With the gradual easing of political tensions in Myanmar, the southeast Asian nation is experiencing increased tourism, leading to new challenges for the country's tourism and hospitality infrastructure. "With the change in attitude of the government, there's a pent-up demand that's been released," says Myths and Mountains President Toni Neubauer. "This is a country that is going to change absolutely, and rapidly."
Due to its political isolation, Myanmar has maintained a variety of cultures and traditions essentially free from outside influence. The country's cultural and natural diversity are strong draws for travelers, as are its impressive archaeological sites such as Bagan.
"Culturally, Myanmar is one of the richest countries in southeast Asia. It's the fourth-largest country in the region and has lots of resources, including gems and oil. It has a varying topography, stretching from the coast to the Himalayan foothills," Neubauer says. "It's also a country that has two Wednesdays, a currency that's based on the number nine, and where people kiss by rubbing noses."
With so much to offer, the tourism industry in Myanmar is sure to develop at a rapid pace now that political tensions have eased somewhat, although it's impossible to predict whether the country will continue along the road toward greater global integration, or whether the government will ultimately revert back to its isolationist tendencies.
One thing is certain, however: Travelers are flocking to Myanmar these days, so anyone who wants to see the country before it changes should visit soon. But with the country's infrastructure so stretched, it's important to allow extra time to make arrangements. Neubauer advises travelers to plan well in advance in order to ensure that they can experience everything that this amazing country has to offer. Contact Myths and Mountains for more information.
Myths and Mountains founder and president Toni Neubauer has once again been named Condé Nast Traveler's Top Travel Specialist for Nepal - an honor that recognizes Neubauer as not only the premiere travel specialist for the country of Nepal, but as one of the top travel professionals in the world.
"When you love a country and work hard to share this love with travelers to Nepal and the local people in the country, recognition by an organization as important as Condé Nast is extraordinarily meaningful," Neubauer says.
Neubauer has spent much of the last 27 years traveling all over Nepal, speaks the language, and has handled everything from documentaries to weddings. Her experiences inspired her to found Rural Education and Development, or READ Global, in Nepal in 1991 as the nonprofit arm of Myths and Mountains. Now an independent 501c3 organization based in San Francisco, READ builds Community Library Resource Centers, seeds local businesses to fully sustain and support the centers, and links them with organizations providing literacy, health/HIV, microcredit, women's empowerment, and other needed services in rural communities across Nepal, Bhutan, and India. The organization has built approximately 50 centers in Nepal, serving more than a million people.
Condé Nast Traveler's annual Top Travel Specialists Collection recognizes the 133 most prolific travel specialists and booking agents in the business today, as judged by the editors of Condé Nast Traveler magazine. The 133 travel specialists are each recognized for their field of specialization, whether it be wine tours in France, cultural tours in Nepal, or rafting trips on the great rivers of the world. The feature can be found online (www.cntraveler.com/travel-tips/travel-specialists) and in the December 2011 print edition of the magazine. The Top Travel Specialists Collection is spearheaded by Condé Nast Traveler's Director of Consumer News and Digital Community, Wendy Perrin.
A few months ago, our vice president, Allie Almario, headed over to Asia to do some research and development and check out some of the newest hotel properties there. Here, she shares some notes from her trip, as well as some tips for travelers visiting the region.
If you are going to spend 15 hours in a plane hurtling over the vast Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Hong Kong, I highly recommend doing it in Business Class if you can. I'm not usually an elitist, but when Cathay Pacific puts me on standby for a complimentary business class upgrade, I'm not going to say no. And I'm not going to lie - it was very, very nice.
Once in Asia, my trip was a whirlwind combination of early-morning wake-up calls, incessant jet lag, nonstop hotel inspections, and cramming in quick visits to some of Hong Kong and Thailand's highlights.
It was my first time in Hong Kong, and the first thing that struck me was how vertical a city it is. Much of my time was spent going up and down a lot of elevators as I hopped around the city. I lucked out with perfect weather - perfect blue skies and no humidity, typical for November and December.
Ethical Traveler's 13 Tips for the Accidental Ambassador
Travel is most meaningful - and least intrusive - when you approach your destination with openness, respect, and a willingness to adapt and learn. If you behave in an informed, culturally sensitive manner, you'll not only come away with truly memorable people-to-people experiences, but you'll also leave behind a positive impression with your hosts. As guidelines, we present these 13 tips from our friends at Ethical Traveler (www.ethicaltraveler.org).
Be aware of where your money is going. Patronize locally owned inns, restaurants, and shops. Try to keep your cash within the local economy, so the people you are visiting benefit directly from your stay.
Avoid giving gifts directly to children. Give instead to their parents or teachers. When giving gifts- everything from pens to pharmaceuticals - first ask what's needed, and who can best distribute these items in the community.
Learn basic greetings. Learn to say "please," "thank you," and as many numbers as you can. It's astonishing how far a little language goes toward creating a feeling of goodwill
Remember the economic realities of your new currency. A few rupees one way or another is not going to ruin you. Don't get upset if a visitor who earns 100 times a local salary is expected to pay a few cents more for a ferry ride or an egg.
Bargain fairly and respectfully. The final transaction should leave both buyer and seller satisfied and pleased. Haggling is part of many cultures, but it's not a bargain if either person feels exploited or ripped-off.
Learn and respect the traditions and taboos of your host country. Never, for example, pat a Thai child on the head, enter a traditional Brahmin's kitchen, or open an umbrella in a Nepali home!
Curb your anger, and cultivate your sense of humor. Travel can present obstacles and frustrations, but anger is never a good solution. It's perversely satisfying, but won't win respect or defuse a bad situation. A light touch, and a sense of humor, are infinitely more useful.
Arrive with a sense of your host country's social and environmental concerns. Our site will direct you to good profiles of many popular travel destinations. It's also very useful to read the political background section in your guidebook, and the local English-language papers.
Learn to listen. People in other nations often feel underestimated or patronized by travelers from the developed world. This fosters anger and resentment. Be aware that good listening skills and respect help shape the world's view of your country.
Practice conservation. Never be wasteful of local resources - especially food and water. Your efforts at conservation will be noted and respected by your hosts, and will set a good example for your fellow travelers.
"Can you please help me?" This is the most useful phrase travelers can learn. Rarely will another human being refuse a direct request for help. Being of service, and inviting others to express their kindness, is what the phrase "global community" is all about.
Leave your preconceptions about the world at home. The inhabitants of planet Earth will continually amaze you with their generosity, hospitality, and wisdom. Be open to their friendship, and aware of our common humanity, delights, and hardships.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s best line is worth remembering. "Strange travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." Go with the flow, and give free reign to your sense of adventure!
Earn discounts with donations to READ Global Travel philanthropy is a concept embraced and supportedby so many of our clients, and many of you have helped us raise many thousands ofdollars to support READ Global over the years. You have trekked over theHimalayas to help lay cornerstones in the foundations of libraries, you havebrought family and friends to see it in action in Nepal and Bhutan, you've evenasked your wedding guests to donate to READ!
Now, in celebration of READ's 20th Anniversary, whenyou book a new Myths and Mountains trip and donate a minimum of$250 to READ, we will match your donation witha $250 discount on the total land costs of your trip. Joinus in empowering rural villagers in Nepal, India, and Bhutan, andwe'll thank you from the bottom of our hearts (and with our bottomline).
For new trips booked during Oct 15, 2011 - Jan 15, 2012.
You must mention the promo code of READ250 when planning your itinerary with one of our travel specialists.
A booking is defined as one or more travelers booking the same itinerary (i.e. The Smith family travels together to Peru; donate a minimum of $250 to READ Global and we'll deduct $250 from your total land costs for the entire family).
*Applicable only to trips with a minimum land cost of $2000 pp or more for the booking (excludes air).
Your trip payment must include a separate non-refundable check made payable to READ Global for