Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
Our adventure begins in beguiling Yangon, the former colonial capital of Myanmar. The exceptionally friendly people of the former British colony known as Burma are happy to greet travelers after long being isolated under a military dictatorship. Gather with our Expedition Leader for a welcome dinner this evening.
Day 2: Yangon / Green Hills Elephant Camp / Inle Lake
This morning we fly to the town of Heho, continuing to Kalaw and Green Hills Elephant Camp, where we learn about Asian elephants as we interact with these delightful animals and their mahouts. The camp was established by a group of young ecotourism professionals with a vision to protect nature, elephants and the traditions of local people living near Kalaw. The project protects a large tract of native forest habitat to shelter and sustain
wildlife, including elephants. Visitors provide much-needed economic support as local people benefit from the project while learning about the importance of conservation. We’ll look for wildlife on nature trails in the jungle, then prepare and feed the elephants one of their daily meals, and help scrub and wash them. After our visit with the elephants we drive to Inle Lake, then cruise to the lakeside resort where we'll spend the next three nights.
Day 3: Inle Lake
Today, encounter the natural and cultural dimensions of Inle Lake—its diverse ecosystems and traditional lifestyles of the Intha people who have lived here for centuries. Around the lake, markets are held in different villages on a rotating schedule, and we'll visit one of these colorful sites of commerce frequented by Shan, Pa-O
and Burmese people. Experiencing life on the lake from a local perspective, witness age-old floating agricultural techniques passed down through the generations allowing local people to prosper. As we learn about these unique methods, we assist locals in tending
their vegetable gardens, picking fruit and vegetables and helping to collect the nutrient-rich organic material that makes the gardens so productive. This afternoon we participate in the other key traditional livelihood on the lake—fishing. We try our luck with several of the unique local fishing methods, and the more
adventurous can even try their hand—or should we say "foot"—at leg paddling, a special technique synonymous with Inle culture.
Day 4: Inle Lake Wetland Sanctuary / Inle Cultural Heritage
An early start offers a chance to witness the lake environs come to life
as a wide range of bird species take to the wing and fishermen bring in the morning catch. We begin the day with a visit to a protected wetland sanctuary that's home to more than 350 bird species, and we'll have a good chance to see fish eagles, herons, warblers, cormorants, barbets, wild ducks
and egrets. We’ll enjoy a Burmese lunch at Inthar Heritage House, a beautiful wooden structure built on stilts in the middle of the lake. Downstairs is a Burmese cat sanctuary, the product of a breeding program established to import and restore the elegant breed to its native Burma, where it had become extinct. We’ll also visit a local cheroot factory where Burmese cigars are made, take a look at the floating tomato gardens, tour the gilded Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, and possibly visit a weaving factory, time permitting.
Day 5: Bagan / Popa Mountain National Park
Fly to Bagan where we'll have lunch on arrival. An hour’s drive brings us higher into hills draped with green vegetation, and ultimately to our ecolodge
in Popa Mountain National Park, which boasts some of the most panoramic vistas in Myanmar. En route we stop to visit a sacred monastery on top of an extinct 5,000-foot volcano. Those who manage the walk up the 920 steps to the summit, often taunted by cheeky macaques along the way, are rewarded with a magnificent view across the park. This afternoon we check in to
our lodge, located on the side of Popa Mountain, a sacred landmark that is a famous pilgrimage spot for many Burmese.
Day 6: Exploring Popa Mountain / Bagan
Take a leisurely walk this morning around the base of the mountain with a local guide to learn about the volcanic geology, flora and fauna of the surrounding ecosystem. We’ll then visit a medicinal plant nursery where we take an “introductory course” in traditional herbal medicine preparation using selected forest plants sustainably harvested from our environs. Next, it’s off to the town of Popa to visit the bustling market where local people come to buy and sell foods and wares. We also walk through a neighboring village or two to get further glimpses of everyday local life. After lunch we depart for Bagan, visiting a toddy palm plantation where we learn how every part of the palm—flower, nectar, sugar—is used to make food, alcohol and handicrafts. Late this afternoon we reach Bagan, where we’ll have dinner and spend two nights.
Day 7: Temples of Bagan
In Bagan, located on the Irrawaddy River, we spend the day exploring one of the world's greatest archaeological
sites. The plains of Bagan are home to a prolific collection of ancient Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas
and shrines, with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. More than 2,000 structures and ruins sprawl over a vast area stretching for miles along the banks of the river, a testament to Bagan's former status as the capital of a large and powerful medieval kingdom. The glimmering domes and spires, now derelict yet still arresting in their splendor, are especially captivating at sunset, illumined by the glowing rays. We’ll enjoy a picnic in the scenic agricultural village of Minnanthu, which specializes in the production of sesame and peanut oil. It is a hidden treasure in the Bagan area, as its collection of forgotten temples is often completely deserted. Late this afternoon we visit a nearby pagoda to admire the setting sun over the temple spires.
Day 8: Bagan / Yangon
Viewing the temples of Bagan from the air is magical, and this morning there's an opportunity for an optional hot-air balloon ride as dawn breaks over the site (must be booked in advance at an additional cost). Or, choose to watch the sunrise from atop one of the ancient temples—many are accessible to climb. Later we transfer to the airport for our flight back to Yangon. After a lunch of Burmese specialties, we spend the afternoon discovering highlights of Myanmar's largest city, including its colonial heritage on display at City Hall, Victory Monument
and other impressive 19th and early 20th-century buildings.
Day 9: Yangon—Shwedagon Pagoda / Phuket, Thailand
Shwedagon Pagoda is the most revered Buddhist temple in Myanmar, and an in-depth visit reveals what lies behind its glittering facade. Although the pagoda's origins are unclear, local legend holds that the original structure was built 2,500 years ago, then renovated several times until taking its current shape in the 15th century. The gold-plated pagoda, rising to a graceful spire at the top, reflects an intricate display of Buddhist cosmology and mythology—not to mention the dazzling glimmer of the 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies that embellish its gilded crown. Our intriguing half-day tour begins with a walk to the pagoda as we pass workshops, markets
and monasteries. Once inside, we learn about the pagoda’s history, its role in daily lives of people who live in the area, and more about Burmese spiritual life, which intermingles Buddhism with a belief in nats
—Myanmar spirits. This afternoon we leave the bustle of Yangon behind as we as we fly to Bangkok and on to Phuket. On arrival
we check into our seaside resort.
Day 10: Khao Phra Thaeo National Park—Gibbon Center / Thai Cooking Class
On the northeast edge of Phuket, Khao Phra Thaeo National Park is the last rain forest refuge on the island. Two hundred years ago, the island teemed with tigers, wild elephants
and gibbons that roamed the undisturbed forest. Once humans arrived, however, the steady destruction of habitat drove wildlife away. Only an isolated tract of forest, preserved within the park, remains. The giant trees and forest canopy provide habitat for many endangered species. And while we are not likely to see these elusive creatures in the dense vegetation, the park harbors wild boar, langur, barking and mouse deer, palm civet, monkeys, cobra, python, flying fox and many species of birds, as well as gibbons.
We’ll take a short hike to a scenic waterfall and visit the park’s gibbon
project, which rescues and rehabilitate gibbons that have been exploited in the tourism industry. Through a very slow process
they can be re-introduced to the wild,
though it can take years to teach them how to survive. With the dedicated efforts of volunteers, many gibbons have been successfully returned to their native rain forest habitat inside the park. This afternoon we enjoy a cooking class at the Blue Elephant cooking school, savoring the 4-course meal we learned to prepare in class for dinner this evening.
Days 11 & 12: Cheow Lan Lake & Khao Sok National Park
A 5-hour drive, including a lunch stop, takes us to the dock at Cheow Lan Lake where we continue by long-tail boat to our floating eco-resort. Inside Khao Sok National Park, we are immersed in the wondrous landscapes of this 285-square-mile reserve. The park's vertical limestone mountains are draped in the world's oldest virgin rain forest
—with more biodiversity than the Amazon—and punctuated by caves, deep valleys
and numerous lakes. An impressive collection of wildlife inhabits the park,
and the area around Cheow Lan Lake is one of the best wildlife-viewing regions in mainland Southeast Asia.
Rising before breakfast, we’re warmed with tea and coffee before boarding a long-tail boat for a wildlife safari on the jade-green water, dotted with karst islands often swathed in morning
mist. We head out again on foot looking for the many primates that live around the lake, including macaques, langurs
and endangered lar gibbons, as well as wild boar. Great hornbills, fish eagles
and lovebirds are spotted frequently. Camera trap recordings in the area by scientific researchers have also revealed populations of extremely rare Malayan tapir, leopard, guar
(the world's largest wild ox), Asiatic black bear and the occasional wild Asian elephant. We also have opportunities to explore the lake by kayak. Paddling in stillness, we experience the profound serenity that envelops the lake. We may also have a chance to glimpse some of the more
skittish animals that are sensitive to noise. On local trails through the ancient rain forest
, we look for edible plant species, learn how to find drinking water in bamboo and search for wildlife in the canopy.
Day 13: Khao Sok / Phuket / Depart
Awaken quietly to the sounds of the rain forest, which often include a variety of tropical songbirds. After breakfast, travel once more by long-tail boat back to our comfortable vehicles for the drive to Phuket Airport, where we meet departing flights. For those with late evening flights, enjoy lunch and shared day rooms in Phuket before being transferred to the airport.
Physical Rating: Moderate