5 Fun Things More People Should Do In Myanmar

In this post, I’ll take you through 5 things I think more people should do in Myanmar, and why. If you haven’t already, be sure to read my previous post – 5 Beautiful Things Everybody Gets To See in Myanmar.

Sometimes it seems that every tourist in Myanmar is trying to do things that no one is doing. There are some great things to see and do, but if you yearn for  experiences that are a little more rare, try a few of these.

1) Sunrise from anywhere, in Mandalay

Everyone is pretty much obsessed with sunset in Myanmar. For good reason – it’s beautiful. But don’t forget about the equally beautiful sunrise.

On my first morning in my lovely guesthouse (Ma Ma’s Guesthouse) in Mandalay, I went up to the roof balcony at about 6am.  By 6.30am, the sun was starting to peak over the hills, giving me my first daylight view of the city.  I also managed to accidentally give a good scare to one of the guesthouse staff. She came up to sweep the floor, and wasn’t expecting a foreigner behind the door taking pictures. So I took a picture of her too.

They say Mandalay Hill is an excellent place for sunrise and sunset. I didn’t make it there that early. For me, it was a fine, deserted walk up in the middle of the day. Occasionally I was stopped and asked to pose for photos. To be back in Asia is to be a mini-celebrity again!

2) A Scooter Trek from Hsipaw Continue reading

6 ways to have an Inspiring Adventure

In February 2014, I’m going to Myanmar and Thailand. I want to tell you how I plan this trip, so that you can take your own Inspiring Adventures too.

Firstly, what is an Inspiring Adventure?

An Inspiring Adventure is anything you want it to be. Inspiring Adventures explore the world. Exotic new countries and the cities you live in. They are fun, unusual, exciting, and maybe a little outside your comfort zone. They might teach you a new skill, or introduce you to an amazing person, or a whole new way of life.  They benefit the people you encounter, and probably enrich your life too.

So now you know what it is , how are you going to have one?

1. Have a purpose

Ask yourself why you are going. Perhaps an opportunity has come up right now, and you just have to take it and make the most of it. Perhaps you’ve been planning all the details for years.  Either way, ask yourself what the purpose of this adventure is going to be.

For me, it’s to have an adventure with a healthy dose of social benefit. The adventure part just happens. You don’t have to plan that. In fact my definition of adventure includes “an uncertain outcome…”  What’s the point of going if you know everything that’ll happen to you?

The social benefit part is more challenging. I love to showcase the best examples of social enterprise and responsible tourism that I can find. That means step 2.

2. Do your research

Who’s doing what you want to do?  Who’s already done it?  And who can you ask? Google. Start typing in relevant search terms that align with your mission and see who pops up top. Read about them and organisations. Send them an email about yourself, your adventure and your purpose. Make it personal.

They might not all write back, but some of them will, and their connections will help you. For me, the British Council in Myanmar was especially responsive, and has connected me with a responsible travel specialist.  And of course, don’t forget to ask your friends.

3. Tell everyone you know Continue reading

What is Social Enterprise?

I was recently invited to be part of the Beyond Sports Summit, in Philadelphia to help the audience answer one question – What is Social Enterprise? I want to give you an answer to that question too.  It’s a question that keeps coming up, and I don’t think it’s going away any time soon.

A little background

I’ve worked with several different social enterprise support services in London over the past couple of years, and had the privilege to know and work with a number of social entrepreneurs over that time.  When the organising team contacted me to answer the “what is social enterprise” question, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

You see, even for us in the social enterprise industry, we don’t all have one strict definition that everyone around the world agrees on.  We do all have a sense of what it means, and I’ll give you my answer:

Social Enterprises use financially sustainable business models to solve social problems.  

Wikipedia says Social Enterprises apply “commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximising profits for external shareholders.”

I like my answer better.   Continue reading

Touring London for Social Enterprise – My Hub Crawl Route

I’m a big supporter of Social Enterprise.  I’ve worked with several of the leading social enterprise support services in London.  I love to introduce people to the fascinating world of business for benefit.

That’s why I created the Hub Crawl – A four-hour guided tour of three of the best social enterprise coworking spaces in London – Hub Islington, Hub Kings Cross and Hub Westminster.  I only run it on special occasions, but I want to describe it here to encourage you to learn more about social enterprise and these amazing hotbeds of social innovation.

You may still be wondering, what is a social enterprise anyway?  Here’s my short answer – it’s an organisation that has both social and financial goals.  What makes it different from a regular business? The social goals are at least equally as important as the financial ones.

What does social enterprise look like in action?  It could be anything from a small group of committed citizens, like the team at Hub Westminster, to a large international organisation like the Big Issue.

And that’s what’s great about the Hub Crawl, you get the chance to see and meet people from both of these organisations, and everything in between.

The Hub Crawl Route Continue reading

7 ways to be a terrible volunteer abroad

You’re going to volunteer abroad, and you want to make sure you do a terrible job. Here’s how.

1. Be a Super Hero

In another country, you are a Super Hero.  Your simple deeds will fix the world, probably in two weeks or less.  Make sure everyone knows that you, and you alone can save them in their hour of need. You are not there to be of service,  you are there to be the saviour, and of course should be treated as such.  Expect local people to worship you and bring you offerings.

2. Don’t accept the unknown

Make sure that you are not open to any kind of new experience.  Demand that everything be exactly the way it is back home, otherwise you will leave.  Do not be flexible and adaptable, and definitely don’t try anything new.

3. Be the smartest person in town

You know best, and make sure every else knows it.  You know how to do everything better, so make sure you tell everybody that what they are doing is wrong. Don’t learn why they are doing things the way they are, just tell them what they should do.  You are foreign, so of course you must know better than the local community, right?

4. Go with the most expensive and famous volunteer operator Continue reading

What is responsible volunteer tourism?

Volunteer tourism, or “Voluntourism” comes in many shapes and sizes.  Just like any holiday, or travel plan it can be adapted to suit the tourist or traveller.  There’s a lot to think about though, and that’s where the “responsible” bit comes in.

Irresponsible volunteer tourism

You probably don’t want to be volunteering at an orphanage in Cambodia right now – Why? Because so many people want to volunteer with orphans in Cambodia, that unscrupulous operators are filling houses with children (that still have parents) just so that wealthy tourists can see and work with them for a few weeks.  Siem Reap, home of the fabulous and beautiful Angkor Wat, has a population of 100,000 and 35 orphanages.  That ratio is wrong, and it’s driven by irresponsible volunteer tourism.   Responsible Travel has stopped offering all orphanage voluntourism packages while it fully investigates the situation.

 Responsible Responsible tourism 

During my recent adventure in Thailand, I was introduced to a responsible volunteer tourism operator.  Set up 11 years ago as a partnership between local Thai Gaweechat Joompaula (known as Toto) and Swedish social entrepreneur Sven Mauleon, Openmind Projects is role model in responsible volunteer tourism.  Now they operate in four countries, in partnership with over 70 grass roots projects.

“The background to a lot of the problems in this world, poverty, pollution, environmental destruction, is knowledge…  Knowledge brings awareness, and a motivation to change. Helping people to learn, Helping people to learn how to learn, and helping people use new technology. That is our mission. That is Openmind Projects”

What experience can volunteers abroad expect? Continue reading

How we got more than a million votes in two weeks, and won the Little Big Project Blogging Challenge

This in-depth article is about how my small team managed to smash all expectations and get more than 600,000 rating votes for our blog in less than two weeks.

**UPDATE – THE OFFICIAL COUNT IS IN – WE GOT 1,078,049 VOTES – OVER ONE MILLION!!**

First of all – a big thank you. Without you, and thousands of others, my team would not have been able to win the Little Big Project. With your help, we were able to win a grant of $5000 for an NGO that specialises in ecotourism and responsible volunteer tourism – Openmind Projects.

Thank you to all of you that voted, shared, liked and participated. My team-mate and I also won $1000 each, and courtesy of Thai Airways, return flights to Thailand for me, and return flights anywhere in Asia for my Thai team-mate.

Here ‘s a quick recap, before we get into how we did it.

From July 3rd to July 17th  myself and nine others were selected by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to promote ecotourism and responsible volunteer tourism in Thailand.  The five international bloggers were paired up with five Thai bloggers, to make five teams – all working with different host organisations around Thailand.

My team’s project was responsible ecotourism and marine conservation in Phuket.  My amazing Thai teammate was Wimalin Chalermporn, known to everyone as Fha.  Our host organisation was Openmind Projects (OMP).  You can still see all our coverage of the two weeks, and the huge number of voting hits we received, at the official competition website. The competition – whichever team gets the most total combined rating votes for all blog posts, wins $5000 for the host organisation.

So how did we win?  Continue reading

Help promote ecotourism in Thailand

Are you a supporter of ecotourism, and responsible volunteer tourism?  Do you want to help protect and preserve marine national parks

I’ve been selected to help the Tourism Authority of Thailand promote these types of activities in Phuket, and I could really do with your help.

I’m working with a great team at Openmind Projects, and together with my Thai team mate Wimalin (Fha), we are trying to help them win $5000.  We’re doing many things, and focusing on the amazing work the Park Rangers are doing to protect and preserve the marine national parks.

Please help out this great organisation by following the steps below. Continue reading

Volunteering Abroad – Pay to join or do it yourself?

Have you thought about volunteering abroad, but not sure about paying an NGO to organise your volunteer experience? Can’t you just do it yourself, or pay your own way? I’ve had the chance to try volunteering abroad in different ways, and I’ll share with you what I’ve learned. Before you volunteer, read this:

Paying to Volunteer – Nepal
In Nepal, I chose to join a small NGO that offered me the experience of helping a small school with its English Education. I found them online, checked out reviews from past volunteers, and decided to join. Continue reading

How to Win a Volunteer Ecotourism Trip to Thailand

Have you ever won a holiday? I’m slightly surprised, delighted and grateful to say that I have been selected to join a 20 day volunteer ecotourism project in Thailand.

Here are three tips to help you get selected and win your own Inspiring Adventure:

1. Be Connected

You have to hear about relevant competitions from somewhere.  Start a meet up  or a twitter account or a Facebook page around something you are passionate about.  Connect with other people who are interested in the same things.  Help these people find relevant, exciting, interesting opportunities, and they will help you too. I saw the competition on Facebook in April, entered it, and shared it on the Inspiring Adventures Facebook page and Twitter.  Did you see it?  Did you enter? What are you doing to build your own relevant connections?

2. Enter the competition

As Woody Allen says, “90% of success is just showing up”.  If you don’t enter because you don’t think you will win, you will never win.  Do you know how many other people entered?  Do you definitely know that someone else is going to win?  Sign up for the competition and try. You might just surprise yourself. Continue reading