Are you a tourist who wants to experience a rural lifestyle and immerse yourself in a completely different world?
If so, you have an opportunity now.
If you have enough time and want to enjoy a remarkable touring experience after visiting the ancient cultural sites in Bagan, take a bus to the other side of the Ayeyarwady River and after a 40-mile bus ride you will reach Myaning Township, Magway Region.
A few minutes traveling more from Myaing city, you can see Yinn Daing Taung Dam where your new rural lifestyle could start.
You will stay in guest houses built on the embankment of a reservoir while enjoying gentle breezes blowing across the water. These guest houses are made of traditional building materials bamboo, palm leaves, and wood. Dry Zone Development Manager Aung Min Naing from Action Aid Myanmar said that they had already built 15 rooms and they would build more.
“We built these houses as country style bungalows which are more suitable for the rural area and look like the other houses built around here. But we have to build them better than the actual houses of local people. For instance, we built a wooden floor instead of the traditional bamboo floor, apart from that, the basic design is the same as rural housing,” he said.
The Community Based Tourism (CBT) Project is a project of Action Aid Myanmar and they are building guest houses near four villages and the Yinn Daing Taung Dam. Country Director of Action Aid Myanmar, Shihab Uddin Ahamad, said that tourists staying in these guest houses can visit the four nearby villages by bicycle along a country road which only takes about 15 minutes.
“I guess that in Bagan and other places, they have to visit only one tourist site. But, here they can see the real life of the people, the agriculture, where they sleep, what they eat, how their children go to school, and also what kind of things they grow, so those are the things they can experience. At the same time, they experience cultural life,” he said.
Project Manager Aung Min Naing said: “In fact, this land is village land and the dam and reservoir are theirs too. As the guest houses are built near the villages, tourists can have a home-stay experience. Though they are not fully identical to the houses of the villagers, they can enjoy at least a semblance of home-stay here.”
The Yinn Daing Daung Dam was built by Action Aid Myanmar to help the villagers in relation to their agricultural needs and daily social life. But because they are in a dry zone with very little rainfall they could not help as intended. So Action Aid Myanmar invited village elders from these four villages to consult with them and finally they decided to implement a CBT project based on the nearby four villages and Yinn Daing Taung Dam.
Action Aid Myanmar country director said that in implementing the project, they first explained to local villagers their plan and got their consent. After that, they coordinated with the Hotel and Tourism Ministry and started operations near Yinn Daing Taung Dam in November 2015.
“I thought that community based tourism would not be allowed but we communicated with the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and brought the minister here. After that, he talked to the community and was convinced that community based tourism was possible,” the country director said.
Mr Ahamad said that after opening the CBT tourism business they made an agreement with a partner organization ‘Journeys Adventure Travel’ to send 1,000 tourists the first year and more in consequent years.
“So the partnership between the community, the NGO and the private sector; the two operators is very important for the sustainability of this kind of programme,” he said.
The main beneficiaries of the CBT project are local villagers from the four villages near the Yinn Daing Taung Dam. They will charge US$55 per head for one and half days of which US$10 will go to a Village Development Fund and US$5 will go to the Dry Zone Green Project in which tourists can plant saplings in the villages themselves.
Apart from the community fund, the community is also earning income from selling food, snacks and handicrafts, potentially significant income. Some of the younger generation are also showing a keenness to learn English.
Village Women’s Organization leader Thandar Win said: “The income from this CBT project can be used for community development such as building schools, a library and a prayer meeting hall. The construction of the library and the prayer meeting hall has not yet been completed. But, we will spend this money for the villagers.”
The CBT project of Action Aid Myanmar will create job opportunities too, especially for women as a priority. At present these women take responsibility for catering services for the tourists and they are now earning regular income from this business.
One member said about their catering service: “Myanmar cuisine is oily so we reduce oil when cooking for the tourists. And we have to prepare fresh vegetables for them too. But we have no difficulty in our work as we can consult with Action Aid Myanmar in advance.”
Similarly, young girls from these villages have got house-keeping jobs at the guest houses and are reportedly paid between 80,000-100,000 kyat per month by Action Aid Myanmar.
ASEAN and many countries in the world have experience with this kind of programme but it is strange to Myanmar. Since this business in Myanmar is still young it needs to be handled with great care for the success and long-term benefit of the people.
The CBT programmes of Action Aid Myanmar is quite different from internationally practiced ‘Home Stay’ programmes. The Country Director of Action Aid Myanmar said: “For Community Based Tourism, it is a common approach that Home Stay means tourists stay in the homes of villagers. In Myanmar, it is a very new. I think all the stakeholders involved in the tourism sector will be concerned that western people should not stay in the home because this might affect the culture. We adjusted the main idea, so they stay very close to the community and live in a simple house, bamboo made, all the facilities, they will eat like the community, they will stay most of the time of the day learning from the community but sleep a little outside of the community, maybe half a kilometre away from the villages.”
Tourists will visit Yinn Daing Taung Dam and nearby villages by bicycle during their one and half day stay. According to the programme, they will visit two villages on the first day and then the remaining two villages the next day. During their stay in these villages, they can enjoy Myanmar cuisine, they can roam freely in the villages and study village life. Tour guides from the community and Action Aid’s private sector partner Journey Adventure Travel will assist them in their tour.
One Swiss tourist said: “It is such a nice experience. I had no idea when I arrived at this place, I did not know what to expect. Actually, this is quite joyful, so much nature and the people are so nice with their smiling faces. We saw how the villagers work and how they solve their problems. As for me, this is a very nice authentic moment.”
The Country Director of Action Aid Myanmar said that they had a plan to expand this new business to villages in Kayin State, Kayah State and Chin State.