Shoe & Tell with Ancient Geographics on Burma

January 1, 2011 0 comment

As we get ready to fly out to Burma today with Marcelo (he is turning 5 soon!) and Amalya (not yet 2), I thought it’d be nice to share this interview with Swe Yi.  She is the owner and founder of an independent travel agency named Ancient Geographic based in Yangon. Swe Yi and husband Jens, a managing director with the travel company Expedia, are friends of friends of ours, and after exchanging many emails between London and Yangon, we grew confident that bringing our children to Burma would make for a very special experience in our round the world.

I must confess that today I am a bit nervous, mainly because we don’t know much what to expect (I double checked everything in my (huge) pharmacy bag!) but overall we’re thrilled and can’t wait to share it all during or after depending on the internet connections. A bientot…

Tell us about yourself and how you came about to create a travel agency in Burma:

I am Swe Yi Mat and I founded my own travel agency out of passion for traveling and off-the-beaten-track exploration. I love my own country and like to create unique, personalized travel experiences for friends and guests to show them the beauty and diversity of Myanmar. After I completed my studies of mathematics and German language, I worked for more than 6 years for a travel agency and gathered experience which eventually allowed me to create my own business. My husband Jens, who has been a frequent traveler to Myanmar since more than a decade, encouraged and supported me all the way. This resulted in setting up Ancient Geographic Travels & Tours. I underwent the required registration process with the Ministry of Tourism and now my agency is fully licensed. I also bought two old Landrovers from 1972, fixed them and use them for transfers and overland tours on- and off-the-beaten-tracks. If we can spare time, Jens and I, go on exploratory tours and based on our experience I work out new itineraries.

Few people know much about Burma. What makes it stand out?

The fact that Myanmar has not been a main tourist destination already makes it stand out on the world map of tourism. It is a blessing in disguise as you will not find sights and attractions over run by visitors. Our infrastructure has its constraints and cannot cater to mass tourism. Myanmar caters very well to the culturally interested visitor who is well traveled and is looking for a different experience in culture, people and wildlife. The more than 2,000 ancient Buddhist temples in Bagan, the traces of vanished kingdoms such as Inwa and Arakan or the over 130 different ethnic groups make Myanmar a unique travel experience. The diversity of nature is matching our ethnic diversity and scientists around the world consider Myanmar to be a bio-diversity “hotspot” with, for instance, double the bird species of the entire Mediterranean. As a matter of fact, the majority of visitors seem to come back again and again after their first visit.

Is Burma a suited family-destination?

My first guests/clients happened to be a French family with three children (5, 7 and 9). The family took a break from the real world and – similarly to you- embarked on a around-the-world tour with Myanmar as last leg of the journey. They just loved it and after arriving back in France sent me an email saying that Myanmar was their favorite experience – and this included feedback from their children! I don’t think that a lot of families will put Myanmar on top of their vacation destination list though as the country lacks western standards when it comes to infrastructure and medical services. On the other hand it is safe and its people are very children friendly. My country is diverse and has a cultural depth which hardly any other country in the region can match. We have many different ethnic groups and our predominately Buddhist heritage makes us a compassionate people who welcome visitors warmly.

Your recommended itinerary with a family:

A 10 to 14 days itinerary including the classic highlights in Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake and Ngapali Beach, customized to match the travel pace and interest of children, i.e. including visits to color full markets and monasteries with novices at the age of 6 years, can provide a very good first impression of the diverse culture and ancient monuments and attractions.

Some smart tips:

November to February is the best time to travel as the temperatures are moderate, not too hot and to cold, and mosquitoes are few. The climate varies from region to region though and if you take Central Burma as a reference location, it is warm and dry.

– A tourist visa is required and it is best to start the visa process well before you travel. Apply at least 4 weeks before you departure date to make it a hassle free experience.

– I am often asked whether domestic air travel is safe in Myanmar. Air Bagan and Mandalay Airways have very good safety track records and these are the airlines I am recommending to my guests. Yangon Airways has ceased operation recently; however, also had a good track record.

– All main tourist destinations within Myanmar such as Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake and Ngapali Beach have a wide range of hotels for different budgets and tastes, meeting western standards. Most hotels can provide baby cots and cow milk on request, if required for infants and children.

– Another question I often receive is whether to take Malaria precautions or not. I highly recommend to consult a specialized doctor or institute back home as the answer depends on the region you are traveling to. Generally speaking , the main tourist destinations in Myanmar are considered Malaria free.

Swe Yi and husband Jens also share a passion for photography. Check out Jens’ book Bloodfaces which is both a beautiful art project and a great work on sustainability in Burma.

Photo Copyrights Jens Uwe Parkitny and Swe Yi Myat


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