How ecotourism at Indawgyi Lake is helping remote communities thrive

Freshwater shrimping on Indawgyi Lake. Photo: Face of Indawgyi
Freshwater shrimping on Indawgyi Lake. Photo: Face of Indawgyi

Decades of isolation, neglect, and persecution have left the Shan communities on the shores of Indawgyi Lake short on opportunities and at odds with their own environment. Education resources are scarce, and local job prospects such as fishing and rice farming offer meager rewards. For many, the shortest path toward a viable livelihood is through dangerous work in jade or gold mines or through logging, all of which threaten the area’s delicate ecosystem. Absent some external intervention, the beauty of the landscape alone will not be enough to ensure its survival.

Today, however, with connectivity and tourism slowly rising since Myanmar’s economic opening, that intervention is on the horizon. According to the founders of the social enterprise Face of Indawgyi, new life can be breathed into the area’s lakeside communities by the arrival of foreign tourists and the construction of infrastructure to ensure that the industry is sustainable. The company’s previous attempts to boost tourism in this remote part of Kachin State have included the placement of locally made trash bins in villages and tourist sites, the removal of plastic waste, and the publishing of key information about the area to give English-speakers an introduction to the area, its people, and their experiences.

The group has also launched a project to promote and preserve the local language, known as Shan-ni, which faces the threat of extinction after decades of erasure by the Myanmar government.

Lon Ton Social Impact Guesthouse architectural concept.

Today, Face of Indawgyi announced its latest and most important project – the construction of the Lon Ton Social Impact Guesthouse. Once built, the guesthouse will be a hub for the area’s various tourist activities, including freshwater shrimping, cooking classes, bamboo bike trips, and mountain trekking. The revenue the guesthouse generates will be redirected toward promoting education, environmental conservation, cultural preservation, and economic development of the Indawgyi area.

One key aspect of this reinvestment into the local community is the plan to open a hospitality school in the guesthouse that will offer locals free certification courses, work contracts, and training in personal finance.

To make the guesthouse and hotel school a reality, though, Face of Indawgyi needs to raise at least US$70,000. The group has launched a public fundraising campaign to give people around the world a chance to play a part in the development of what may become Myanmar’s next ecotourism hotspot.

Stephen Traina-Dorge, the company’s managing director, said: “This social impact guesthouse is what’s going to make all these initiatives sustainable in the long term. Every aspect of Face of Indawgyi goes back to serving the community. If we can raise more than $70,000, we won’t need to have investors, which means our projects can move faster and start facilitating positive change.”

Donations come with perks ranging from a gift basket of locally crafted products to a month-long stay in a lakeside bungalow.

Shwe Myintzu Pagoda
Shwe Myintzu Pagoda, a popular tourist attraction on Indawgyi Lake. Photo: Face of Indawgyi

Ko Tun Tun Oo, an Indawgyi native and environment expert for Face of Indawgyi, said: “By taking lessons from Inle Lake and other places that have been overdeveloped, I hope we can prevent the destruction of this environment. This region is already recognized by the world, and we need to maintain it with our love and awareness. To me, this is not just a tourist destination but my home and my family’s. Tourism can be a good thing as long we work together to do it right.”

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