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Q&A with our Burma Tour Leader, Nikki

| Words by Nikki Zimbler |

An exciting, vibrant, friendly country, filled with potential, beautiful landscapes and totally unique experiences. Now is the perfect time to visit!

How long have you been tour leading for Insider Journeys?

Just over 2 years now!

How many journeys have you led to Burma so far?

15 (our 9-day Highlights of Burma and 13-day a Burma Revealed) with 2 more coming up before the end of 2013!

Is tour leading different in Burma compared to other destinations in Asia?

Logistically, there can be quite a few last minute changes re transport, and flights are regularly delayed. But this is also the only country that I lead tours in where the flights can also take off EARLY, so you have to have your wits about you!

Twitter style – could you sum up Burma in 140 characters?

An exciting, vibrant, friendly country, filled with potential, beautiful landscapes and totally unique experiences. Now is the perfect time to visit!

What surprised you the most about Burma?

The genuine smiles and friendliness of everyone I meet.

What’s your favourite Burmese dish? We hear the tea is quite strong.

Mohingar CurryMohingar Curry

I’m a big fan of the sweet curries – especially mutton curry with paprika potatoes, followed by a serving of jaggery jelly – made from sugar palm – delicious!

I love the green tea here – the regular tea is very sweet, made from condensed milk and the coffee is seriously strong!!

How have you and your travellers found the locals in Burma?

We are totally overwhelmed by their genuine warmth, smiles and fascination in us. They love to take photos with us, ask us about our lives and EVERYBODY responds to us saying ‘Mingalabar’ (hello), with a smile, wave and a ‘hello’ back.

What’s your favourite experience in Burma so far? And what do your travellers like most?

Lunch at a nunnery in Mandalay – a truly unique experience – we have a wonderful Question and Answer session working both ways - there have been some amazing conversations about politics, religion, hobbies, the Internet, including being asked what we search for on Google, and teaching the lovely ladies about online shopping!! We share photos and videos of our families and homes. Their smiles, warmth and serenity are truly infectious.

Our travellers also love the time we spend on Inle Lake, as well as watching the stunning sunsets in Bagan and visiting Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon – the local 4 hour train ride from Kalaw is also extremely popular – another chance to interact with the wonderful local people.

Your most amusing experience so far?

Thanaka - used for sun protection

The ladies and children of Burma wear thanaka on their face – a yellow sunscreen/moisturizer made from a local tree bark – we were lucky enough to watch a novice monk procession in Baganand while we were waiting for the young boys to come through the village on horseback on their way to the monastery, my entire group was surrounded by some local villagers and we all had thanaka applied to our faces – even the men!! It was a wonderful, fun experience – and we laughed and joked with everyone in the village, dancing to local music and eating local snacks. Unforgettable!!

Finally, what’s your advice for first-timers to Burma?

Prepare yourself for being dusty!! We have to take our shoes AND socks off for all temple visits, so it can be a bit hot walking around on stone and brick floors! And a bit painful for our delicate feet!

Spiked temples of Bagan, BurmaThe temples fo Bagan

We visit some extremely remote areas, travelling by horse and cart – a bit bumpy but great fun!

Bring clean, unfolded, unmarked US dollar bills dated 2006 onwards – there are only a handful of ATM machines that were introduced in November 2012 – we mainly use money exchangers, changing dollars into the local currency of the Kyat.

The local ladies love make-up and perfume, so if you wish to bring any items to donate along the way, there is a big demand for this, especially in the rural villages! And little bottles of shampoo, pens, pencils, notebooks and stickers for the children.

We have recently updated our Burma Revealed small group tours in 2014. Read why and how we did this or see the new itinerary or independent traveller reviews.