[Editor’s Note]: I first met Min during my second trip to Myanmar. He gave me such a friendly welcome and offered great advice about where to travel and what to do. He accompanied me on Yangon’s Circular train journey and we hopped off a few times to explore the very authentic fruit and veggie markets. He is a walking encyclopaedia of Myanmar and nobody should plan a trip to Myanmar without first drawing on Min’s experience and knowledge of this incredible country.
This interview was conducted via email in late September 2014:
Globerovers (GR): How would you describe the services you offer to travelers in your area?
Min Than Htut (MTH): We plan travellers’ itineraries and offer a full range of travel services for independent travellers, or only selected services such as car & driver and / or a guide. We also offer group tours which reduce the cost per person.
GR: For how long have you been providing travel services?
MTH: I entered the hospitality industry in 2010 as a bell-boy at a Yangon hotel. I then worked at a travel agency as operations assistant and later as a freelance tour guide. In 2013 I established a travel agency, PRO NITI TRAVEL, and while I am involved in all phases of travel planning, I still do some guiding services myself. I just love showing travellers around Myanmar.
GR: What is the most challenging part of your job?
MTH: The political (in)stability in Myanmar remains a challenge to the local travel industry. However, it has improved significantly over the past few years. Since Myanmar made these political reforms, we have seen a huge surge in international tourist arrivals. With the sudden influx of tourists we have a shortage of accommodation which resulted in a rapid increase in hotel rates. Domestic flights are also still quite expensive because international travellers have to pay a premium rate. Also, from time to time we still have spots of unrest in some parts of the country which unfortunately scares off some travellers. International payments also remains a challenge as most travel operators, hotels and retailers still can not accept international credit cards or online payment systems such as PayPal.
GR: Which area or region in your country do you feel you know best and that you are a specialist?
MTH: I know Myanmar very well and have travelled quite extensively. However, I do tend to specialise in the Chin State (in the northwest), Mon State (in the southeast) and the Kayin State along the Thai border just north of the Mon State. I also specialise in the Big Four destinations (the must see places) which are Yangon, the temples of Bagan, Mandalay, and the Inle Lake area.
GR: What type of travel experiences do you feel you offer the very best, better than anybody else?
MTH: I really like to take travellers on trekking trips through the Chin State. The nature is awesome here and the local people have such an interesting culture. For those who love nature and beautiful landscapes, trekking around the Kayin Sate is an unforgettable experience.
GR: The key audience of the travelers.
MTH: Most of Myanmar is off the beaten track because we still have very few travellers compared with other countries in Southeast Asia. On many trips our travellers don’t come across any other international travellers for several days. Among the more remote destinations are in Chin State, in particular to meet the unique people living in this region. Loikaw in Kayan State is also an amazing place where we visit the so-called “long-neck women” of the Kayan tribe. The Kayan is a subgroup of the Karenni people (referred to as the Red Karen) which is a Tibeto-Burman ethnic minority here in Myanmar. This area in Kayan State just recently opened for international travellers and its really an incredible place!
GR: We bet you love your entire country, but which areas or regions would you most highly recommend to travelers. Don’t just recommend the region where you operate.
MTH: Myanmar is so diverse. We have culture, nature historical sites, and great food. For those who love beaches, I would recommend Ngwe Saung Beach which is clean, beautiful, and quiet, Kantharyar Beach which is a very untouched beach with few guesthouses and restaurants so very people go there. Here you can have the lovely beach for yourself during certain time of the year. Other places I can highly recommend is Hsipaw and Keng Tung (both in Shan State) and much of Chin State. These destinations are great for trekkers to explore the culture and traditions of Myanmar. Must-see places are the temples of Bagan, Inle Lake, and the lovely city Mandalay.
GR: What is the best time of the year to visit the region where you operate?
MTH: When visiting Myanmar it is important to take into account the season as weather does affect travel. We have two main seasons. Generally speaking, October to end of March is the high season because the weather is pleasant in most regions. However, the best time to visit is January and February when the weather is even better. However this is also the peak season for international travellers which currently create shortages of accommodation so rates are at a premium! A cheaper and less busy period, with still good weather, is September when it is still low season and rates are therefore much lower. The remainder of the year it can be quite rainy in some areas, and also very hot!
GR: Are there any special festivals which travellers to your country should experience?
MTH: Myanmar is known as the land of festivals. We have a festival almost every month. Among them, the most popular is the Water Festival held in April. This is our New Year and celebrated across the entire country. Another spectacular festival is the Tazaungdaing festival (also known as the Festival of Lights) held in early November. In Taunggyi (Shan State) hot air balloons lit with candles are released on a full moon evening. Celebrated a little earlier than the Tazaungdaing festival, is the Thadingyut lighting festival held across Myanmar. There are also some regional festivals such as the Taung Pyone Nat festival which is held annual during August in Taung Pyone village just north of Mandalay. This 6-day festival offers cultural dances, music, magicians, fortunetellers and even tattoo shops.
GR: Travelers from which countries would you say are the very best people to work with. While I know all your guests are awesome people, please single out a few countries which you would say consistently send you really nice people.
MTH: Honestly, I think most people who travel to Myanmar are great people. We just love to show Myanmar to travellers who are interested to see and experience our country.
GR: Do you think changes in your natural environment is having a positive or negative effect on the future of tourism to the region where you operate?
MTH: The biggest environmental issue we are facing at the moment is at Inle Lake, Myanmar’s second-largest freshwater lake and ranked among the top travel destinations. Tourist hotels are mushrooming along the shorelines and the increase in travellers are slowly eroding the traditional lifestyles of the local tribes. Water pollution is becoming a serious issue, and to make it worse, the water level has shrunk significantly due to several years of poor rainfall. Unless developers and the government place the environment ahead of profits, the future of this once-pristine lake is grim.
GR: Does the political climate in your country affect your current business from time to time? In other words, does local political problems sometimes keep travelers away?
MTH: The political climate is one of the biggest effects on international tourist arrivals in Myanmar. Unrest often flares up in Rakhine State and even though it is far away from most traveller paths, some travellers easily cancels their trips to Myanmar when they hear about the unrest.
GR: We always hear about travelers worried about government warnings not to go to certain countries. Do these warnings affect your country and how can you assure travellers that it is safe to travel to your country and your region.
MTH: Unrest in Myanmar is normally very localised, so even when there is some unrest in an area, it is perfectly safe to travel in the rest of Myanmar as we just avoid the unrest areas. Also, most of the popular destinations never have any unrests. In general, the people of Myanmar are very hospitable and love to meet international travellers.
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BBC NEWS: Min in an interview by BBC News