Dreaming about a trip to The Golden Land?
After more than 16 trips to Myanmar since 2011 while working on the documentary project "This Myanmar Life," adventurer and photographer Dustin Main leads small group tours to Myanmar for those interested in the story and the culture of this fascinating country.
There is a famous quote from Rudyard Kipling about the country from 1898.
"This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about."
And somehow, more than 100 years later, it's as true today as it has ever been.
For the past 7 years, I've made more than a dozen trips to Myanmar, often bringing my family or friends along to share this magical place I keep coming back to, over and over again. A place with warm people, amazing views, and a million little stories just waiting to be heard... and told. It's a place with a complicated history, and an challenging-yet-optimistic future. A place of such rapid change that it will be different if you wait another year to experience it.
In these years, I've been witness to many changes in the country... changes that I've been documenting as part of my project "This Myanmar Life." One of the things that has brought this about is a change in politics. The ruling military government kept the country shrouded from much of the rest of the world for decades until just recently.
Soon, they will be welcoming the world to this rarely-visited land.
...and now is the time to see it for yourself.
Un-Tour To Myanmar - 14 days, 13 nights
Food, Festivals & Photography
Thousands of ancient temples dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see as the sun peeks up over the horizon. Quietly paddling through floating villages and vegetable farms on shallow Inle Lake. Watching Yangon come to life on the local train around this bustling city.
That's a small taste of what you're in for.
This isn't your typical tour. We won't be crowding onto a bus after being provided 18 1/2 minutes to peruse an ancient temple and take a photo for proof you were there, just to be shuffled to another one, and another. Instead, we'll be mating the best of a small group tour (we have a maximum of 8 guests), with the spirit and excitement of independent travel.
We'll be wrapping ourselves in the culture, with guides and contacts who will take us to those secret places unknown to most tourists and groups. If an amazing opportunity comes up, we'll have the freedom to take it. And we won't be rushed because we're not following a checklist, because you can't plan when serendipity will shine your way. Instead you'll be able to really get a feel for the country both with our guidance, and with the time and freedom to go exploring on your own.
We'll still be hitting a few of the "main attractions" that this country is known for, and don't get me wrong, they are spectacular. But it's the hidden photography spots, special events we come across, and the people that we meet along the way that will make this trip one to remember
So, join my local team of guides and I as we take you on an unforgettable journey to The Golden Land...
Why Take a Tour With Me?
Traveling independently in Myanmar can be great if you have the time and the patience, but decoding the beautiful puzzle of this country takes time... time that most just don't have to unlock the secrets.
Years... that's the time I've put in to get under the skin of this place to find out just how it ticks. It's my passion.
I want you to experience the Myanmar that I know and love. The one where we don't just watch from afar, but we learn and participate (if you like) to deepen your understanding of this land. We'll do that by picking up a bit of the local language, maybe throwing on a traditional longyi to wear around town while we wander (seriously comfortable), and hearing the stories of the country from the Myanmar people themselves.
The tour is purposefully small, with a maximum of 8 people. In addition to myself, we'll have my team of Myanmar guides and contacts at our disposal. Yes, 2-3 guides for 8 people (!!) means that questions get answered, different perspectives shared, and the opportunity to split off into even smaller groups instead of crowding around like most tours. (And as it should be, half of our guides are women.)
Totally photogenic. I've been photographing around the world for the past 10 years, and the past 7 in Myanmar. My work in Myanmar has been displayed in print, galleries, and licensed commercially around the world. I know the great spots (I’m even writing a book about it), so don't forget your camera. This isn't a typical "photo tour," but photographer or not, I'm confident that you'll come home with some of the best photos from a trip you have ever had.
Local, local, local. We'll be staying in nice accommodation that is locally owned by families, and not the government. We'll be eating in local spots that make fresh, delicious food. We’ll be learning about and supporting social enterprises to help leave a lasting impact beyond our time here. And we'll be meeting the local people, including some from my documentary project “This Myanmar Life.” So when you leave the country, you won't have just "seen" but you will understand what makes this place so amazing.
I LOVE food. For years, guidebooks and authors have been complaining about Myanmar cuisine. Obviously, they didn't know where to look. I absolutely love Myanmar food, and I'm sure you will too... and we'll dive deep into traditional cuisine from a host of different ethnic groups including Shan, Intha, Palong, Bamar, Wa and Mon including some home-cooked and farm-to-table meals.
I've been told over and over again by our guests to market this as a food tour, and I'm sure you'll agree that it is indeed that good. Make sure you have an extra notch available in your belt.
We know how to plan Myanmar right. Travel in Myanmar can be exhausting, and I'm a big fan of spending more time in less places. So instead of trying to hitting every city or town, we'll be spending more time in a few really remarkable places instead. This will allow us to go deeper into each location, not spending all of our time sitting in a bus or a plane going from place to place.
I couldn't be more proud of my team of licensed guides from around the country. Each brings their own perspective and specialty to our journey.
Hailing from Kyaukme, high up in the Shan Hills, Honey Soe dishes out skills and knowledge as quickly as she treks up mountains.
Growing up playing in the temples of Bagan as a child, it's no wonder Aung Ko knows them like the back of his hand.
Having lived in Kaung Daing on the edge of Inle Lake for more than a decade, Laminn knows (and cooks!) Intha and Shan cuisine with love.
With family spread all over the country, Aye has extensive knowledge of Myanmar's traditions.
Join the Un-Tour to Myanmar
$3150 USD $2775 USD
November 2019 Un-Tour
November 8th - November 21st, 2019
14 days, 13 nights
Max Group Size: 8
February 2020 Un-Tour
February 2nd - February 15th, 2020
14 days, 13 nights
Max Group Size: 8
Secure and easy payment via all major credit cards (Stripe) and Paypal
(Canadians wishing to pay in CAD by Interac e-transfer, contact me)
It's time to tell your boss you'll be off this fall on a journey to The Golden Land...
Yangon - 2 Nights
We'll start our journey Yangon, formerly the capital and once known as Rangoon. Here will dive into the heart of the city by taking the Circle Train around, watching the neighborhoods slowly pass by, and the locals jump on to go about their day. After, we'll meet an activist and former political prisoner to hear about the sacrifices many have made to secure the route to democracy for the Myanmar people.
As the sun begins to fall, we'll head out to the docks on the Yangon river to watch the sun drop below the horizon.
Now, we'll fly to scenic Nyaungshwe on the edge of Inle Lake.
Nyaungshwe / Taunggyi - 4 Nights, 3 Days
After taking in the heat, humidity and hustle of Yangon, we'll move to the natural beauty of Inle Lake. This shallow lake is home to dozens of villages along its shores and on its waters, and more than a handful of different ethnic peoples for whom the lake provides. With mountains on either side to frame our journey, we'll experience the lake in a multitude of ways; from the special 5-day market which moves everyday from village to village, to a canoe ride with the famed Intha people who paddle standing on one leg (you have to see it to believe it). We'll partake in farm-fresh eats and delicious local meals. Yum.
In November, we'll also take in Tazaungdaing Pwey (Fire Balloon Festival) in nearby Taunggyi marking the end of the rainy season. This one-of-a-kind event one you won't want to miss.
We'll take the train through the Shan Hills to the hill station village of Kalaw.
Kalaw - 2 Nights
Nestled in the cool Shan hills, the hill station of Kalaw is a sweet. We'll check out the local market, take a wander in the nearby hills, and get our first taste of Shan cuisine.
This place has proven so popular with our groups, we've extended it another day from previous tours.
Next, we'll head west out of the Shan Hills through the center of the country towards Nyaung U, our base for exploring the plains of Bagan.
Bagan / Nyaung U - 4 Nights, 3 Days
Our base for exploring the temples of Bagan will be the bustling village of Nyaung U. We'll take advantage of an excellent opportunity to visit one of the world's newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Together we'll watch the sun come up over 1000 year old temples, discovering original paintings preserved on walls for centuries, whie we explore the plains by e-bike (which could be the most fun you have all year). We'll also take in some of the local festivities for the season.
We'll visit and support social enterprises and see what they are doing to help push Myanmar forward, especially for those most at need.
Oh, and you can bet we'll be eating plenty of my favorite Myanmar dessert Ma Gi Bi Lay (Tamarind Flakes) that are extra special in the region.
Finally, we'll fly back to Yangon.
Yangon - 1 Night
Arriving back to Yangon later in the afternoon, we'll head out for a final dinner together and reminisce about the good times and memories from the past 2 weeks, while seeing who bought the most tamarind flakes and handsewn longyi to take home. Finally, we'll visit Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the most famous sites in Myanmar to top off our experience together.
Depart From Yangon
You'll have the day to do what you like, be it last-minute shopping at the famous Bogyoke Market, enjoying a wander around Inya Lake, or hitting up the tea shop one last time for a sweet "laphet yeh" (sweet tea). We'll help organize a ride to the airport for you once we've all exchanged e-mails and hugs.
+ So, really, what’s included?
-> All accommodation in Myanmar for the duration of the tour (13 nights).
-> Airport pickup when you arrive in Yangon, and we'll get you back to the airport if you fly out on our final day.
-> Most meals are included – every breakfast, and either lunch or dinner every day.
-> All entrance fees to sites, museums, parks, and more.
-> All forms of transport necessary to complete our itinerary.
-> Personal assistance and travel guidance from myself and my team of Myanmar guides.
-> Assistance for obtaining your Myanmar tourist visa (it's pretty easy).
-> All tips for all of our drivers, guides, guesthouses, etc. We believe in paying a fair wage to our team, rather than having them rely on tips from guests to make ends meet.
-> And of course, all of the unplanned magic you can expect visiting The Golden Land with an expert & photographer with more than a dozen trips to the country in the past 7 years.
+ And what’s not included?
-> Airfares to and from Yangon are not included, but we will assist you with booking your flight if you require assistance. You will need to arrive on (or before) the starting date.
-> Travel insurance is not included, and is mandatory. We require proof of insurance.
-> Some meals – Generally you'll be on the hook for one / day.
-> Extra activities – Fancy a hot air balloon flight over Bagan or Inle? We'll help you make it happen.
-> Drinks. Be it freshly squeezed juice, Myanmar beer, or a glass of Myanmar vino... those are on you.
-> Any fees or charges that you incur as a result of you canceling this trip once you have made a booking with us, we are not responsible for – including any charges your airline or transport provider charges you.
-> If you arrive on a different day from the start of the tour, and you don't stay at our partner guesthouse, you'll need to get your way from the airport.
-> If you arrive early or depart late, you will be liable for all expenses not included in our itinerary. We'll be happy to book reserve accommodation with our guesthouses for any extra days you need.
+ Anything else?
-> You will need to sign a waiver releasing us from any self-imposed craziness that you get up to.
-> You are responsible for obtaining any additional travel visas you may require – but of course, we will assist if you need (it's easy).
-> For those who wish to arrive early or stay longer in Myanmar, we would be more than happy to assist with some ideas and plans.
-> Travel can be unpredictable. I like to freestyle it a bit. So, some of the itinerary may be subject to change. In the unlikely event that any major changes are required, we will discuss and keep you in the loop at all times. Our goal is to make any changes for the best. In the unlikely event that the tour is cancelled by us, you will always receive a full 100% refund – unless the trip cancellation is due to a “force majeure” event – something beyond our control (such as a natural disaster). However – we will always strive to provide you a full refund – we will go to all lengths to protect my stellar reputation.
+ What if I have paid, and then I change my mind. Can I get a refund?
Sometimes the best-made plans need to be put on hold, or cancelled. Unfortunately, we will incur costs from the moment your seat is reserved. However, we don’t want to act all big and corporate, so this our promise to you:
-> If you cancel, $500 USD of any ticket price is non-refundable.
-> If you cancel within 60 days of the tour start date, you will lose 100% of your ticket price (this is due to the difficulties in finding a replacement for you at such short notice).
-> If you cancel between 60 and 90 days before the tour start date you will lose 50% of your ticket price.
BUT – we will always do the right thing, so, if we fill your seat after you cancel, we will refund at least 80% of your full ticket price.
+ What kind of people come on the trip?
We've had folks join us from USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, France, Ukraine and more.
We've also had people from all walks of life, from those who are on their first big trip, to those with 80+ countries under their belt. Many share an interest in going deeper into a culture, and many share a love for photography, be it enthusiasts and pros packing a bunch of gear, or those taking snaps in the street with their mobile phone. Those who are curious about life are always welcome.
+ Is Myanmar Safe?
You'll see the sign "Warmly Welcome and Take Care of Tourists" just like I did the first time I arrived to Myanmar. At the time, I thought it was hilarious. But now I know it's true! There are few places in the world I feel more comfortable walking around at night with my camera at my side than this country. The citizens of Myanmar are wonderful people who you'll find are keen to share an afternoon tea and chat with you on the streets. Tourists are treated with respect by the citizens and the authorities.
When it comes to the local customs, we'll assist you all the way. Essentially, it means that we have covered shoulders and knees, particularly when visiting religious sites. No biggie.
The areas in which we will be traveling together are safe and stable.
+ Is it ethical to travel to Myanmar right now? Should travel to Myanmar be boycotted?
Given the situation with the Rohingya in the western part of the country, I think this is a valid question.
Historically, boycotts have shown only to harm the people who make their living through tourism, as well as further isolate a country and its population.
It's my mission to support local people and locally owned businesses. This means avoiding government / crony-owned and affiliated businesses and services whenever possible.
The Un-Tour to Myanmar specifically supports guides and people from marginalized groups as well as social enterprises who do the same. Unfortunately, when thoughtful and responsible tourists decide to not come to Myanmar, it's these same locals who lose out, and they are the best hope that the country has to enact change.
I don't believe that punishing the many superb and remarkable people who benefit from tourism helps them or their country do better.
+ Is this an adventure tour, or a photography tour?
I am all about adventure, and this trip will be one to remember. Everyday will be exciting, but there won't be any mountains to climb or cliffs to jump off of. This is adventure that everyone can take part in. Folks on my tours have ranged in age from the 20's, to mid-70's. My wonderful mother joined on a trip very similar to this for her 60th birthday, and it was no problem for her. Everyday we'll do some walking, riding e-bikes, maybe jumping on a horse cart or two. It's adventure for everyone.
That said, you should be able to walk for a few hours and up/down stairs without much problem. The e-bikes we'll ride in Bagan are like electric scooters, but if you would rather not ride one, we'll sort you out with a tuk-tuk. And of course, everything is optional, so if you need a break or don't feel up for something, no big deal at all.
Also while I am a professional photographer, this isn't a typical photo tour where all we do is go and take photos. There is a focus on it though and I'm here to assist and level up your photography game, whatever level it may be, be it with a smartphone or a full set of gear. There will be plenty of opportunities to capture the magic of this country in photos, and it just so happens that I know the best spots to help you along.
+ How do I get a Visa?
For most western countries, you can now apply right online, and in ~96 hours you'll be set. Just print that sheet of paper and bring it with you when you travel, and present it on arrival in Yangon. It's simple and we'll help you make it happen.
+ I'm travelling solo. Do I need to pay extra?
I travel solo much of the time so I know what you mean. We'll match you up with another solo traveler and you can share a twin room. You had better believe that there is no extra charge for solo travelers on the trip, unless...
+ What if I’m travelling solo and I would like my own room?
No problem! If you're solo and you'd prefer your own private space to wind down at the end of the day, don't sweat it. For $390USD we'll get you your own room for the entire trip together. Just let me know and we'll make it happen.
+ Speaking of rooms, where are we staying?
We'll be skipping out on the shady government-owned accommodation to stay in family / privately owned hotels and guesthouses. These are places I've stayed at many times in the past and are well taken care of, and run and staffed by wonderful people. That said, this is Myanmar, where power outages are still common, and water is heated by the sun on the roof, and that might mean your iPad doesn't get to charge fully everyday.
About those iPads (and all that technology): while we will have access to WiFi in most of the places we lay our heads at night, it's important to know that Myanmar is a decade (or two) behind in terms of internet access. So don't worry if you can't share that epic selfie right away.
+ Can I go off on my own? Will there be free time?
Yes! While we'll have activities planned for many of the days, I've baked plenty of "free time" right into our itinerary so you can explore on your own after you've gotten your feet wet. Go off on your own adventure, or ask for some ideas and we'll make sure to send you on the right path.
What if I still have some unanswered questions?
Get in touch! Contact me via email. Alternatively we can hop on the phone and chat (in fact, I encourage it). Drop me a line for my phone number or my skype.