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Day by Day Itinerary

Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

A century ago, Rudyard Kipling described Burma as a place “quite unlike any land you know about.” Isolated from the world in the recent past, Burma—now known as Myanmar—remains a magical destination, yet one shrouded in mystery. When you visit Burma with OAT, you will watch the sun glinting off a 2,500-year-old temple clad in 60 tons of pure gold in Rangoon … witness “one-leg” rowers casting fishing nets and farmers tending to floating gardens on Inle Lake … see a procession of saffron-robed monks walking across the world’s longest teak footbridge near Mandalay … meet with members of hill tribes who cling to ancient ways of life and animist traditions in Kalaw … view thousands of mysterious pagodas dotting the golden plains of Bagan … and much more. Join OAT and discover the most unspoiled corner of Asia—a place quite unlike anywhere else on Earth.

Rangoon Inle Lake Expand All
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    We depart the U.S. on an overnight flight across the Pacific and cross the International Date Line.

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    Arrive in Bangkok late in the evening. An OAT representative will meet you at the airport and assist with your transfer to our Bangkok hotel. Travelers on our optional Vientiane & Luang Prabang trip extension arrive earlier in the day.

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    After breakfast at our hotel, we fly to Rangoon, Burma, and stop to exchange money before beginning our discovery of Burma’s largest city and former capital. Also known as Yangon, the architecture of many buildings in the downtown district of Rangoon reveal vestiges of British colonial rule. Our first stop is Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda, home to an enormous reclining Buddha whose crown is encrusted with diamonds and precious gems.

    Explore Rangoon on a guided walking tour

    Then we'll transfer to our hotel and enjoy lunch on our own. This afternoon we'll come together for a Welcome Briefing before witnessing the most sacred Buddhist site in all of Burma—Shwedagon Pagoda. Also known as the Golden Pagoda, the 2,000-year-old hilltop temple complex covers more than twelve acres and dominates the Rangoon skyline. We’ll view the gold-draped, gem-studded pagoda at sunset, when the fading light shimmers off its 326-foot-high spire. Few places in the world radiate such a palpable sense of beauty and serenity as Shwedagon Pagoda.  

    This evening, we celebrate the start of our Burma discovery during a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

     

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    Discover local culture and traditions on a tour of Burma

    Today we’ll enjoy a guided tour of Rangoon. We’ll begin by walking through the city center, taking in the bustling markets and colonial buildings. A number of important political events and rallies have unfolded at the base of the large pagoda located here, including the 8888 uprisings and the 2007 Saffron Revolution.

    To learn more about the 8888 uprisings, so called because they occurred on August 8, 1988, we’ll travel by bus to Inya Lake—where many of the protestors were killed and arrested. The uprisings were spearheaded by students who stood against the Burma Socialist Party regime but soon spread to other parts of the country. Together, students, monks, children, doctors, and others fought for democracy, and their legacy lives on the shores of Inya Lake today. We’ll mingle with some of the local students, and maybe sample a snack from one of the neighborhood eateries, before continuing to the residence of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s beloved human rights activist. Behind this humble exterior, she was held under house arrest for nearly two decades. We’ll return to Rangoon for lunch and then an afternoon at leisure.

    Enjoy dinner on your own this evening.

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    Early this morning, we’ll transfer to the airport for a short flight to central Burma. Our destination is Bagan, also known as the “City of Four Million Pagodas.” Many of the pagodas and temples are small and simple—but the number of them is staggering. Although Bagan’s centuries-old shrines, pagodas, and stupas do not actually total in the millions, there are well over 2,000 of them scattered along the remote 26-square-mile plain, flanked on one side by the Irrawaddy River. This qualifies Bagan as the largest temple city on the planet, as well as one of the most important archaeological areas in all of Asia. The majority of ruins in Bagan were constructed between the eleventh and 13th centuries, a time when Bagan was the capital of the First Burmese Empire.

    After a brief stop at Shwe Sandaw Pagoda, we head to a village market in the town of Nyaung-U: a great opportunity to mingle with the locals and wander among stalls that feature locally-grown crops, rattan items, tea leaves, and colorful traditional clothing. Then we make a short stop to see Shwezigon Paya, a beautiful gold-domed pagoda constructed early in the twelfth century that is believed to enshrine a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha.

    Next, we witness the beauty of Ananda Pahto, a terraced temple peaked in shimmering gold that is considered a symmetrical masterpiece. Built around 1090 by a Burmese king inspired by tales of visiting Indian monks, Ananda’s perfection qualified it to serve as a prototype for successive Burmese temples. Inside its whitewashed walls are four large statues of Buddha, each with a different facial expression.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll check into our hotel, followed by some time at leisure. Then we’ll visit a lacquer ware shop to learn about this local tradition before heading to a nearby jetty. Here, we’ll board a boat to gain a new vantage of the Irrawaddy (also called the Ayeyarwady). The people and the country’s economy depend on this natural resource, as you will undoubtedly observe by the countless number of barges, bamboo rafts, and fishing boats that ply the waters around us. From on board, we will be able to observe how everyday life plays out along the riverbanks.

    Another treat is in store for our small group this evening, when we visit a local family as guests in their home for dinner. Your Trip Leader is sure to provide you with insights into local customs and traditions before your visit.

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    Discover Bagan's thousands of pagodas during a hot air balloon ride

    You may wish to rise early this morning for an optional hot-air balloon ride, a memorable opportunity to enjoy a bird's-eye view of the sun rising over the ancient temples of Bagan. Afterwards, enjoy a Champagne toast and return to the hotel for breakfast.

    Then we gain another unique perspective of Bagan by traveling by horse-drawn carriage ride through the archaeological zone. Witnessing the morning sun illuminating the ancient temples of Bagan is an unforgettable experience. We’ll see Damayangyi Temple and stroll around Khayminga Temple for a panoramic view of the variety of unique temples and pagodas of the area. Then we’ll return to the hotel for lunch on our own.

    After a busy morning, enjoy time at leisure this afternoon and dinner on your own. Or perhaps you’ll join our optional tour to discover Ancient Bagan. Travel to the Bagan Archaeological Museum for a tour of the relics here, including dolomite plaques and bronze lotus flowers. Then continue to the Nanmyint Viewing Tower for a breathtaking view of Bagan plains, studded with ancient pagodas. Afterwards, we’ll visit a nearby village to learn more about local life. Then enjoy dinner and classical Burmese performance at a nearby restaurant, all included with the tour. Please note: On Mondays and Tuesdays, the Bagan Archaeological Museum visit will be replaced with a guided tour of temples in the Bagan plains.

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    Experience Dhammayangyi the largest temple in Myanmar

    This morning after breakfast, we’ll head to a Bagan workshop to learn how to make a popular dish called pone ye gyi, a soy-bean sauce often served with noodles.

    After this glimpse of modern life in the area, we return to the ancient world to tour Gubyauk Gyi Temple, which dates back to the 13th century AD. We’ll venture inside to see its colorful frescoes and stuccowork. Then we witness locals making palm sugar, before visiting the monumental Thatbyinnyu Pagoda, rising some 200 feet.

    Enjoy lunch at a nearby restaurant and an afternoon at leisure. We gather again for dinner as a small group this evening.

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    See the ancient city of Inwa

    After an early breakfast, we transfer to the airport for a 30-minute flight to Mandalay. We'll explore several highlights of Mandalay, which briefly served as capital of the last Burmese kingdom in the mid-19th century. We first visit the Mahamuni Paya, home to a highly venerated Buddha image, one of the most sacred in Burma. Over the centuries, devout Buddhists have been applying gold leaf to the 13-foot-high seated Buddha; that gold surface is now estimated to be about six inches thick. Then we visit Myawaddy Nunnery. Here, we’ll gain insights into Burma’s Buddhist traditions, observe more than 200 of the nunnery’s novice nuns during their lunch, and perhaps have a chance to participate in an informative discussion with the abbess.

    Today, enjoy lunch on your own and some time at leisure, before we visit Mandalay Royal Palace, where Burma’s last two kings lived. Tonight, we’ll dine together at our hotel.

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    View the U Bein Bridge near mandalay

    Following breakfast this morning, we depart for Mandalay Hill. Upon arrival, we’ll ride an escalator to the top of Mandalay Hill, where a hilltop pagoda offers sweeping views of the city below. Next we visit Kuthodaw Paya, often referred to as “the world’s biggest book” due to its marble slabs inscribed with the entire collection of early Buddhist writings (which, if read for eight hours a day, would take more than a year to finish). We’ll then explore Shwenandaw Kyaung, a traditional Burmese wooden monastery (and only surviving structure from the Mandalay Royal Palace) before traveling to a nearby gold-leaf workshop, where we’ll learn how sheets of gold are beaten into gossamer-thin pieces. Placing gold leaf on a Buddha image brings great merit to the faithful, so the layers of gold leaf on Buddha images throughout Burma get thicker and thicker with the passing years.

    After lunch on your own, enjoy a free afternoon to explore Mandalay and dinner on your own. Or join our optional tour to Sagaing, a nearby religious center on the banks of the Irrawaddy. The tour includes tours of two of Sagaing Hill’s gilded temples and dinner at a local restaurant.

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    See the largest fully functioning bell in the world in Mingun

    After breakfast, we enjoy a pleasant boat ride a few miles upriver from Mandalay to the village of Mingun, home to a massive unfinished pagoda and the largest, un-cracked, fully-functioning bell in the entire world. Cast in bronze in 1808, the gigantic Mingun Bell is 13 feet high and weighs in at about 200 tons. The bell was meant to be a part of the Mingun Paya, which would certainly have been the world’s largest pagoda had King Bodawpaya not died in 1819 before its completion. An 1838 earthquake split the one-third-completed monument, reducing everything except its enormous base to rubble.

    Next, we return to Mandalay by boat along the Irrawaddy and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Take some time at leisure this afternoon before a short drive to another ancient royal capital, Amarapura. Upon our arrival, we’ll visit the world’s longest teak bridge. The U Bein footbridge stretches almost three-quarters of a mile over Thaungthaman Lake, and is still in use by locals walking to and from their villages to Amarapura. Constructed of more than 1,000 teak posts, the U Bein has withstood the elements for over two centuries. We hope to catch a memorable sunset by the bridge before heading back to Mandalay for dinner at our hotel.

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    Myanmarian women carrying firewood to the local friday market

    We rise early for our flight to Heho. Upon arrival, we visit a local village inhabited by members of the Pa-O tribe, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma. After a tour of the village, we transfer to Kalaw, situated along the edge of the Shan Plateau in eastern Burma. Popular with trekkers, Kalaw is surrounded by hill-tribe villages and also serves as the gateway to Inle Lake. The town is comprised of a mixed ethnic population—including descendants of the Nepali Gurkhas and Indian Hindus brought here by the British during colonial rule to build roads and railways.

    After an included lunch at a local restaurant, we drive up the hillside to Myin Ka Village for a light trek around their plantations.  

    We return to Kalaw to visit Christ the King Church, a Catholic church founded almost 100 years ago by an Italian missionary. Then we'll climb approximately 280 steps to Theindaung Monastery to enjoy panoramic views of the town.

    This evening we head to a restaurant in Kalaw for an included dinner.

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    Encounter local farmers living near Kalaw

    A diverse variety of ethnic hill tribes reside in small villages nestled among the hills that surround Kalaw—including the Palaung, Danu, Pa-O, Taung Yo, and Danaw tribes. After breakfast, we first make a stop at the Kalaw morning market.

    Then we set out to experience A Day in the Life of Myin Ma Htie village, home to members of the Danu hill tribe. Our discoveries include a meeting with a Buddhist monk for meditation and an enlightening discussion; a visit to a village school (when in session) to meet with Danu schoolchildren; a village walk; and trip to a surrounding vegetable plantation that supplies the village with food. Then we get an authentic taste of tribal life by helping prepare a traditional lunch with our Danu village host. A conversation with village elders and a demonstration in making local rum drinks conclude our time in Myin Ma Htie.

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    Discover life along Inle Lake

    Today’s discoveries on Inle Lake begin with a boat ride to Nga Hpe Kyaung, a stunning wooden temple and Buddhist monastery built on stilts. You may hear people calling this “Jumping Cat Monastery,” because in the past, the monks there used to train their cats to do tricks. Then we continue to Nampan, a village built on stilts over the water. Here, we’ll visit workshops to learn about cheroots, popular cigars made by hand and wrapped in tree leaves, and see how Inle Lake canoes are built. We also see a lotus fabric weaving workshop, where women make a fiber out of the stems of lotus plants and weave fabric on wooden looms.

    After lunch at a nearby restaurant, we continue to the village of Tha Ley to view the eleventh-century Phaung Daw Oo Paya, one of the most sacred sites in Burma. Four ancient Buddha images reside in a pavilion inside the pagoda—images that are so laden with gold their features are unrecognizable. During an 18-day pagoda festival each fall (featuring many leg-rowing contests), the images are ferried around the lake aboard a gilded barge shaped like a hintha, or swan.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    Disocver mysterious hilltop ruins while touring Burma

    After breakfast, we travel by boat to visit some local workshops that produce Shan paper and traditional umbrellas. Here, we'll meet with some women of the famous Padaung hill tribe, and we'll be able to discuss with them their ancient tradition of wearing heavy brass ornaments around their neck and limbs. Then we visit Inthein (or Indein), a lakeshore village where we view the mysterious hilltop ruins of hundreds of ancient pagodas cloaked in thick vegetation, followed by lunch in a local restaurant.

    This evening we enjoy a Farewell Dinner at our hotel.

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    After breakfast, we transfer to Heho for a flight to Rangoon. Upon arrival, we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Then we wander through the some 2,000 stalls of Bogyoke Aung San Market. Also known by its old British moniker, Scott Market, Bogyoke is a great place to interact with locals while haggling for all manner of Burmese handcraft items. Please note: If the market is closed on the day we visit, we will enjoy alternate activities.

    We return to the airport for our flight to Bangkok. Dinner is on our own tonight in Bangkok.

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    • Meals included:

    We rise before daybreak for an early morning flight back to the U.S. If you are continuing on the post-trip extension to Phnom Penh & Angkor Wat, Cambodia, you'll fly to Phnom Penh.

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Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

Overall Trip Excellence
76%
Trip Leader Excellence
79%
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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.  Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 6 locations in 15 days with three 1-night stays
  • International flights from Los Angeles to Bangkok depart around midnight, crossing the International Date Line; and 6 internal flights, 4 of which require early wake up

Physical requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids
  • You must be able to walk 2-3 miles unassisted and participate in 5-7 hours of physical activities each day, including steps and hikes over hilly terrain
  • Agility and balance are required for embarking riverboat, canoe, and motorboat

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 70-90°F
  • February through mid-May is the warmest season, followed by the rainy season ending in September

Terrain

  • Travel over some bumpy unpaved roads, walk along city streets and ancient ruins, and visit monuments, often with uneven paths and walkways with no handrails

Transportation

  • Travel by 45-passenger coach, 20-passenger riverboat, canoe, and 6-passenger motorboat
  • 6 internal flights of approximately 1 hour each

Accommodations & Facilities

  • All accommodations feature private baths and Western-style toilet facilities
  • Throughout touring, only Asian-style toilets (squat-style rather than seats) may be available

Cuisine

  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine; Western food is limited

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • Thailand: No visa required.
  • Burma: Visa required.
  • Laos (optional pre-trip extension only): Visa required.
  • Cambodia (optional post-trip extension only): Visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this adventure will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Avion Apart Hotel

    Bangkok, Thailand

    Conveniently located near Bangkok’s international airport, Avion Apart offers an ideal resting place before and after your international flights. Perhaps you'll stretch your legs in the onsite fitness center or take advantage of the outdoor pool or the business center. The hotel’s 270 air-conditioned rooms each offer satellite TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and a private bath with a hair dryer.
  • Sedona Hotel Yangon

    Rangoon, Burma | Rating: Superior First Class

    The Superior First-Class Sedona Hotel Yangon is situated near the shores of scenic Lake Inya, and serves as a convenient base of exploration for your discoveries in Rangoon, including Shwedagon Pagoda and the city center. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, floodlit tennis courts, and a number of on-site restaurants serving a variety of cuisine, from Chinese to Italian. Each air-conditioned room includes satellite TV, a minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate

    Bagan, Burma

    The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate is situated in Old Bagan itself, offering fantastic views of the more 4,000 temples and pagodas that surround it. It offers two restaurants with a variety of cuisines, as well as the chance to relax at an outdoor pool or indulge in various spa treatments. The 83 air-conditioned rooms feature telephone, satellite TV, in-room safe,  wireless Internet, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and hair dryer.

  • Sedona Hotel Mandalay

    Mandalay, Burma

    Set on four acres of manicured gardens, the Sedona Hotel boasts an outdoor swimming pool, fitness center, tennis courts, restaurant, and bar. The 247 air-conditioned rooms feature satellite TV, minibar, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Pine Hill Resort

    Kalaw, Burma

    The Pine Hill Resort is a basic, bungalow-style hotel featuring hilltop grounds outside of Kalaw, but within walking distance to market and shops. There is a restaurant at the hotel, and its 36 rooms feature a telephone, minibar, fridge, satellite TV, and private bath.

  • Pristine Lotus Spa Resort

    Kaung Daing, Burma

    The 53-room Pristine Lotus Spa Resort is set on a landscaped hillside next to Inle Lake. There are indoor and veranda restaurants, a lakeview terrace, and a hot springs spa on the hotel grounds. Rooms include a telephone, minibar, satellite TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath.

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  • Avion Apart Hotel

    Bangkok, Thailand

    Conveniently located near Bangkok’s international airport, Avion Apart offers an ideal resting place before and after your international flights. Perhaps you'll stretch your legs in the onsite fitness center or take advantage of the outdoor pool or the business center. The hotel’s 270 air-conditioned rooms each offer satellite TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and a private bath with a hair dryer.
  • Sabaidee@Lao Hotel

    Vientiane, Laos

    Centrally located in Vientiane, this 80-room hotel is a short walk to Nam Phu Fountain, Mekong River, and many shops and restaurants. Within the clean and modern hotel, you’ll find a restaurant and outdoor beer garden. The air-conditioned rooms feature satellite TV, high-speed wireless Internet, and en suite bathroom with shower and hair dryer.

  • The Grand Luang Prabang

    Luang Prabang, Laos

    Situated on the grounds of the Xiengkeo Palace, the Grand Luang Prabang offers a tranquil setting with views of the Mekong River and surrounding mountains. All 80 rooms feature traditional colonial décor, air-conditioning, cable TV, and private bath. During your stay, enjoy the on-site bar and two restaurants, manicured gardens, and a large outdoor swimming pool.

  • Almond Hotel

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    The Almond Hotel is located near many of Phnom Penh’s most captivating sites and landmarks, including the Royal Palace. Each of the hotel’s 54 Khmer-styled rooms feature air-conditioning, cable TV, Internet access, and coffee- and tea-making facilities. Two restaurants offer travelers a wide range of Asian and Western cuisines.

  • Tara Angkor Hotel

    Siem Reap, Cambodia

    Located just three miles from the entrance to Angkor and close to the Angkor National Museum, this comfortable hotel serves as a peaceful retreat. Its 213 rooms include a private bath and hair dryer. Relax and enjoy a snack at one of its on-site restaurants, serving European- and Asian-influenced cuisine, or at the pool bar.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two adventures to maximize your value. Here are more ways to create the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

  • Extend your adventure and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip extensions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your adventure
  • Choose to “break away” before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent traveler miles

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $3895
w/ standard air $5195

Partner since: 2011
Total donated: $45,187

Making a difference in Asia

Simply by traveling with OAT, you support the work of the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation. Alan and Harriet Lewis created the Foundation with the mission of changing people's lives through travel — which includes both the travelers who journey with OAT, and the local people who welcome us so warmly into their homelands.

Learn more about our work in Asia, and what you'll experience during your itinerary:

A Day in the Life of Myin Ma Htie Village

Myin Ma Htie Village

Each Day in the Life is specially tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, Myin Ma Htie Village. You’ll get to know the local people through conversation and sharing a meal together, gaining an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here—and not just the typical tourist’s version.

Read More

A Day in the Life of Myin Ma Htie Village

Each Day in the Life is specially tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, Myin Ma Htie Village. You’ll get to know the local people through conversation and sharing a meal together, gaining an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here—and not just the typical tourist’s version.

Meet the People of Myin Ma Htie Village

Myin Ma Htie Village

Your Day in the Life experience will bring you to the village of Myin Ma Htie, Burma (also known as Myanmar). This northern area of Burma is home to a wide variety of ethnic tribes, including the Palaung, Danu, Pa-O, Taung Yo, and Danaw tribes. In Myin Ma Htie, we’ll have a chance to see how the daily life of one of these tribes—the Danu—differs from that of the lowland peoples we've encountered.

Here, our day begins with a visit to the village grocer to see what types of goods are available for sale, and perhaps an invitation into the home of the village chief. Next, we’ll speak with a Buddhist monk, with an option to practice a short mediation with him.

A special highlight of every Day in the Life is a visit to a local school, because it's always enlightening to see how other cultures educate their children. Our time in Myin Ma Htie then continues with a walking tour and a truck ride to visit a nearby plantation that supports members of the community.

We may see some of the same fresh produce as we next prepare lunch with the Danu villagers. After we taste the fruits of our labors, we’ll conclude our visit with a round-table discussion and a demonstration in making a local rum-based drink.

By the end of your Day in the Life, you'll have experienced something that most visitors can rarely say they've seen: an honest look at another culture that isn't dressed up for the sake of tourism. As responsible travelers and true world citizens, we feel it's just as important—if not more so—than monuments, wildlife, or scenery. We like to think of it as bridging the gaps between cultures … one Day in the Life at a time.

Grand Circle Foundation

Supporting a World Classroom: Burma

Myin Ma Htie Village Middle School

By seeing how children are educated all over the world, we gain a rare understanding of different cultural values—as well as the common values that unite us all. That’s why Grand Circle Foundation supports the Myin Ma Htie Village School, the Myin Ka Primary School, and the Aye Yeik Mon Orphanage.

Read More

Supporting a World Classroom: Burma

By seeing how children are educated all over the world, we gain a rare understanding of different cultural values—as well as the common values that unite us all. That’s why Grand Circle Foundation supports the Myin Ma Htie Village School, the Myin Ka Primary School, and the Aye Yeik Mon Orphanage.

"We loved visiting the school and observing how the children were being taught."

Dennis Livingston
Brookline, Massachusetts

Aye Yeik Mon Orphanage

Partner since: 2011 • Total donated: $21,666

Aye Yeik Mon Orphanage

Aye Yeik Mon is an orphanage for girls only, located in the city of Mandalay in Burma, and provides housing and assistance for more than 200 girls.

Grand Circle Foundation first partnered with the orphanage in 2011 when we installed four Asian-style toilets. The Foundation has since made strides through the generous donations we've received. In the following years, we've replaced the roof, renovated the dormitory, and provided new mattresses for the students. We’ve also purchases 60 new beds, 20 sets of tables and chairs, and 60 sets of drapes.

Myin Ka Primary School

Partner since: 2013 • Total donated: $1,600

Myin Ka Primary School

In 2013, Myin Ka Primary School became Grand Circle Foundation’s newest partner in Burma. Since our partnership, we’ve installed two Asian-style toilets at the school. The prospects of this new partnership are bright. The foundation looks forward to the future in lending much-needed support to the students at Myin Ka Primary School.

Myin Ma Htie Village Middle School

Partner since: 2011 • Total donated: $14,621

Myin Ma Htie Village Middle School

By funding improvements in local schools and orphanages, Grand Circle Foundation’s World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society’s most precious resources: its children. The Foundation first partnered with Burma’s Ma Htie Village School in the beginning of 2012. The school serves more than 300 children (from kindergarten to Grade 9) of the Danu hill tribe. Since our partnership, we installed two Asian-style toilets and a water purification tank.

School in session:

Generally, June 1-February 22. Closed for religious holidays.

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Pencils and colored pencils
  • Beginner-level English storybooks
  • Coloring books
  • Games
Grand Circle Foundation

Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

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Related Materials

A visit to a place lost in time: Myanmar

Reprinted with permission from Associated Press

BAGAN, Myanmar (AP) — The rising sun streaked a light blanket of fog with pink and yellow. Suddenly, pagodas popped out from the mist, some grand and intricate, others squat and modest, some crumbling, others glinting with gold — a carousel of Buddhist temples amid fields of sesame, tamarind and scrub.

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A visit to a place lost in time: Myanmar

By Ellen Hale

Photos above provided by Overseas Adventure Travel

Reprinted with permission from Associated Press

BAGAN, Myanmar (AP) — The rising sun streaked a light blanket of fog with pink and yellow. Suddenly, pagodas popped out from the mist, some grand and intricate, others squat and modest, some crumbling, others glinting with gold — a carousel of Buddhist temples amid fields of sesame, tamarind and scrub.

If not for a monolithic red brick silo in the middle of this scene, you could almost imagine yourself in the 11th century, when the ancient city of Bagan was home to the first kingdom of Burma.

But the silo, with an exclusive restaurant and viewing platform, towers above the temples in the country now called Myanmar. The structure was built in 2003 by a crony of the generals who have run Myanmar for decades. The modern building is a major reason the ancient temples were denied world heritage status by the United Nations.

This is the magic and folly of Myanmar. Closed off for years by a repressive, corrupt military reign, much of the country seems lost in time and truly untouched by signs of globalization like fast food chains. Women here still chalk their faces with thanaka, a paste made from tree bark. Men wear longyi, wraparound skirts gracefully knotted at the waist. Monks carry begging bowls through town in the early morning ritual of seeking food.

But now that the government is opening Myanmar to the outside world, tourists are rushing to experience the country before it changes. While numbers remain small, they are increasing: About 260,000 arrivals from January to October 2012 compared to 175,000 in the same period in 2011. Tours frequently sell out and start-up airlines are sprouting up. Foreign cell phones won't work here and credit cards are rarely accepted (though tourists can use Visa and MasterCard to change local currency at private banks), but Western attire is now seen in cities and "O'Burma" T-shirts showed up after President Obama's recent visit.

There's also a palpable sense of possibility and change, making it an exciting time to visit. The Governor's Residence hotel in Yangon recently set up a screen on the lawn for guests to watch Luc Besson's "The Lady," a film about Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and liberation heroine whom the government released in 2010 after 15 years of house arrest. The film screening would have been unheard of two years ago.

Barbed wire still tops the wall around Suu Kyi's home, a must drive-by in Yangon, formerly Rangoon, which was Myanmar's capital until the military built a new capital two hours away.

Yangon is also home to Myanmar's most sacred temple: the 320-foot tall (97 meters) Shwedagon Pagoda, whose golden dome is visible throughout much of the city. Its tiers are plated in gold, studded with diamonds, and capped by an orb bearing 4,500 diamonds, with a single 76-carat diamond on top.

Families and pilgrims spend the day at the pagoda spreading out rugs and meals they've packed, alternately worshipping and chatting — the social equivalent of parks and malls in the United States. The temple's origins are said to date back some 2,500 years, but it has been rebuilt over the centuries, and is encircled by hundreds of smaller temples, shrines and pavilions. Halos on many Buddhas in smaller shrines bear flashing electric lights, which are disliked by traditionalists but appeal to the young.

While the Shwedagon is the star attraction in Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake are the two most entrancing areas to visit elsewhere in the country. But Yangon's colonial architecture is also notable. Crumbling and neglected, the buildings nonetheless recall an era when Rangoon was a bustling port. They also represent one of the largest remaining examples of original British colonial architecture. Advocates are pushing for their restoration but critics fear they'll be replaced by high-rises.

Downtown Yangon is also home to sidewalk stalls selling tasty street food, fresh-rolled leaves of betel nut to chew (which stains teeth and sidewalks red), books and phone service (not mobile phones, but land lines you can rent to make calls). Pick up local handicrafts, a longyi, or well-priced lacquerware and antiques at the sprawling British-era Scott Market. Ubiquitous teahouses offer multiple choices of strength, sweetness and milkiness. During the most heinous periods of military rule, the teahouses served as a pipeline of communication for activists, journalists and dissidents.

Not many Western tourists venture to Mandalay: It's flat, dusty and traffic-congested, despite the romance attached to its name. Even Rudyard Kipling, who wrote the poem "On the Road to Mandalay," never went there. But it's a vibrant commercial and internal transportation hub. (Suu Kyi was recently spotted at the airport and wildly cheered.)

Mandalay also teems with monasteries and ancient culture, including the Mahamyatmuni pagoda, which shelters the country's second-most sacred Buddha image, an enormous seated Buddha. Here, you can watch pilgrims applying wisp-thin sheets of gold to the Buddha (something only men are allowed to do). So much is applied that statues at some temples become unrecognizable blobs of gold. As at the most-visited temples, colorful craft and knick-knack stands line the entry halls, their owners calling out "ming-ga-la-ba" (welcome and hello) as you pass by.

At monasteries like Mahagandayone, you can witness the morning meal procession. Access to the monasteries is so wide open throughout the country that visitors can stroll through and see close up how the monks live, from meal preparation to laundry. For shoppers, Mandalay is a center for traditional crafts, including wood carving, silverware, gold-leafing and tapestries.

Southeast of Mandalay is Inle Lake, where members of the Intha ethnic group use boats to tend their crops on floating gardens. Others fish in small dugout boats, casting nets while using one leg to steer in a Kabuki-like ballet. White egrets and birdsong are a constant, with the occasional kingfisher, flamboyant in green and blue. Intha women, their hair twined in scarves balanced atop their heads, sell produce in roving markets that move among the villages. Hotels, shops and restaurants on stilts dot the lakesides. Getting around requires a launghle, a long motorized canoe.

How the opening up of Myanmar will affect its rich unique culture and traditions is an issue of much discussion, and a major reason for the current tourist stampede. "I had to come see the real Burma before it gets spoiled," one Australian visitor said over breakfast as his fellow travelers nodded.

Yet experts and local tour guides point out that what little has been done to preserve and restore the ancient temples and sites has been at best amateurish and at worst destructive. Even Suu Kyi has spoken out about the faulty restorations, saying last year: "One cannot just go about restoring the temples using modern material and without adhering to the original styles."

A case in point: Hundreds of centuries-old, crumbling cone-shape temples called zedi at Inndein, near Inle Lake, lean haphazardly, trees sprouting from some. Local villagers speed their ruin by removing stones for use elsewhere, including building new zedi.

"Every time I come here, there are fewer of them," said San San Myint, a tour guide with a deep love of her country's history and traditions. "It makes me so sad. I worry that one day they will be gone."

If You Go...

MYANMAR TOURS:
Many travel companies offer guided tours and can make hotel, visa, flight and other arrangements, which are difficult to manage from outside the country. Options include Destination Asia, http://www.destination-asia.com/myanmar/tours/, and Overseas Adventure Travel, http://www.oattravel.com/man , which is also launching a small cruise tour. Backroads is starting biking and hiking tours, http://www.backroads.com.

TIPS:

  • Learn about the military's role in siphoning off the country's wealth. Ask tour companies which hotels and airlines are owned by the government or by cronies of the military. Two noteworthy hotels not owned by the government are The Governor's Residence, in Yangon, a colonial teak masterpiece in the lush embassy area, and the Villa Inle Resort, beautifully furnished lakeside bungalows with a good restaurant. A small chain of restaurants called The Green Elephant serves good Burmese cuisine.
  • Dress code for temple visits: No bare arms or shoulders, no shorts or short skirts. Signs warn: "No spaghetti dresses." You must remove your shoes, so bring sandals or slip-ons.
  • Magical dusk and dawn balloon rides over Bagan are worth the $300 cost but usually sell out, so sign up in advance.
  • Few places accept credit cards. Those that do charge hefty transaction fees. Best exchange rates are at the airport; for changing U.S. dollars, bring crisp $100 bills. You can often pay locally in dollars instead of kyat (pronounced chaat).
  • Foreign cell phones don't work in Myanmar but you can rent local phones at the airport. Larger hotels have intermittent Internet service.
  • Take mosquito repellent.
  • Look for indigenous handicrafts such as lacquerware, made from bamboo or from horsehair, in Bagan. At Inle Lake, you can buy scarves made from the silk of lotus blossoms.
Grand Circle Foundation

The Opening of Burma

For decades, Burma has been a land frozen in time, isolated from the outside world by a harsh military junta. But three years ago, a change took hold. And it’s opened the door to a new future for the country.

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The Opening of Burma

“We will surely get to our destination if we join hands.”

— Aung San Suu Kyi

For decades, Burma has been a land frozen in time, isolated from the outside world by a harsh military junta. But three years ago, a change took hold. And it’s opened the door to a new future for the country.

When Burma announced presidential elections for a “civilianized” government in 2010, the international community was skeptical. It sounded too similar to the dictatorship’s 1990 parliamentary elections, when Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide victory—and the junta had refused to recognize the results.

Aung San Suu Kyi had spent most of the following two decades under house arrest. Lovingly known as “the Lady” by her countrymen, she is the most prominent Burmese challenger to her country’s military rule, the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, and the daughter of one of the leaders of the fight for 1948 independence from Britain. She has been a symbol of hope for her country, and her imprisonment has correspondingly signaled the extent of the dictatorship’s oppression.

So when the Lady was barred from entering the 2010 presidential election and remained in detention, her party boycotted the vote. Democratic observers declared fraud as a military general of the regime, Thein Sein, was voted in as president.

Yet in the wake of this questionable election, hope emerged. A week after Thein Sein took office in November 2010, he released Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in a move that has altered the course of Burma’s history.

Since then, Thein Sein’s government has freed some key political prisoners (although leaders warn that the authorities still have “miles to go” in this area) and loosened censorship. Then in April 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi handily won a Parliamentary election, and her party took nearly every seat alongside her. This time, the elections stuck.

The world has taken note. U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Aung San Suu Kyi after her election, and lauded her efforts to work with Thein Sein, saying “They have been walking together down the path of reconciliation and political stability and democracy and human rights.”

As the Lady continues to stress caution as her countrymen push for further change, she welcomes the attention of the international community. Shortly after her release in 2010, her party issued new guidelines that promote responsible tourism to Burma.

Although there was no official sanction on visiting before, this was the endorsement that politically conscious travelers had been waiting for. Although Burma still receives a fraction of the tourism that its neighbors in Thailand and India do, it welcomed almost 200,000 more visitors in 2012 than it had the year before.

This is an undeniably vital moment for Burma, and a rare opportunity for cultural exchange in a country that is just unlocking its doors and beginning to improve its policies. As 14-time OAT traveler Nick Bowles from Walnut Creek, California, wrote after his recent Burma adventure, “Just opening up, Burma will change a lot in the future. See it now if you possibly can.”

Grand Circle Foundation

Solo Traveler Stories

We're proud to offer the best value for solo travelers in the industry, guaranteed, with FREE Single Supplements on your base trip and all extensions. Travel with the leader in solo-friendly travel on Burma: Land of Golden Temples & Floating Gardensand save up to $1710 per person versus the competition

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Why Travel Solo on Burma: Land of Golden Temples & Floating Gardens

We're proud to offer the best value for solo travelers in the industry, guaranteed, with FREE Single Supplements on your base trip and all extensions. Travel with the leader in solo-friendly travel on Burma: Land of Golden Temples & Floating Gardensand save up to $1710 per person versus the competition

Our small group size and expert, resident Trip Leaders help solo travelers make personal connections and ensure peace of mind. Here are some thoughts from solo travelers about why this adventure was right for them.

"Myanmar is a very diverse country, from its rice paddies, mountains, and lakes. Religion plays a major role in people's lives ... Shwedagon Pagoda and those temples of Bagan are awe inspiring; they deserve to be amongst the many wonders of the world. Our guide was very accommodating and open to all questions and topics of discussion. He was eager to show different points of interest, monks demonstrating, a wedding and its celebration, nuns receiving alms and lunch from a private family, and two boys on their way to a celebration before becoming novices in a monastery. There was always something new, something different to see every day.

However, the one lasting impression I have of Myanmar is the people. They are the warmest, most hospitable people I have ever met. You smile, they smile back. They are eager to have their pictures taken. The children want to speak English … [and] the adults speak of their hopes and desires for the future of their homeland. You cannot help but hope that peace will be achieved in this land of amazing vistas and caring, hard-working individuals."

Louise Gould, 5-time traveler, San Pedro, CA

"I would highly recommend taking this trip sooner rather than later. Burma is a fascinating land with spectacular things to see … The people are most welcoming and friendly, and our guide Turin, was terrific in giving us unique learning experiences, many of which were not even on the itinerary! We were welcomed in to a wedding ceremony, and even dragged up to the front of the event to have our pictures taken with the wedding party."

Karen Byrne, 23-time traveler, Corvallis, Oregon

"I enjoyed the trip very much … Friendly people. So many pagodas and stupas. Inle Lake was wonderful, as were all the hotels."

Judith Popsack, 4-time traveler, Raleigh, North Carolina

"One of the things I like about OAT is that they generally deliver what they say they're going to do, and the two-week trip to Burma was no exception. The hotels in Burma were all excellent … We had Pa Pa (Ms.) as our [Trip] Leader and she did not disappoint."

James Sibley, 12-time traveler, Spring, Texas

Grand Circle Foundation

The Women of Burma’s Paduang Hill-Tribe

How standards of beauty have shaped their identity throughout time

by Meredith Rummelfarger

For as is often the case with Burma in general, these women themselves are at the center of controversy.

From the covers of National Geographic to specials on the Discovery Channel, the women of eastern Burma’s Paduang hill-tribe are no strangers to media coverage. Images of these so-called “long-neck” or “giraffe” women are instantly recognizable, with their coiled neck rings creating the illusion that their necks have been lengthened—which, contrary to popular belief, is not actually the case. The rings apply pressure on the clavicle and upper ribs, which deform the bones in such a way as to appear part of the neck. Young girls first receive their coils during religious rituals at just five or six years of age. Each subsequent year, the coils are replaced with longer ones until they create 20 pronounced rings.

Origins

Anthropologists have pondered several theories to explain the origins of the practice, including protection from both tiger bites and slave traders—the latter choosing not to capture the women because they find them unattractive. According to the women who wear them, however, the main purpose of the rings is to maintain the Paduang cultural identity—and to conform to well established standards of beauty and status. For the same reason, Paduang women also adorn their arms from the wrist to the elbow, and their legs from the ankles to the knees. Although not quite as publicized, these rings are an equal source of pride for Paduang women. Another cherished custom includes dressing in white until marriage—at which point, from her wedding day onwards, a woman begins wearing brightly colored clothing to make a clear statement that she has been spoken for.

Recent religious influences

In recent years, Paduang beliefs have been influenced by Christianity—thanks to the efforts of Roman Catholic missions—as well as Buddhism. But the majority of members maintain animist beliefs. Their major festival, Kay Htein Bo, takes place annually over three days at the end of March or beginning of April. To commemorate the belief that the creator god gave form to the world, a celebratory post called the Kay Htoe Boe pole is planted in the ground. People dance around it to give thanks for blessings during the year, worship the eternal god, ask for forgiveness, and pray for rain. It is also common a practice to do a “reading” or “consulting” of chicken bones to predict what the year ahead will bring.

The Paduang today

For many Paduang women, the prediction of happier times ahead would be welcome, indeed. In the late 1980s, the political turmoil and military regime in Burma led residents of many hill tribes, including the Paduang, to abandon their homeland and seek refuge across the border in Thailand.