Connecting with the Communities
Since 2016, the Myanmar government has been implementing community-based tourism (CBT) activities to reduce poverty in the local community and give them an opportunity to create a source of income for themselves. It also works to give travellers craving for a taste of rural lifestyle an authentic adventure and expose the wonders of Myanmar’s natural surroundings.
A popular CBT activity is experiencing the cultural lifestyle and traditions of the local people. Such efforts include the ethnic villages in Kayah state, which has many ethnic groups and natural scenery that provide great cultural interest and value to tourists. Hta Nee La Leh and Pan Pet village in Kayah state have a rich cultural identity and proudly preserve their way of traditions to this day. The people bring visitors on a nature trail through a trek among the villages to witness their daily activities. This glimpses tourists with a panoramic view of the mountains, visit a monument which honours the village clan, and observe animist traditions which takes place in a cave believed to be the residence of a guardian spirit.
Additional cultural insights include a visit to the village’s Clan Monument and Bird Totem where the local guide explains its significance to the village clan’s and ancestors. Several ceremonies take place here as the villagers pay respect to spirits, donate offerings to ask for protection and bless them with good products for the year. Visitors can also taste the traditional Kayah rice wine on request and observe the interesting work of carving a wooden coffin for one’s parents. This practise ensures that their parents are able to pass with peace of mind. Lastly, visitors can try the traditionally grilled Kayah barbeque, with the famous Kayah sausage, on the banks of the Seven Lakes. The best time to eat Kayah barbeque is none other than before sunset, as it is a pleasant experience to witness the natural beauty of the environment with freshly grilled food.
For visitors interested to explore the intricate art of Myanmar’s traditional arts and crafts, four villages in Shan state have been opened as CBT sites to the public. These are Lwe Kaw, Inne, Hteenae and Kakku villages, known for their talented hand-making of crafts such as rattan, bamboo, shoulder-bags and a distinct tradition of making lacquerware. One can also watch the villagers at work as they carve objects and figures from jade. As tourists watch the locals’ adept and nimble fingers at work, they will be awed by the patience and skill it takes to produce such finely carved jade.
An Eco-Friendly Adventure
To contribute towards sustainable tourism, why not plant a tree? Visitors can observe and learn how to plant a seed in the Mingalar Bio-garden of Kyaikthalae Village in the Twante Township of Yangon. Participating in this programme allows them to work side-by-side with villagers and by doing so, plant fruits and vegetables for the benefit of the students in the monastic school. One can learn about the creation of natural fertiliser, the cultivation of crops and poultry farming, as well as cooking freshly picked vegetables to make nutritious meals.
The cooking lessons cover several traditional meals and known Myanmar snacks. Using produce from the bio-gardens, guests and villagers work together to create a tasty meal for everyone. This helps to build a close-knit of togetherness within the community and strengthen their communication skills in interacting with foreign tourists. As authentic cooking classes are not easily found in the commercial cities, this experience presents Myanmar culinary in an original, unaltered form.
The Chin state has an abundance of dramatic scenery filled with plants and flowers of many kinds, making a trek into these villages a thrilling one. Visitors are able to view Mount Victoria, famously known as one of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia with a height of 3,053 metres. The mountain range is a protected site for the Khaw Nau Sone National Park which was established in 1994. It is affiliated with the ASEAN Heritage Park and has hundreds of rare species of flowers, plants, and animals, particularly birds. With over 150 bird species, visitors can climb the mountain for an exquisite bird-watching experience of domestic and migratory birds. If one is lucky, they might be able to catch a glimpse of the unique white-browed nuthatch!
Another attraction to catch is the natural beauty of Kawlaung waterfall, located in Kanpetlet Township. The Chin people will guide visitors to visit the customs and traditional dances in their village, allowing visitors to enjoy a rural lifestyle of the countryside. They are always excited to receive more visitors, so they often gather around bonfires and encourage visitors to share their stories, adventures, and life in their home country. This is often followed by traditional dancing and a drink of Chin wine, which visitors can taste to bond and further interact with the locals, before retiring to the bamboo houses for a night surrounded in nature.
The best way to connect with the local people of Myanmar is by understanding their ways of living. The villagers take a lot of pride in their culture and are open in sharing their customs with tourists who are eager to experience a rustic adventure. By connecting with them, visitors contribute to a better lifestyle for the community, as well as gaining an understanding of the ethnic people at their core.