It is only in the last few years that foreigners have been able to visit Myanmar relatively easily. Despite being very poor country, it is the people who make this visit so very special. Here is just one example. One day we wandered into the shop making coffins and after showing us several rooms with examples of his work, the owner, a wizened little old man with two teeth, insisted on giving each of us a cold beer for which he would not take any payment. Even though we cannot speak each others language, smiles and the greeting ‘Mingalabar’ are everywhere.
Our 14 day photo tour was organized by Luminous Journeys who specialize in luxurious photo tours of Myanmar. Luxurious related to the accommodation which was among the best hotels in each of the places we stayed even though that ranged from about a 2 star hotel in Kyaing Tong to the fabulous 5 star Sule Shangri-La in Yangon. We flew between each of the stops and on arrival we had our own driver and van as well as our two photo tour guides.
Our tour was led by A P Soe who is one of the top photographers in Myanmar as well as being an experienced and popular tour leader. He is the winner of several photography awards and has contributed to the National Geographic.
Our other photographer was Soe, who is also an award winning photographer
They were both willing to share their photographic knowledge, give us suggestions and organize a variety of photoshoots for us – something we could not do ourselves because of the language difficulty.
Our tour started in Yangon, the largest city with a population of maybe 5 million. Public transport is by old bus or the equally old trains while all the cars appear to be quite new. No motor bikes are allowed in this city because they have such huge traffic chaos everyday. There are no motorways, and no mass transit systems – not even bus lanes. We only had a short time to see part of the city. Our first stop was the Shwedagon Pagoda which is a fascinating place to visit. We followed this with time at a roof top bar where we watched the sun set over the city.
Our next stop was Kyaing Tong, an isolated area of Shan Province, which foreigners can only access by air from within Myanmar. It is close to the Thai border and if you came to Kyaing Tong from there you must return to Thailand.
Here the language is different from that spoken in Yangon so we had a local guide as well as our two photo guides. Mark and Fran, our traveling companions, went on an exhausting hike into the hills to visit a very isolated tribe while Alistair and I explored the city of Kyaing Tong. On our second day AP organised some photo shoots with local tribal people.
Mandalay turned on a lovely sunrise before we took a boat trip across the Irrawaddy River to the temples of Mingun and some more photos shoots with some young monks. In the evening we took a boat out to catch the sunset behind the famous U Bien Bridge.
Our next stop was at Bagan where more than 2000 ancient temples and pagodas are spread across the country side. Some of the pagodas were damaged during a recent earthquake but they are still impressive. During our stay we climbed a different pagoda each evening to try and catch a non-existent sunset. The photo shoots that AP organized were quite a challenge but did extend our photographic knowledge.
From Bagan we flew to Inle Lake which was just lovely. All transport on the lake is by small boat with a noisy motor. For us there were three people in each boat but the locals managed
to sit on the bottom on the boat and fit in 20 or more. We stayed in the Golden Island Cottages which were cabins built on stilts over the lake. Markets, temples, pagodas and craft shops kept our cameras working hard.
Finally it was back to the big city and a chance to see a huge reclining buddha, another beautiful temple, Scott Market and take a trip on the Yangon River Ferry before finishing the day photographing the reflections of the Swhedagaon Pagoda in the Kandawagi Lake as the sun set.
Would I recommend this tour? If you are a keen photographer and willing to be challenged in all sorts of ways from getting up around 4.30am to catch a sunrise, climbing a steep hill in 30º heat, to starting early and going all day despite the heat then you will get photo opportunities that you would find difficult if not impossible to get any other way.