Cultural and Educational Exploratories

These exploratory cultural journeys allow participants to fully immerse in an aspect (or multiple aspects) of Burmese culture, which would not be possible on standard tours. These tours resemble short academic study abroad programs in that each trip includes lectures by local experts and in many cases foreign scholars, as well as hands on participation. Each trip also includes all of the standard tour offerings such as visits to important temples and monasteries.

Kulture and Kitchens of Myanmar: Exploration of the Temples, Textiles and Cuisines of Myanmar.

This tour is for SE Asian aesthetes with the discerning palette of the gourmand. Most travelers to Myanmar, or indeed any Asian country, often end up eating non-local amalgams in ‘local’ restaurants, which claim to be the real local thing. Myanmar is no exception-many who visit, come away having eaten only in restaurants that serve food from our neighbors: India, China, Thailand and Laos. This tour follows much loved classic tour itineraries of Myanmar including visits to Yangon, Bagan, Popa Mountain, Inle Lake and Mandalay among other stops. Yet this tour goes far beyond the sightseeing. Each day allows time for sampling Burmese dishes from one distinct ethnic area.Participants will have the opportunity to watch or cook along side Burmese chefs in various locations. While touring Yangon you will dine at the finest private kitchens serving Burman dishes, while wandering the temples of Bagan you will sample Kayen and Karen delicacies, while in Mandalay and at Inle Lake the opportunity to sample Shan and other hill tribe delicacies is an opportunity not to be missed. In each of these areas we will be interacting with some of Myanmar’s incredibly diverse tribal groups. Along with their cuisine, we will explore the stunning colors and weaves of various tribes homemade textiles. For a full itinerary, please contact us.

A Journey to Heart of Burmese Buddhism and Animist Religion

From the moment you step off the plane in Myanmar, Buddhism is apparent everywhere. The Theravadan (Hinayana) Buddhist tradition permeates nearly every aspect of life in Myanmar. This tour is an in-depth experience of living Buddhism in Myanmar. Our journey takes one to the major sites of Buddhism such as Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda, Bagan’s oceanic expanse of temples, the monastery-strewn hillsides of Sagaing and other lesser-known spots of spiritual importance in Burmese Buddhist history. Unlike countless other tours of these sites, Woodland’s tours takes you behind the scenes and reveals the meaning behind the many temples and monasteries. In each site we tour monastic establishment with English speaking monks. There is the opportunity to hear Buddhist teachings from renown abbots and monks on various aspects of the religion. The journey then takes us to the source of Myanmar’s indigenous animist religion known as Nat worship. Popa Taungkalat is the central shrine of the 37 Nat spirits. The temple complex sits magnificently upon a volcanic plug that rises out of the arid Bagan plains. Atop this mountain we will explore Nat religion as well as the quasi-Buddhist/tantric religion of the Bomingaung-men considered to be half sorcerer/half Buddhist monk.  This trip will deepen your understanding of Buddhism and provide an understanding of spiritualism in Myanmar itself. For a full itinerary, please contact us.

The Tribes of Myanmar

A patchwork tapestry or quilt are apt metaphors for Myanmar given its incredibly diverse peoples and cultures. Unlike China, much of India and other countries of SE Asia, Myanmar’s distinct ethnic groups have not undergone cultural assimilation and dilution.

At least 60 ethnic groups exist. A British colonial survey determined that 242 separate languages are spoken in Myanmar. At Woodlands we specialize in tours of Myanmar’s tribal groups in ways that allow participants maximum exposure with minimum impact on the culture. Insensitive tourism commodifies and eventually destroys cultural diversity. Yet, if undertaken carefully, tourism actually strengthens traditional ways of remote people and cultures.

Our tours of tribal Kachin, Naga, Chin, Pa-O, Akha, Palaung, Shan and other peoples of Myanmar are once in a lifetime experiences. These tribal names may seem foreign to you now, yet take part in this experience and you will come away with a substantive understanding of these people.  Each itinerary is unique and rarely repeated. We visit different villages each time and work directly with the local communities in order to witness events such as shaman rituals, homebuilding, festivals (the Naga Mol festival in Sagaing, the Kachin Manau festival in Myitkyina) that would otherwise be missed. Each of these tours interspaces visits to tribal areas with traditional tours of Myanmar’s most important cultural sites such as Bagan, Popa Mountain and the Pindaya Caves in Kalaw.

Woodlands also offers cross-border experiencesWe are the only company able to provide day visits to kindred tribes on both the Yunnan (China) and Arunachal Pradesh (India) sides of the Myanmar borders. For those with more time, ask about our extended tours to these kindred tribes in both China and India. 

As members of the global community you the traveler greatly help to preserve these wonderful cultures by simply showing interest. Woodlands can lead you into the ethnographic wonders of Myanmar. A selection of our tribal tours are briefly outlined here.  Below you will find brief day by day outlines of several possible tribal tours. Ask us about customized tours designed to fit your exact interests. For more information on our tribal tours, please contact us.

The Old Burma Road: China to Yangon Overland

Imagine yourself an explorer wandering through Asia 200 years ago when borders between countries were abstract concepts, rarely posing obstacles to travelers. Today it is possible once again to cross borders between the great countries of inner Asia-Myanmar, China and India. Such border crossing offer travelers amazing opportunities to experience extremely diverse cultures and peoples on one trip. Woodland’s has designed journeys that begin in China’s Yunnan province and end in Myanmar’s capital Yangon. Our trip starts in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, we then fly to Lijiang and spend a day exploring the mountain villages of the Naxi people-a group of people very similar to Tibetans that practice an unusual form of Shamanism. From Lijiang we drive to Dali and explore Lake Erhai as well as Dali’s traditional town that remains today much as it did centuries ago.

We then depart Dali and begin heading towards Myanmar along the Old Burma Road (built by Americans, Burmese, Chinese and Indians in WWII). Our destination is the border crossing at Muse. As soon as we enter Myanmar we enter a slower pace of life as seen in the rhythms of the markets and in the villages we pass through. This is part of Myanmar is know as Shan state. The Shan are one of Myanmar’s larger ethnic groups. Here we visit the historical towns of Lashio and Hsipaw. Once in the old British hill station of Maymyo (aka: Pyin Oo Lwin), we put up in Woodland’s own Kandawgyi Lodge-an old British bungalow tastefully restored with separate bungalows behind. At Maymyo we explore the National Botanical Gardens-also restored by Woodlands-and then depart for Mandalay and the pagodas of Bagan on the banks of the Ayerwaaddy River.  Our trip finishes in the  city of Yangon, where we wander with monks, nuns and pilgrims around the grounds of stunning Shwedagon Pagoda, rejuvenate our palettes at some of Yangon’s fine local and international restaurants and shop for Burmese antiques in the many open-air markets.

Please note that this tour can be customized to include Tibetan areas in Yunnan (in the town of Shangri-la) and include other destinations in Myanmar that follow the Old Burma Road through northern Myanmar to the border with India. For customized options, please contact us.