Ecotourism is commonly defined as nature and culture based tourism that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation, and ensures benefits to the local community. By this definition, ecotourism requires wilderness, something of which Myanmar has no shortage. The country has been identified as one of 25 hotspots of biodiversity, home to an astonishing 1017 species of birds (not including other migratory species), 300 species of mammals, 360 species of reptiles and 1014 species of butterflies. The forests are still home to tigers and wild elephants, as well as leopards, bears, deer and other large mammals.
The country has been identified as one of 25 hotspots of biodiversity, home to an astonishing 1017 species of birds (not including other migratory species), 300 species of mammals, 360 species of reptiles and 1014 species of butterflies.
Currently there are 33 national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and protected areas in the country. Of these, 15 are open to visitors and offer bird watching opportunities, butterfly and orchid tours, and other nature-based activities.Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park in Sagaing Division, Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary in Kachin State and Moeyinggyi Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary near Bago have all become firm visitor favourites.
Northern Myanmar is also home to the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve, the crowning achievement of the country’s park system. It is the world’s biggest protected area for tigers.
For adventure lovers, Myanmar’s mountains are beginning to open up a whole new range of possibilities. Trekking and hill walking are already well established around Inle Lake, Kalaw and Kengtung in Shan State. Working elephant camps can be visited in teak forests not far from Mandalay and Yangon. The dormant volcano Mt Popa, easily visible from Bagan, makes an enjoyable side trip, while just across the Ayeyarwady River, Natmataung is less than a day’s drive away in southern Chin State. At 10,000 feet, it is the highest mountain in central Myanmar and is a favourite among botanists.
The most spectacular scenery and exciting adventure prospects, however, are reserved for the far north of the country, in the easternmost reaches of the Himalayas. The town of Putao is the starting point for adventure travel to this region. Visitors can trek through national parkland, which is home to some of Myanmar’s most exotic and primitive hill tribes. The region is also the point of origin for the Ayeyarwady River, whose raging headwaters are perfect for commercial rafting expeditions offered by a local resort lodge. Mountain biking and elephant trekking can also be arranged. Long trekking expeditions can be taken to 5889-metre Mt Khakabarazi, Southeast Asia’s tallest peak. On the slopes of the mountain, subtropical rainforests give way to temperate cloud forests, Eastern Himalayan fir trees and finally subalpine tundra, all in the space of a few miles.
Northern Myanmar is also home to the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve, the crowning achievement of the country’s park system. Designated in 2003 and 21,890 square kilometres in size, it is the world’s biggest protected area for tigers. Although seemingly remote, it has great prospects for the development of ecotourism as it can be reached by flight from Yangon to Myitkyina, followed by a three-hour car ride to the town of Tanai in the heart of the valley. From there elephants can be hired to access the remote corners of the reserve.
Attention has also been turning to Myanmar’s rich and varied coastline, which stretches for more than 1000 miles from the Bay of Bengal to the Andaman Sea. Apart from the established palm-fringed beaches of Ngapali,Ngwe Saung and Chaungtha, the Myeik Archipelago in Myanmar’s far south is just starting to open up its enormous potential for scuba diving, game fishing, kayaking and island hopping. A continuation of the islands near Phuket in Thailand, the islands of the Myeik Archipelago are characterised by beautiful outcrops of thick tropical rainforest and white coral beaches. Cut off from the mainland and human contact for thousands of years, they have developed their own unique ecosystems. One of the largest, Lampi Island, was designated as Myanmar’s first marine park.
Attention has also been turning to Myanmar’s rich and varied coastline, which stretches for more than 1000 miles from the Bay of Bengal to the Andaman Sea.