Ampersand's Travels...

Insiders’ Q&A with Khin Omar Win from ‘Balloons over Bagan’

Welcome back to Ampersand’s Insiders’ Q&A series where we pick the brains of our special suppliers and ask them to share their tips and local perspective on some of our favourite destinations.

Sharing her insights with us this time is Khin Omar Win who, along with her husband Brett Melzer, has been offering hot air balloon journeys over Burma's Bagan temples for more than 10 years - ‘Balloons over Bagan’. They have also set up a brand new luxury lodge in Bhutan called Gangtey Goenpa Lodge, which received its first guests in September 2013 and is launching ballooning rides in late 2014.

Omar

I’m new here. Please tell me something interesting about Burma… 
It’s a country just opening up after decades of isolation, rich in history and culture.  It has 135 tribes, a colonial style capital, Yangon, in the south, the ancient kingdom of over 2500 pagodas in its centre and hill tribes in the north.  If you have time we also have pristine beaches barely discovered.

Please tell me a bit about yourself...
I was born in Yangon and moved to England at the age of 5 with my family. I returned on my own to Myanmar in 1997, after I finished University in the UK.  The country had just started to 'open' and whilst working at the UN, I met Brett, my Australian husband, by chance in Yangon.  Brett had the idea of flying balloons in Bagan so we left our respective jobs and started Balloons over Bagan. We launched our first balloon on the eve of the millennium, a fortuitous beginning!

Are there any do’s and don’ts tourists should observe while in Burma? 
Myanmar is a polite and conservative culture, so do dress respectfully and avoid wearing shorts and revealing clothes to the pagodas. Obvious but still not adhered to by many.  Don't give money or presents to children who beg at the temples as this encourages parents to take children out of school to beg.  Do donate to organised charities – your visit can positively impact the country in many ways.

I’d like to try something off-the-beaten track here – what do you recommend? 
Kentung (also called Khaing Tong) for hill tribes, the Myeik Archeopolago for undiscovered islands and not a tourist in sight!

Which attraction should I definitely make time to see? 
The Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the Buddhist world's wonders.

Which of the “must visit” attractions should I avoid? 
'Jumping cats' at the Jumping Cat Monastry on InleLake.  The 'jumping cats' are actually pets that the monastery's resident monks taught to jump through small hoops during their rest time.  On the Inle tourist trail, it's better to save the time and spend longer elsewhere.

I’d like to buy an unusual souvenir – what do you recommend? 
Get a set of Burmese opium weights.  These can be found in antique shops in Yangon and are weights in the shape of birds, originally used in the colonial times.  Although the originals are rare and expensive there are many copies which are both attractive and affordable.

Where can I take the best picture of Bagan?  
From a balloon! 

I’m going to propose to my partner while I’m here – where should I do it? 
There's nowhere more romantic than on one of our balloons! 

What’s the best restaurant in Bagan / Yangon right now? 
In Yangon – Le Planteur for fine dining, Sharky's for western food and Feel Restaurant for more local style Myanmar food.  In Bagan – Black Bamboo, Queen Restaurant, Star Bean and Sarabar 3 are good for a relaxed meal.

And where’s best for drinks?
With a wine and some Myanmar Beers, hire a private boat for a sunset cruise along the Irrawaddy River in Bagan.  Dock at a secluded sandbank from which to see your own private sunset.

Are there any cultural events or exhibits I should see while I’m in Burma? 
There are festivals all throughout the year. There will be something special to see when you visit. 

Do you support any community projects in Burma?
We support over a dozen local schools in Bagan donating books, materials and funding for renovations, provide funding for local charities that provide free healthcare and funeral services to the poorest in the community, the local old peoples home, the women and child maternal welfare association and sponsor 7 orphans in the delta, amongst other things.

Do you have any interesting new plans on the horizon?  
We are currently embarking on a new boutique hotel project situated in Bagan as well as preparing for a new balloon operation in Bhutan to launch in 2014.

BURMA - Ballons over Bagan

To book your tailor-made journey to Burma or Bhutan featuring Omar's hot air ballooning experiences, please contact Ampersand's South East Asia sales consultant, Mark Wright on +44(0)20 7819 8907 or email mark@ampersandtravel.com