Ecotourism (Nature Tourism) in Myanmar

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Introduction to Dolphins and Ayeyarwady River

(text compiled by Paul Bates, Harrison Institute)


Dolphins and the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River

Over the years a number of travel companies have offered tourists the opportunity to go on ‘dolphin-watching tours’ on the Ayeyarwady River.

However, this has often led to criticism from tourists who were disappointed when no dolphins were seen; from local communities who have traditionally fished with dolphins and who did not benefit from the tours; and from conservationists who warned of the dangers to the dolphins from boats actively seeking out these shy creatures and then pursuing them in the river.

A different approach has recently been put into practice in a community-based project. Centred on two villages, Myitkangyi and Hsithe, which are situated 45 and 60 km respectively north of Mandalay. This project promotes:

1. visiting (and thereby supporting) the villages where fishing communities have traditionally fished cooperatively with the river dolphins
2. learning from the fishermen and women how to cast a traditional fishing net
3. learning about the lives of those who live in these beautiful, remote villages, which are without roads and mostly without electricity
4. the opportunity to observe responsibly dolphins (should they be sighted) and other wildlife, especially winter migrant birds (November to March) with fishermen/women who have a traditional bond with the dolphins and are sensitive to the needs of wildlife
5. buying handicrafts made in the village and thereby supporting local communities and dolphin conservation.


Much information about this project, including numerous photographs is available on its dedicated website.

Visiting the ‘dolphin villages’

Currently all visits to the project villages must be pre-booked. This is a simple service (further information). It is essential in order to ensure that tourism does not adversely affect the way-of-life of the fishermen/women of Hsithe and Myitkangyi. It also ensures that villagers, who would otherwise be working in the fields or fishing, are available to support the various activities for the tourists (such as net casting, boat trips, and village tours) and that there is a boat to meet the tourists at the jetty in Singu for Hsithe or Kanphyu for Myitkangyi.

Visiting is a wonderful adventure. It can either be undertaken by car from Mandalay and then by village boat (complete with life jackets and binoculars for wildlife watching) to the final destination or, for those with more time, it can be part of a longer and truly memorable river boat cruise.

Most Myanmar/international tour agencies can easily arrange a visit to the villages – these can be one-off visits for those travelling independently or incorporated as part of a tour. Agencies that have already sent visitors to the new destinations or who have visited these destinations themselves include:

GeoDiscover Travel Contact
Azure Sky Travel Contact
Tour Mandalay Contact
Asian Trails Contact
Grand Lotus Travel Contact
SST Travel Contact
Gulliver Travels Contact
Inside Burma Contact
Diethelm Travel Contact
Destination Asia Contact
ICS Indochina Service Contact
Myanmar Discovery Contact
Santhitsalamin Contact
Mighty Myanmar Travel Contact
Easia Travel Contact
Omicron Travel Contact
Taste of Myanmar Contact

Or book a bespoke river cruise on your own river boat by contacting:
Azure Sky Travel Contact