Kyaw Myint walks the sunlit path from Kalaw to Inle Lake with a client at sunrise
Up until a few years ago, Kyaw Myint was a tutor, helping students who were looking for a little extra schooling than the sub-par government school systems could provide. The salary wasn't great, bringing in $50-$60 per month, which, with his young family, didn't go far.
So, in 2012, he made a change and decided to become a trekking guide for tourists, following in the footsteps of his brother, who had been one for the past 10 years. Trekking tours in the Shan Hills near his home of Kalaw had begun to take off in the last year or two, and it seemed like a good opportunity.
At first, the pay was poor. He would charge his clients about $12 per day and could take only 1-2 clients at any one time. After the expense of hiring a cook, the food from the market, the villagers’ homes in which they would sleep, and his bus ride home after the three-day trek, he'd be left with just a few dollars.
However, by 2015, business was excellent. While he could only work 5-6 months a year as a trekking guide, due to the low and high tourist seasons, he was busy during much of that time taking 5-6 clients on each trek. Not only that, but as soon as he arrived back to his home in Kalaw, there would be another group ready for him.
In Myanmar, it’s not taboo to talk about money. So, when asked about how much money he made, he said it was about $120 per month. This amount seemed awfully low, considering how busy he was.
When pressed, he explained that when he thinks about how much money he makes, he doesn't think of his income from clients, or the profit he makes after paying for their expenses, such as food and accommodation. Instead, he takes his income from his work and subtracts the food and rent for his family. He then takes out the money he spends on fuel for his motorbike, his childrens' school books, and all other expenses for himself and his family.
To Kyaw Myint, the most important thing is the amount of money left over at the end of each month. How much money he makes is how much he saves for the future.