Myanmar Pilgrimage was more than I could have asked for, and certainly more than I could’ve expected. Just by the nature of such a tour, magical things were happening each day that couldn’t be planned, organized or prepared for. To put these things into words would be trivial. The pilgrimage takes care of itself, I would say. Or some might say: ‘Dhamma provides.’ It certainly did during my 28 days with Myanmar Pilgrimage. I’m so glad that I joined, and I’ll never forget the value of this experience.
For quite a few years it has been a sincere wish of mine to visit the Golden Land, steeped in Dhamma history and practice. It was also important to me to share this experience with my spouse and mother, meditators who have never traveled in Southeast Asia. Joah, Ma Khaing, and all the staff at Myanmar Pilgrimages helped make this a remarkably inspiring reality. This is not a typical tour company. From the early planning stages where a 10-day itinerary tailored to our interests was presented, up until our final lunch with Joah, Myanmar Pilgrimage professionally and sincerely helped make our visit personal, rewarding, and memorable on a very reasonable budget. Our accommodations were very nice. All the drivers were on time, safe, and caring. Our guide in Mandalay and surrounding, Lwin, was knowledgeable, dedicated, and adapted to our energy level and interests. Lwin’s smile and laughter were infectious! But it was more than the professionalism that struck me. All of the staff were sincerely dedicated to helping us experience Myanmar’s unique history and culture. For example, in the middle of our trip, we spontaneously organized an early morning Sangha Dana almsgiving in front of Ma Khaing’s home. The experience of serving monks young and old, quietly and peacefully accepting whatever was offered in the dark of dawn inspired deep tears of gratitude from me. Ma Khaing welcomed us into her home as friends, and fed us a scrumptious home-cooked meal. We visited and meditated at sites of historical importance to me as a Vipassana meditator: Sayagyi U Ba Khin’s International Meditation Center in Yangon, Saya Thet Gyi’s monastery in a rural village outside of Yangon, one of Webu Sayadaw’s monasteries outside of Mandalay, and Ledi Sayadaw’s monastery in Monywa. Were it not for the planning provided by Myanmar Pilgrimages, I would not have known how to visit most of these sites. Myanmar Pilgrimage helped us to have a number of moving interactions with monks, providing translation and background information so that we could respect local norms. My visit to Myanmar softened my heart and inspired my meditation practice. Myanmar Pilgrimages provided the essential basis for this remarkable experience.
The history of the Dhamma was just a faded memory in books to me. But because of Joah and the entire Myanmar Pilgrimage team, the Dhamma in Myanmar became alive and well. I wouldn’t have found this if it were not for Joah’s diligent adherence to the Dhamma both in person and online. The pilgrimage I took was truly a trip of a lifetime and brought the history of the Dhamma to life. Without your help none of that would have been possible.
When I traveled to Myanmar in 2011, I knew next to nothing about the country or its Buddhist sites, except that there were a lot of them. Without the help of Ma Khaing and her husband Kyaw Ngwe, I would never have even known about almost all the inspiring sites I eventually visited, much less been able to navigate the logistics of getting to them. They made a trip that would have been at best extremely difficult and at worst impossible an absolute pleasure and one of the highlights of my Dhamma life.
In our several trips to Burma, we have always made a personal pilgrimage with Ko Kyaw Ngwe or—in the last few years—Ma Khaing. We never tire of visiting these inspiring places because of their impact on our meditation practice but these trips were always made even more special because Ma Khaing made us feel part of her family. We were welcomed with open arms by Ma Khaing, her parents, her brothers, her sister-in-law (who happened to be a professional chef with an impressive repertoire of vegetarian versions of traditional Burmese dishes) and her daughters. Traveling with Ma Khaing we never felt like tourists but rather the honored guests of the Burmese people. Ma Khaing’s presence also added to our experience of the Dhamma places we visited, not only because of her ability to connect with the monks and the lay-people there but also because she was always eager—as we were—to meditate in these memorable spots.
I had a couple of days in Yangon before and after my official tour of Myanmar with a tour group and was looking to fill my extra days. A friend recommended I be in touch with Joah McGee, who works out of Myanmar, and through Joah I was able to add to my itinerary in ways my official tour could not provide. Joah offered to take me to digs of Buddhist arts off the beaten path, which unfortunately I could not take advantage of because of time and logistics despite my expressed interest in art, Buddhism, and Burmese culture. Because Joah knew I was a professor, he matched me up with a Burmese writer, U Hla Thaung, and through that connection I got a strong introduction to Burmese ways of life as well as an unexpected invite to lecture at the University of Yangon. That lecture on my first full day in Burma, set the tone for the rest of my Burma journey. I had a quick tour of the campus, the library, and an exposure to the sweetness of the faculty and students. It made me realize how much we can offer at very little cost to us. Just before the lecture Joah and U Hla Thaung were taking me through the Mogok Monastery, familiar to the Burmese. I had questions about the Mogok perspective on Theravada Buddhism. Joah called a Dr. Jenny Ko Gyi, who was a physician, now dedicating her life to translating important Buddhist texts. Unexpectedly she showed in no time and we had a two plus hours of intense conversation on Theravada Buddhism. She was both grounded on her tenets as well as open to frank questions. It was why I travel. That conversation added to the grounding of my own lecture. On returning to Yangon after my earlier scheduled tour, I was taken by passenger ferry to the backwaters of Yangon to see the less visited monasteries. Again this was why I travel. I saw the unadorned Maung Di Pagoda, where the abbot showed his well cared for Gandhara style Buddhist sculptures, probably dating back to the 13th century. The Abbot himself was a picture of dignity and humility. So much so my guide knelt in reverence in front of the kind abbot before we bid him goodbye. The Buddhist art at that pagoda was not fancy but very moving in the most unpretentious of ways. It felt entirely appropriate to the quiet village we were at. What I encountered was perfect to what I was looking for and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But that’s the point, I believe. Joah was willing and able to custom fit what each traveler is looking for and offer up the unexpected. I can feel very comfortable recommending his services.
After visiting Myanmar a few times, and also talking to other who have travelled there, I’ve realised how lucky I was to have my first contact with the country through a pilgrimage. It was really an invaluable way of getting close to the people and the places; being introduced to the local customs; having help with translating when I would not have been able to understand a word; being guided to far-off places that I would not have found on my own; and experiencing so many extraordinary things in the protective atmosphere of a group of meditators.
I had the pleasure of attending a talk given by Joah McGee on the life and legacy of Ledi Sayadaw and the political and cultural contexts which gave rise to the phenomenon of the mass lay meditation movement in Burma. The talk was well researched, extremely interesting and it was clear that Joah had a great depth of knowledge of the subject and at ease in delivering a complex subject to a non-specialist audience.
I attended a talk on Ledi Sayadaw and Dhamma Joti given by Joah in Melbourne, Australia. The history around the development of Dhamma Joti, a very important center, is not widely known unless you were lucky enough to attend a yatra with Goenkaji, and take notes. Also Joah explained the pressures on Burmese culture by the British government which resulted in Ledi Sayadaw first teaching the Abhidhamma to the masses and then making a very enlightened decision to break a old tradition of teaching only monks and appoint a laymen teacher of Vipassana for the benefit of people from around the world for generations to come.
Myanmar Pilgrimage has done a great job in capturing all the relevant places for a Vipassana yogi to visit. Not only is it enjoyable to travel around the less touristic parts of Myanmar but it was wonderful to gain inspiration from the sites of the lineage. Furthermore, I strongly felt showing gratitude by meditating at these spots has helped deepen my practice.
In 2008, Joah guided me on a personal pilgrimage in Upper Myanmar. Joah’s extensive knowledge of sites and history provided for an exceptional tour. He attended to all arrangements including a spacious and comfortable van with an accomplished driver. I greatly appreciated his expertise and experience and highly recommend his services. He is dedicated and committed to providing his clients with a unique and most valuable tour.
For quite a few years it has been a sincere wish of my husband’s to visit the Golden Land, steeped in Dhamma history and practice. Our visit to Myanmar was remarkable and Myanmar Pilgrimages provided the essential basis for this.
Burma has enriched my life so deeply... I experienced a clarity of mind greater than ever before. Each day kept building on the previous one. We kept saying to each other, ‘how can it get any better than this?’ and those who knew better would say ‘just wait until tomorrow’ or ‘just wait until we get to such and such a place’ or ‘until we meet so and so’. Indeed, the good atmosphere kept building throughout the journey. It is difficult to put into words, it is something to be experienced.
Our interest was to visit various sites in Myanmar that S.N. Goenka had visited during a large pilgrimage in 2004, representing the teachers important to his lineage. We received a recommendation from three other Vipassana teachers who had traveled in Myanmar with Ko Kyaw Ngwe and Ma Khaing as their guides. While we have taken other guided trips before and since then, nothing compares to the competency and care provided by Ko Kyaw Ngwe and Ma Khaing. They paid close attention to us both in a professional as well as a personal manner. In November 2011, after spending a few days in Yangon, we flew to Mandalay where we were met at the airport by Ko Kyaw Ngwe and Ma Khaing, and began our amazing journey with them. For the next eight days, we traveled together in their van without a care, since they had made all arrangements in advance. We traveled to Monywa and visited the hundreds of sitting Buddha statutes as well as the large standing Buddha and reclining Buddha. We were invited to serve the monks before dawn in Monywa at the home of a personal friend before hitting the road towards Ingyinbin and the monastery of Webu Sayadaw. There, U Mandala (a senior monk at the monastery who spoke English) treated us with warm hospitality. Ko Kyaw Ngwe and Ma Khaing had arranged for us to stay at the monastery and visit the nearby village and the hut where Webu Sayadaw meditated. We traveled to Sagaing Hills where we stayed a few days at Parekkhamma Caves and Monastery, as well as spent time walking the hills and visiting historic sites.Ko Kyaw Ngwe and Ma Khaing returned us to Mandalay to spend a few days, where we visited various sites and did some requisite, as well as casual, shopping. Ko Kyaw Ngwe helped us purchase a few high-quality gongs at the Mahamuni Pagoda where Mr. Goenka would go as a child with his grandfather. Ma Khaing helped the women in the group shop for cloth and danaka (a paste-like substance used for skin care and for sunscreen). They invited us into to their home for dinner with their parents and daughters. They arranged for us to stay at a local hotel nearby, and even though breakfast was included with the lodging, Ma Khaing arrived early in the morning with a full homemade breakfast. She always made sure that we were well taken care of, whether the food we ate or the places we meditated. She even arranged for matching local outfits to be tailored for the ladies in the group, including an identical one for her!We cannot say enough about the quality of care and attention to detail performed for us on this pilgrimage. Suffice it to say, we have no reservations recommending Ma Khaing for making travel arrangements in Myanmar. In large part due to her efforts, it is one of the few places that we truly want to return for a visit.
Joah is a mine of information about Burma and its many traditions, as well as the various schools of Buddhism to be encountered there. He is an excellent presenter, passionate about sharing his knowledge, deeply informative, and receptive to ideas and discussion. We have every confidence in Joah’s ability to provide pilgrims to Burma with valuable insights which will enrich their experience and understanding.
I think the planning safety and care I received as amazing by the organisation. Such a blessing that you created this service. In Ingyinbin the place is stunning and the people friendly and the accommodation everywhere comfy and relaxing. Ingyinbin had a different vibe.
I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel in Myanmar with Myanmar Pilgrimage. The trip covered well known Buddhist sites and lesser known sites associated with the meditation tradition of U Ba Khin and S.N. Goenka. The guides, drivers and others were all very helpful and pleasant. It was a great introduction to the Buddhist culture of Myanmar and its wonderful people. Thank You!
We are very thankful for Myanmar Pilgrimage for organizing such a smooth customized pilgrimage. Both our driver and the guide were very professional and friendly. It would have been many times more difficult to organize a trip like this for ourselves. As a result, my mother and I had a very memorable and enjoyable trip - one that we will always treasure.