Monastic School): While in the famed city of Mandalay, the last royal capital before colonial rule in Upper Burma began, we’ll explore the city and surrounding areas ,so central to Myanmar’s history as well. We’ll climb Mandalay Hill to dream as we watch the sunset over the Irrawaddy river valley and visiting one of the world’s oldest images of Buddha at the Mahamuni pagoda. We will continue our discussion about how locals perceive the future of Myanmar democracy versus how we perceive Democracy, as well as examining modern social and political populism and focusing on our ISPs. Having formed new friendships at Phaung Daw Oo and gained a deeper understanding of this complex country and the hope of youth, we’ll head east toward cooler climes, and out of the heat of the Irrawaddy river valley.
July 22-24: Hpa’an/Naypyidaw/Mawlamyine (Student-led Expedition): This marks the expedition stage of our journey, when Dragons instructors step back to let students lead a portion of our explorations. Students are tasked with building consensus and designing their dream journey as a group. We might travel south toward the coast and Myanmar’s (quickly disappearing) mangroves and beaches, or make our way east and visit the Thai border towns near Mae Sot, digging in deeper into the ethnic conflicts that have torn the country apart and scattered millions over the past half a century. In recent years, some groups have chosen to go to the strange new capital of Naypyidaw where sparkling new government buildings are completely abandoned and 12-lane highways are empty of all but herds of cows ambling home from the fields.
July 25-26: Yangon (Departure): We’ll return to Yangon for the close of our trip, coming full circle with our travels as we reflect on how we see this bustling city is caught precariously at the crossroads between a past rich in tradition and a not-yet-fully-defined future. We, too, have experienced this transition as we’ve moved through Myanmar and found ourselves a part of a new and inspiring world that is rife with complexity. This is the final stage of our journey, one of transference, where Dragons become people who actively help to shape and reflect our complex, constantly changing, beautiful world. We’ll board a late night plane on the 26th after saying our goodbyes, embarking home with fascinating stories to tell about our adventures and new friends to keep in contact with until the next time we take a giant leap outside our comfort zones to gain familiarity with the unknown.