Sunday, August 20, 2017

A journey into the forest

Bago Yoma Eco Resort proves an easy weekend getaway for Yangon’s nature lovers

Guests trekking along a path within the Phyo Sithu teak plantation. Ei Ei Thu/The Myanmar TimesGuests trekking along a path within the Phyo Sithu teak plantation. Ei Ei Thu/The Myanmar Times

Nature lovers now have another option for a weekend of respite from the fumes, noise and congestion of Yangon, closer than the oft-visited tourist spots of Bago and Hpa-an.

A government initiative to develop a 125 mile (201 kilometre) strip of teak plantations in the Bago-Yoma mountain range north of Yangon is beginning to bear fruit decades before the trees are to be harvested for wood. In July one of the first of what could be many eco-resorts within the region opened its doors to guests.

A teak bungalow at the Bago Yoma Eco Resort. Ei Ei Thu/The Myanmar TimesA teak bungalow at the Bago Yoma Eco Resort. Ei Ei Thu/The Myanmar Times

Located a seven hours bus ride north of Yangon, the Bago Yoma Eco Resort sits on 9.45 acres of teak plantation within the Taung Na Win forest reserve. The resort’s owner, local company Phyo Sithu, began planting the reserve’s almost 1.4 million teak trees, which cover some 2,520 acres, in 2007 when the government started leasing land to private companies for teak plantations in the Bago-Yoma mountain range.

“We want to encourage people to grow trees and love the forest and create awareness of environmental conservation,” said U Yan Naing Lwin, managing director of BagoYoma Eco Resort.

The interior of a two person room at the Bago Yoma Eco Resort. Ei Ei Thu/The Myanmar TimesThe interior of a two person room at the Bago Yoma Eco Resort. Ei Ei Thu/The Myanmar Times

“That is our intention of building an eco-resort in the Bago Yoma range. Also the teak in Bago-Yoma are the best teak specimens in the country which is why the forest department calls the region ‘the home of teak’,” he said.

Rest assured, in rainy season ‘the home of teak’ doesn’t disappoint with the beautiful trees in full flower as you zig-zag up and down the approach to the resort so that by the time you see the Bago Yoma Eco Resort sign, you’re already in a Zen-like state.

Sunset at the Bago Yoma Eco Resort. Photo - Bago Yoma Eco ResortSunset at the Bago Yoma Eco Resort. Photo - Bago Yoma Eco Resort

The reception greets guests as they enter, a modern teak building perched under the green canopy at one end of the entrance, while on the opposite side there is a dining hall, also beautifully made out of teak, which serves as the only dining option for guests at Bago Yoma.

The resort has 31 rooms – a mix of bungalows and suites – and a meeting room which can fit up to 100 people. With teak being the main building material for all of the structures at Bago Yoma there is the notable smell of the wood wafting throughout the resort, making it feel very at home in its environment.

The entrance to the Bago Yoma Eco ResortThe entrance to the Bago Yoma Eco Resort

“According to the workings of teak plantations, we have to cut some young trees [between 8 and 10 years old] so that other, healthier plants will grow well. That is why all the buildings, rooms and interior decorations are made using teak wood from our plantation,” said U Yan Naing Lwin.

Rooms begin at K90,000 a night, with breakfast included, and go up to K400,000 for a deluxe bungalow.

But be warned, with no access to the internet and limited phone reception, Bago Yoma is more suitable for people who are happy taking a break from the online din of modern life; that means no Facebook, no Instagram and no Netflix.

Instead, guests can trek, with or without a guide, or ride bicycles along the dirt paths which are dispersed throughout the forest. Bird watching is also on the cards. Being so secluded, the Phyo Sithu teak plantation boasts over 100 species of birds, according to the research of the Myanmar Bird and Nature Society (MBAN) and local bird watching group Wild Wings.

The Paw Lan Gyi elephant camp is also situated just a 10 minute walk from the resort.

While walking along the plantation paths there a number of sights to see including farmer’s huts next to paddy fields and waterfalls, all to the chorus of birds singing. If you’re patient and a little bit lucky, while on your walk you will see peacocks, plumage extended, dancing to attract a mate.

“It is very beautiful when green peacocks dance. Sometimes they dance for a long time, almost two hours. The numbers of green peacocks have grown since my childhood because of the growth of the forest,” said U Han Sein, a resident of nearby village Gone Min Khone.

As the forest grows into maturity, U Yan Naing Lwin hopes more visitors will come to Bago Yoma to learn about one of Myanmar’s prized natural gifts.

“One of our intentions in opening the eco-resort was so that people could know more about Myanmar teak.”