Today I ventured off the tourist path, traveling to a community lodge outside the town of Myaing. Life seemed to slow down as we drove by rice and sesame fields, with trucks turning into ox-carts. After arriving at the lodge, the villagers delivered a presentation about the community-based tourism initiative, the first (and only) of its kind in Myanmar. The tourism official behind the project told us that at first the villagers were skeptical, asking “Why will tourists visit us? We have no pagodas.” He responded that as long as the villagers to keep their communities free of litter, the tourists will come. And come we did. The guests at the community lodge were tired of visiting pagodas and wanted to experience rural life in Myanmar.
After the presentation the women of the village prepared a simple, but tasty lunch for us. Some of us then helped the villagers with the sesame harvest, weaving, and other work activities. Sustainability is a key part of the tourism project, and later in the day we were each given a tree seedling to plant. I planted an orange tree that I’m hoping will provide fruit for the villagers in the coming years.
When we made it back to the lodge at the end of the day, chairs were lined up for us facing the setting sun. Better yet, peanuts and Myanamar Beer were waiting. One of the Myanmar Beer bottle caps was the luckiest of the trip, with a prize of 10,000 kyat (~7.50 USD)! The villagers were talking about the big win all evening, and we decided to donate the prize to the village.
After the sunset we were invited into the kitchen to watch the preparation of traditional Burmese cuisine. As expected, the ingredients included loads of oil, garlic, chilies, ginger, and salt. After dinner we moved outside for a short dance performance, complete with live music.
At the end of the evening I retired to my traditional-style room, which had a mattress on the floor and mosquito net, but no air conditioning. Shared bathroom facilities with cold water showers were available.
After breakfast the next morning, I was On the Road to Mandalay.
(All of my photos at the community lodge were taken on my phone, because it was less conspicuous than my large camera. Sadly, all the photos on my phone were lost later in the trip. A fellow guest at the community lodge shared the single photo included in this post, a group photo with our faces decorated with thanakha.)