By Jackie Burrell
Sunday, March 30th, 2008 at 6:00 am in Family Travel.
Contemplating an exotic Asian trip? Yearning for a way to blend philanthropy and wanderlust? Here’s the scoop on Myanmar from this week’s travel experts…
THE TRAVELERS: Parent educator Ksenija Soster Olmer, civil engineer Miroslav Olmer and their daughters Solana, 18, and Naya, 15.
THE TREK IN A SEC: This Orinda family of four spent two weeks traveling in Myanmar (Burma), wandering through gorgeous pagodas, admiring floating gardens and colorful tribal markets, riding elephants and relaxing on deserted beaches. But the high point of the trip was visiting orphanages in the highlands for what would become the family’s philanthropic mission, the Hungry Duckling Project.
BEST FAMILY-FRIENDLY HOTEL: The Amazing Nyaung Shwe near Inle Lake. “You have to cross a small bridge over a moat to the small hotel’s lobby,” says Ksenija. “The rooms are simple, but bright with new wooden furniture and western private bathrooms. Every night two beautiful ladies come in, spray under the beds for mosquitoes and literally tuck you in with the crisp white bedding. In the morning you are awoken by the bells and monk prayers from a monastery around the corner.”
MOST MEMORABLE MEAL: Most food is very simple with lots of rice, but the Olmers’ favorite treat was the doughy breakfast sweet, pronounced Ee-chaq-we — a 5 cent cross between a doughnut and a churro, fried up by street vendors at every morning at 6 a.m.
COOLEST SIGHTSEEING: “There is much to see in Myanmar,” says Ksenija, “but the best part is there are so few tourists that you will have it all to yourself. Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon is absolutely incredible…
In the late afternoon as the rays of the setting sun deepen the gleam of the golden spires, stroll barefoot around the marble courtyard, one with the local crowd of novice monks in orange robes, nuns in pink, elderly, mothers with young children, whole extended families, people stopping by before going home from work. As the sun sets, descend the long staircase and, as you emerge from the covered walkway, look back to see literally thousands upon thousands of birds pouring out of the pagoda like a river in the sky. The spectacle goes on for 40 minutes every evening with the birds returning at dawn.”
Also wonderful: “Inle Lake, known as the Venice of the East, and deservedly so, is just one of those spots on the globe where even well-traveled, been-there-done-that visitors’ hearts skip a beat. Surrounded by a soft line of green-brown Shan hills, edged by islands of reeds, palm trees, white stupas and golden temples, the Inle Lake is home to the Intha people, the famous leg- rowing fisherman. It is quite fascinating to observe them precariously standing on one leg at the stern of the flat bottom boat with the other leg wrapped around the oar, keeping the boat steady in place while their hands work diligently with the fishing nets, wrapped around a tall bamboo contraption. You travel by small boat, admiring the floating gardens of ripening tomatoes and colorful flowers, visiting villages of silversmiths and silk weavers and stop by numerous markets where indigenous tribes in colorful clothes sell vegetables, wood and crafts.”
“The highlight of our trip was a visit to two orphanages, about an hour from the lake, where we were able to bring in school supplies and toiletries for each child, interact with the children and purchase many necessities that will improve their daily life and their future,” says Ksenija. “It was a transforming experience for our whole family and our friends who have since followed in our footsteps.”
(Photo: Solana and Naya take a breather after a shopping spree to replenish an orphanage’s rice supply.)
1. Hire an inexpensive car with driver – there are no rental cars available, and you really wouldn’t want to try to attempt to drive on the notoriously disintegrating roads, says Ksenija. A guide/translator is also a good idea as very few people speak English. A local travel agent can help you arrange both, as well as internal flights. The Osmers used Mr. Mong Pay at Fascinating Land Travel in Rangoon.
2. Make sure your tetanus shot is current and consider getting hepatitis, yellow fever and cholera shots. Your kids will need a meningitis vaccine when they go off to college, so you may as well get that now. And if you are traveling in the hot months, you’ll need antimalarial medication. (Note: None of this stuff is last-minute and Hepatitis A requires two shots, spaced several months apart.)
3. Carry a well-stocked medical kit, toiletries, and plenty of batteries, but leave your cell phone home. There are only a few telephones and Internet cafes available and no cell phone service!
Has your family been somewhere wonderful? Share your photos, favorite hotels and outings, and travel tips by e-mailing us. Or click “comments” and share your travel tips right here.
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A Midwestern Road Trip with Rollercoasters.