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By Jackie Burrell
Sunday, March 30th, 2008 at 6:00 am in Family Travel.

The Osmers in Myanmar
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…
Shwedagon Pagoda (Photo courtesy of Vanessa Fitzgerald© )
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 Osmers in Myanmar
“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.
Looking for more family travel tips? Check out these blog posts too:
Kauai with a Toddler
An African safari with the Family
Rome with the Bambino
Colonial Williamsburg with the Kids
Cancun Family Adventures
London with Teens
New York City and DC with a Theater-Going Family
New York City with a Baseball-Loving Family
California Beach Towns
Paris avec le bebe
Vancouver with the Kids
Sweden & Norway with Teens
The Cote d’Azur with Teens
Off the Beaten Path in Paris and
A Midwestern Road Trip with Rollercoasters.

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7 Responses to “FAMILY TRAVEL: Myanmar”

  1. FAMILY TRAVEL: Myanmar Says:

    […] aulelia wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptHere’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 … […]

  2. Philanthropic Travel Says:

    There is no question that Philanthropic Travel of this sort is beneficial for both travelers and hosts in many countries around the world.

    However, travel agencies that reside in Burma are nothing more than agents of revenue generation for the brutal Myanmar dictators.

    This story does nothing to tell consumers about the genocide that government has been executing against its own Karen ethnic group in the north.

    Anyone considering travel, philanthropic or not should first make themselves aware of the situation on the ground in Burma.

    Traveling there and supporting an orphanage is a wonderful experience. However, the hard currency in tax revenue is far greater and that money is being used to starve people, burn villages and rape innocents.

    The writer of this article and Contra Cosa Times should have included these facts in this article. To publish this article without these facts amounts to a public relations coup de etat for the Myanmar government’s efforts to crush human rights and raise hard currency to continue its iron grip against freedom.

    Learn More:

    David Chamberlain
    Exquisite Safaris Philanthropic Travel Worldwide

    (EDITORS NOTE: Exquisite Safari is a luxury travel agency that books trips to, among other places, Myanmar and Botswana. The agency describes itself as blending equal parts luxury and social conscience, with 6-star accommodations and experiences running $1,000 a night in Botswana, for example.)

  3. Contra Costa Times: Public Relations Consultant to Myanmar Dictatorship « Understanding Travelers Philanthropy Says:

    […] March 30, 2008 article in the Contra Cosa Times online magazine aPARENTLY Speaking has overlooked the reality of traveling to Myanmar/Burma completely. Regardless of the […]

  4. exotic traveling » Blog Archive » FAMILY TRAVEL: Myanmar Says:

    […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

  5. Tish Says:

    While I agree this article needs to mention the risks that are involved in going to Burma, and discuss the human rights abuses that are occurring in the country, but it is not true that every travel agency in Burma provides money to the Junta.

    I know for a fact that there are travel agents that do not have connections to the Junta, there are also hotels, restaurants and other places in Burma that are not connected to the Junta.

    This article and any article that is promoting travel in Burma should explain how to travel in Burma responsibly without putting money into the Junta’s hands, but into the hands of those who need it most such as the local tea shop owners, hotels, and restaurants.

    I’m totally against tourism sanctions, but I believe that everyone should be aware of what is happening before they go and how to keep from putting money into the Junta’s hands.

  6. The Olmer Family Says:

    I was saddened to read the whole response on our trip and our family efforts from Mr. Chamberlain, the owner of a luxury travel agency Exquisite Safaris in San Francisco and especially disappointed in his ungracious use of language and name-calling. There are many different opinions among travelers as to whether people should travel to Burma (or Cuba or other undemocratic countries of the world). Anyone who will follow the link to our family website can read about our struggle to make this decision. Since my husband and I both emigrated from Communist countries we both had first hand experiences of the joy of meeting foreigners and having the opportunity to open our eyes to the outside world, while we were stuck behind the Iron Curtain. When we talked to many locals in Burma we asked them about their opinion on this matter and everyone assured us that they were elated to have contact with the outside world. It gives them not only an opportunity to make some hard currency but also gives them hope they are not forgotten. Contrary to Mr. Chamberlain’s clients we did not utilize luxury lodges and spas, we were careful to choose small family operated lodging and independent guides. While Exquisite Safaris charges from $300-$1000 per night (and donates $250 per trip to charity) we have spent less than $800 per person for 2 weeks and donated 150 pounds of supplies and $1000 to the orphanages we visited. This was not money from our business fueled by our clients, it was money our girls fundraised washing cars and serving dinners. We respect everyone’s efforts to make decisions they feel comfortable with and to help in the way they see fit, so please, be respectful of our efforts.

  7. Philanthropic Travel Says:

    Exquisite Safaris Philanthropic Travel does not organize travel to Myanmar.

    Exquisite Safaris Philanthropic Travel has traveled to Myanmar on a fact finding mission and have supported a vetted non profit organization that brings much needed fresh water to a community there. However, Exquisite Safaris does not organize travel to Myanmar at this time.

    Editor’s note: Then you’ll want to correct your web site, as it advertises Myanmar as one of your “exquisite safari” destinations, with 5-star luxury accommodations and guides.

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