Iconic Burma Photo Tour + Golden Triangle
A. P. Soe, what a star he is… Travelling & photographing the beauty & heritage of his fabulous country with him was an experience I will never forget. I learned so much…
–Richard Cawthra, United Kingdom
Iconic Myanmar & The Golden Triangle is a Luminous Journeys original. The itinerary not only offers the great photogenic icons of the country, but takes you off the beaten path for rare image making opportunities in the Golden Triangle. Here you will trek to the village of a vanishing tribe and spend most of the day experiencing and photographing them, visit other tribal villages where they still dress in the traditional way, and be able to photograph the stunning rice terraces at their photogenic best before the harvest.
The Big 4 Myanmar iconic locations are Yangon’s magnificent 2,500 year old Shwedagon Pagoda, (plus fascinating street life); the floating world of magical Inle Lake and its uniquely photogenic Intha fishermen; the 2,220 strong almost surreal temple-scape of ancient Bagan; and many of the numerous impact image making opportunities of the The Mandalay Array. (Mandalay & environs is Steve McCurry’s favorite place in Myanmar to photograph).
A.P. Soe is the winner of numerous international photography awards, including garnering the most popular vote at the 2010 Hasselblad Masters. He’s perhaps the most popular photographer in Myanmar, as well as one of the country’s most experienced photo tour leaders. He knows the land, light and people intimately, put’s your image making above his own, and is also great fun to work with! To learn more about A.P. please see his Biography/Gallery and Testimonials.
“Since attending a Luminous Journeys photo tour in Myanmar with A.P. Soe, I’ve become so passionate about photography that I started traveling more, trying to apply the valuable techniques I learnt during the tour. People who see my photos sometimes ask me if I’m a professional photographer. This is how much AP helped me improve! I am very grateful to AP for that but also for being such a nice person and friend, it really made the photo tour an absolutely memorable experience that I keep building on day after day.”— Eddie Hui-Bon-Hoa, France
NOTE: Yes, the country is very safe for travelers. Safer that the US, EU, or neighboring Thailand. This is a fact. Myanmar’s very remote troubles have zero affect on tourism, except for the drop in visitors! This is all the more reason for photographers to come and enjoy the Golden Land and its wonderful people, not stay away. If you have doubts, please have a look at this article. And this one.
Highlights - Iconic Myanmar
The Magnificent 2,500 Year Old Shwedagon Pagoda
The Mandalay Array – Mingun & The U Bein Bridge + Taw Gyi Festival of Lights!
Fascinating Monasteries & Nunneries
Magical Inle Lake - Floating Villages, Intha Fishermen + Intha Festival on Inle Lake!
Lost City of Mrauk U + the “Tattoo Tribes” of the Lay Myo River
Vanishing Tribes of the Golden Triangle
Hot Air Balloon over the Surreal Temple-Scape of Ancient Bagan
Stunning Rice Terraces of the Golden Triangle
The Friendliest People on the Planet!
Iconic Myanmar & The Golden Triangle
Day 1 – Yangon – Spectacular Shwedagon
A Luminous Journeys representative will greet you at the airport whatever day or time you may arrive, no worries! Program begins at 3 pm with a meet & greet, followed by your first photo shoot at Shwedagon Pagoda and a nearby Buddhist monastery. A special Welcome Dinner & slideshow presentation by Aung Pyae Soe finishes the day.
Day 2 – Yangon – Kyaing Tong – Circle Train, Golden Plane
Yangon’s intriguing old Circle Trains, which circumnavigate the city’s rural outskirts, are gradually being replaced. This will be one of the last chances to photograph with these rustic train cars. Stop at a lively rail market, then a novice nunnery w/ girls in ethereal pink robes. After lunch fly to the Golden Triangle in time to shoot gorgeous Thanlwin river scenes.
Day 3 – Kyaing Tong – Colorful Tribes & Rice Terraces
Photo-trek the main rice terrace area, as well as a tribal village or two. Among the dozen or so tribes living in the area are the Akha & Lahu, each with their distinctive clothing, weaving & religious practices. Return by nightfall to relax & enjoy a traditional eastern Shan style dinner at our favorite restaurant, which you will visit often!
Day 4 – Golden Triangle – The Mysterious En
Photo drive & trek into the hills to the mysteriously wonderful En people, found nowhere else on earth, and considered a “vanishing tribe”. The En are animists who wear all black and color their teeth black, both by a natural die and betel nut. Free access to shoot around the chief’s village, including low light and chiaroscuro interiors and portraits.
Day 5 – Kyaing Tong – Mandalay – Tribal Market & Sunset Bridge
This morning photograph the fascinating Kyaing Tong market where you will see several rare & colorful tribal groups buying & selling. Return to hotel for free time and/or image review and/or Lightroom tips & tricks. The only flight out is mid-afternoon, and hopefully we will arrive in time to visit the U Bein Bridge – the largest teak structure on earth - before sunset.
Day 7 – Mandalay – Amazing Mingun & Festival of Lights
Big day today! Breakfast followed by a private Irrawaddy River cruise to the Mingun Complex. In addition to the massive, earthquake cracked Mingun temple, is the stunning all white temple of Hsinbyume, the 90-ton Mingun Bell & more. In the afternoon hit Buddha Street marble carvers with special access. Tonight will be the Festival of Lights all over the city, known as Thadingyut. It’s a magical atmosphere, and AP will have some superb locations for night street photography.
Day 9 – Inle Lake - Indein – Lake Festival, Mysterious Ruins, Tribes
After the morning festival procession on the lake, we’ll “sail” in longtail boats to Indein village, home of Inle’s largest 5-day market, which draws various tribes from the surrounding hills. Free shoot the market & then w/ local monks at the nearby temple ruins of Nyaung Oak. On return visit the Padaung for a “studio” portrait and environmental portrait session. The Padaung are Myanmar’s most distinctive vanishing tribe, by virtue of the many brass rings worn around the necks of females.
Day 11 – Bagan – Hot Air Aerials over 2,220 Temples
Steeped in ancient mystique, the 2,220 temples of Bagan are one of the great archaeological sites of the world, & on virtually every travel photographer’s bucket list. Optional aerial shoot from a hot air balloon at sunrise. Those not flying over the ancient temple-scape and Irrawaddy River, will have a great angle on the temples and balloons from the ground. Later you’ll have another new sunset angle, & in between visit magnificent Ananda Pagoda and an orphan monastery.
Day 13 – Yangon – Chinatown Morning & Free Time
After the best buffet breakfast in Yangon, grab your gear & set out for a final street shoot in the lively & exotic Chinatown morning market. Your day is then free for image review w/ AP, shopping at the 2000 shops of Scott Market near the hotel, or lounge by the pool. You will have earned it! Special Farewell Dinner tonight, w/ spectacular views over the city.
Day 6 – Mandalay – Sunrise Hill, Cottage Industries, Pagoda Festival
Catch the evocative city sunrise from our hidden monastery location on Mandalay Hill. Mandalay is so rich in photo locations that we cannot possibly shoot them all! Street shoot in the cottage industry area, visit the monastery of the fallen Buddha, plus other locations. This evening is a very special treat, the Kyauk Taw Gyi temple festival and Buddhist lighting ceremonies.
Day 8 – Mandalay – Inle Lake – Teakwood Monks & Fishermen Sunset
The little town of Nyaungshwe (gateway to Inle) is chock full of little monasteries and nunneries, as well as excellent restaurants. Lunch here at an LJ favorite establishment that features delicious home-made rice pasta dishes and a marvelous Inle style avocado salad. After lunch photograph the novice teakwood monastery w/ oval windows, then hit the lake. Sunset shoot w/ Intha fishermen.
Day 10 – Inle – Bagan – Festival Long Canoe Racing & Legendary Bagan
More exciting festival action and one-legged long canoe racing on the lake this morning. After lunch it will be tough to check out It will be tough to leave, but leave we must to catch out mid-afternoon flight. We should arrive in legendary Bagan in time for sunset temple-scapes ithat border on the surreal.
Day 12 – Bagan – Yangon – Gone Baby Shwezigon, Pretty in Pink
Jam packed day of photography and culture, starting with a new sunrise temple location. After breakfast visit Shwezigon Pagoda and it’s hall of pillars where monks enter and exit the pagoda, then shoot scenes inside the pagoda grounds. In the early afternoon visit a nearby nunnery to visit the young ladies in pink robes, and later catch a late afternoon flight back to Yangon.
Day 14 – Myanmar Departure or Mrauk U Extension
According to your individual departure time, you’ll be driven to the airport and bid a fond farewell. You’ll miss this place, but fortunately you’ll have unforgettable memories that will continue to resonate for a very long time. Not to mention a slew of great new images to show off! For those who cannot bare to leave yet, the flight to Mrauk U departs about noon.
*Please note the above itinerary is only a brief. A 30+ page detailed schedule and information kit concerning traveling for photography in Myanmar will be sent to all participants approximately 100 days prior to tour start date.
5 Day Extension
Journey to the Lost City
Should you choose to go on the extension to Mrauk U… The Lost City is the stuff of legend. It was virtually unknown outside Asia in its prime; and remains so even now. It was as wealthy as Amsterdam or London by 1635, with a population of 160,000 including thousands of foreign traders, merchants & mercenaries. The Arakan Kings even reached into Japan to hire Samurai warriors, who became their most trusted bodyguards!
The kingdom controlled vast coastal regions from western Myanmar well into eastern India to the mouth of the Ganges River. When Mrauk U finally fell to the Bamar in 1784, it was abandoned and largely forgotten. Grand palaces, 19-miles of fortifications, and some 700 uniquely designed Buddhist temples were slowly swallowed by the jungle. Today the jungle is thick only with irony; these grand symbols of a once bustling dynastic capitol serving as little more than an exotic backdrop for what is now a sleepy rural village. The world still doesn’t know it’s here. You do, and you’ll have the rare opportunity to photograph it with A.P. Soe.
A main highlight of this extension will be a fascinating river journey to photograph a “vanishing tribe” of Chin people, whose women have adorned their faces with intricate tattoos for centuries, a practice that has been outlawed and survives only on the faces of these women.
Day 1 – Yangon – Sittwe – Short Flight to a Different World
Although Sittwe is a long way from being a lost city, it is a world of its own and an interesting place, especially for a photographer. Our wonderful guide Miss Linn Linn will greet us at the airport and show us a bit of the crumbling former British port town on the way to lunch. Afternoon street shoot amongst the largely ethnic Bengali population.
Day 2 – Sittwe – Mrauk U – Journey to the Lost City
This morning photograph Sittwe’s fascinating fish market on the Bay of Bengal. Then board a private boat for the river journey to Mrauk U, with its more than 700 unique temples & temple fortresses. The kingdom once extended to the Ganges River in India, and lasted 354 years before being sacked & abandoned to the jungle for more than two centuries.
Day 3 – Mrauk U – Lost Sunrise & Fortress Temples
Photograph the misty Mrauk U temple valley at sunrise, and later explore the temple fortresses of Shitthaung and Kothaung, each dating to the mid 1500’s and taking more than a decade to construct. Late afternoon shoot around the monastery at the foot of Htukkanthein, and for sunset climb the hill for position above its mushroom shaped fortress dome that looks like something out of Indiana Jones.
Day 4 – Mrauk U – Chin Villages – Vanishing “Tattoo Tribes”
Early rise for another hilltop angle overlooking the low warm light, mist and smoke of the temple valley below. After breakfast take to the Lay Myo River for a boat trip to photograph the vanishing Chin “tattoo tribes”. The ancient practice is banned & dying out. These women are the last of their respective lines. Their tattoos originated as branding, & became adornment.
Day 5 – Mrauk U – Sittwe – Yangon – Sunrise & Return
Time permitting, A.P. will take you to yet another sunrise landscape location. The return river trip to Sittwe and flight to Yangon follow. Arrive about 4:30 pm. If you plan to depart Yangon tonight, best to allow for delays and schedule a late flight. Alternatively, you may wish to spend another night in Yangon. This is not included in the extension price, but we are of course happy to book it for you at less than internet prices.
What’s Included in the Price of Your Myanmar Photo Tour?
Photographer fees and top English speaking guide
In-country flights, airport & ground transport
All meals from Day 1 dinner through Day 14 breakfast
Pleanty of bottled water & refresh towels throughout
All entrance, zone and camera fees
Local model, village, monsastery donations
Drinks @ lunches & dinners
Any personal purchases
Trip cancellation or medical insurance
Gratuities for hotel porters, local guide & drivers
Myanmar visa fee
End of trip gratuities for photographer tour leader
More Knowledge – Better Pictures
Uniquely Burma – Thanaka
Thanaka paste, made from the fragrant Thanaka tree, has been used in Myanmar for more than 2,000 years . The little girl shown on the left has gone a bit over the top with her Thanaka, which is worn daily by a majority of Myanmar women and children, but less so by men. The most popular varieties are grown in the Sagaing (Shwebo) and Magway (Shinmadaung) regions.
The paste is considered a fashion statement by many, and also serves as a natural sunscreen, skin cooler, and is also believed to help in the mitigation of acne. It comes in many personalized designs, the most common being circular patches on each cheek and a line down the bridge of the nose.
Other styles range from well-drawn Bodhi leaves on both cheeks to Mickey Mouse to heavy duty smear jobs. It is sometimes applied to all exposed skin, head to toe. In Burmese this is called thanaka chi zoun gaung zoun
Most Buddhist Nation on Earth
More than any other mostly Buddhist country in the world, Myanmar wears its religion on its sleeve, so to speak. 89% of the country is Buddhist. Red or maroon robed monks are seen everywhere you go, from morning alms rounds on the streets to visiting a mobile phone shop. Pink robed nuns operate in a more limited but similar fashion as monks, and their numbers are considerably fewer. Photographically, the unique pink in the right light makes for some lovely, ethereal images.
The monastery system dates back to the 11th century, and is central to Burmese life. Monasteries and nunneries are supported by the local community. In return, the monastery is always there in various ways to help support the community. They provide Buddhist education, council, ceremonial services, physical labor for community projects, shelter, and even permanent residence for the elderly or orphaned.