In February 2021, we had actually planned to celebrate our 15th anniversary, but we had no time to think about tourism. Even today, almost 2 months after the military coup we hardly have time to think about anything else other than the military coup and the people behind the coup threatening our lives, day after day.
Not sure if we will be ever able to open our office again to welcome people from all over the world to this mystical place we love and call home. However, we will keep in our heart and mind the many unforgettable memories we shared with our clients and hope that they always will remember the wonderful experiences they encountered during their stay in Myanmar.
The start in 2006 was not easy. We had to terminate my life insurance to have at least some money to pay our bills and the school fees for our three girls. We had to apply for a phone line, needed an internet connection and a website too. Electricity at this time was another problem; the government thought people do not need electricity during the day, only at night. What do business people do during the day without electricity? We had no money to buy a generator, so we slept during the day and worked at night. We worked hard and it paid off. Our first client was from Chile and we met her in October the same year during her stay in Mandalay. We still have contact with her.
2007 was looking very promising. We had so many inquiries and bookings that we even had to ask people to postpone their trip, but the saffron revolution killed the business and over 50% of our clients decided to cancel their trip. It was getting even worse as cyclone nargis stormed over the southern part of the Ayeyarwady Delta killing over 130.000 people. Tourism collapsed forcing tour guides to leave the country and finding job elsewhere, restaurants closed for good and hotels suffered heavy losses. Two of our clients, who visited Ngapali Beach in December 2008, were greeted by the hotel manager in person, informing them that all 180 hotel staff were there to serve them only. There were no other guests at all.
The political change in 2010 brought a boom nobody had ever dreamed off. Suddenly Myanmar was all over the news, even my family and friends from Germany called and informed me about another reportage or another article about Myanmar. Myanmar just had popped up on the tourist map like a newly discovered planet in the universe. For the first time hotels were all sold out. We did not even have enough rooms for all of them. People had to sleep in monasteries or find a free space at a hotel lobby. Prices jumped up and for a simple 20 US$ room people had to pay 100 US$ or more. The coming years we had no reason to complain, even as competition grew and local travel agents faced new challenges. Online booking became more and more popular and tourist who had been forced for years to contact a local travel agent for all necessary travel arrangements including a prearranged visa on arrival started to use online platforms to book hotels, domestic flights and even bus and train tickets on their own. The bookings dropped even more after the introduction of the new online system for “visa on arrival.”
Despite those challenges, we had no reason to complain. We could send our girls to private schools and explored Myanmar from the north to the south and from the east to the west. We went with them on trekking trips in Shan State, Chin State and the Naga Hills, visited Thailand, Malaysia, Laos and Vietnam and we travelled with them twice to Europe were we travelled by car and train to Austria, Switzerland, France and Italy. We stood at the Eiffel Tower, visited the Louvre, roamed the Coliseum in Rome, rode a gondola through Venice, slid through the stunning salt caves of Hallstadt near Salzburg, marveled at Hohenzollern Castle, and stood on Germany's highest mountain, the Zugspitze, where our children were able to perceive snow with all their senses for the first time in their lives. We had a very good life, earned good money and saved some money for the bad times to come. They always come. Live is like a roller coaster, up and down, good times and bad times.
COVID arrived Myanmar late, at least officially. Only on March 23, the first case was reported. Four days later our last clients were on their way back home, we closed our office, packed our clothes and drove straight to our farm, a 2 ½ hour drive northwest of Yangon. Shwe Yee had bought the land in September 2019, sowed maize, and sunflowers and slowly started to form a farm. As if she had foreseen what was to come for us in 2020. What we grow was mostly for our own use, but we also sold maize, beans, pumpkin, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes.
Also our family grew: First we adopted a baby monkey, whom had lost her parents at the age of two months. I will never forget the moment when Shwe Yee came up to me with the little one in her arm, beaming with joy. From that moment on, we loved her like a daughter and our guests were delighted. You could hear "Lu Lu, Lu Lu" all day long. Our Lu Lu runs, jumps, climbs, and cannot get enough. Shwe Yee tried to train Lu Lu, but I always had to ask myself: who is training whom?
Next, we adopted a doe, which had also lost her parents. Of course, word got around that Shwe Yee can't say no, and so she too found a new home here. We have a lot of space and she can move around freely. We do not want to lock her up, even at the risk of her not coming back one day.
Jue Jue, our eldest daughter, will finish her school education in Bad Honnef this year and will then start her internship. However, I wonder how she is going to get a job as a trainee given the current situation in tourism. We will see! One-step at a time. Madelay, our second eldest daughter attends school in Budapest, is in her second year, and has chosen marketing. Hnin Phyu Lay, our youngest daughter, will also be 19 this year and would like to attend school in Vienna. She was here with us at the farm in the beginning, but got bored and probably missed her boyfriend.
On New Year's Eve, we had about 20 guests here on the farm, made a campfire down by the river, barbecued, ate well, danced, and had a lot of fun. Nevertheless, I went to bed shortly after 22:00 and welcomed the New Year only the next morning after a good night rest and with a clear head. A very pleasant experience! In the New Year we continued where we left off in the old year. Shwe Yee was becoming more and more the perfect host, entertaining everyone and cocking for 60 to 70 people every day. I did some garden work, kept the house clean, and was available as a guide for our guests in the afternoon. A short half-hour walk to the reservoir, a boat trip to the different islands and then back again. The tour lasted about two hours. After the last guests have said goodbye and peace had returned, we sat on our wooden bench, drank a glass of wine, and looked out over the garden. A nice life! Actually, we did quite well without a travel agency, until the news about the military coup reached us at 06:45 on February 1.
The situation worsened, especially what we had witnessed over the last four weeks is hard to bear. However, we are very strong-minded in our desire to overcome this very difficult time, to go on and face the Myanmar military. United with the ethnic groups, we should succeed in ending the military coup. We have no other choice. We are on our own and we cannot expect any help from the UN Security Council or from the other nine members of ASEAN.
Not sure, in which direction our path will go the coming weeks and months. We hope for the best and try to prepare for the worst. Hope we will be able to keep in touch with the outside world and hope to meet each other once again, here in Myanmar or somewhere else.
Shwe Yee & Klaus-Dieter Mueller