Trishaw tours with Pathein umbrellas
Any tourists begin their journey in Myanmar with a travel agency, or at least hire a local guide to show them around the city.
However, the trishaw tours of Dala are different. They are run by real trishaw bikers, many of whom have barely passed their high school exams.
Dala is the leafy, countryside-style suburb directly opposite the central city area of Yangon. On some days, visitors are greeted by some 20-30 trishaw riders, queuing-up for the ferry passengers visiting from across the river.
Children run around and play on the underdeveloped roads, high-fiving tourists and shouting out ‘mingalabar’. With their thanakar-decorated faces, it’s the unofficial welcome to Dala.
This is one of the closest townships to Yangon city, yet has not benefited from the development of the golden city. The authenticity of the place is what decided Zaw Min Soe to move to the township in 2005, after he lost his job at a handicraft business in South Okkalapa when the company started using machines instead of human labour.
When tourism picked up after the early 2010s, as the military rule was replaced by a new military-backed civilian government, the outlook for Dala – much like other parts of the city – began to look brighter.
That’s when Zaw Min Soe thought about developing a trishaw tour business, hopeful that foreign visitors would be more interested in the laid-back mode of transportation through the township.
After making inquiries with the township administration office, he started his own trishaw biker tour in 2016 – which has since become more popular via word-of-mouth, and publicity through social media.
Realising that many foreign visitors like to avoid taxis, he has been keen to attract those visitors for shorter but slower-paced trip around Dala.
Most of his customers are from France, Germany and Italy, but his tour also attracts a fair number of visitors from China, Korea and Spain.
The Trishaw Tour Market
As more and more travelers chose trishaws as their preferred means of exploring Dala, the competition among the riders has intensified. So too, the services and experiences they offer.
“Western visitors love to explore the day-to-day lifestyle of the villagers in the area, whilst Asian travelers are more interested in the traditional beliefs,” said Zaw Min Soe.
Once he has booked a group for a tour, he’ll plan a journey based on where he thinks the tourists may like to go. He even likes to decorate the trishaw with the flag of his customers’ country of origin.
Mindful of the other trishaw riders in the area, Zaw Min Soe likes to differentiate his business from the rest of the market. Customizing his trishaw experience, he even shades his customers with a decorative Pathein umbrella.
During a tour of Dala, he’ll stop off at a number of places: a day tour typically includes up to seven different locations, including three workshops (candle, rice paper-making and a shop selling recycled accessories), a visit to the pagoda, the local markets, a small fishing village and have a chance to learn monastic education.
To experience all of these activities, a tour takes about three hours, but schedules can vary based on the customers’ preference. A trishaw may cost upwards of K5,000 (about $3-4), and can include up to two passengers. Though many trishaw riders have a soft spot for betel nut, chewing betel, smoking and alcohol are forbidden on the tours. If any of the guides break the rules, they will not be hired for any future tours. The Trishaw Riders
All of the trishaw riders are from Dala, and many have over 10 years experience on the bikes.
In 1985 the number of registered trishaws was just 65. Despite the introduction of motorcycles in the area, the numbers has increased to over 900 registrations today. About 600 are actually in operation today.
65-year-old U Tin Aye, whose native town is Dala, retired from his work in the city as a porter. A regular job as a trishaw rider can be quite tough, he admits. “It is not easy to get 5000 kyats, even while riding the whole day. But by offering tours I can make enough money in just a few hours,” he said.
Some locals prefer to use trishaws, but tend to favour younger riders over older ones. The trishaw tours are an excellent way to keep these older riders in business, offering them a less grueling and more rewarding workload.
While the situation looks good for the older and younger trishaw riders, there is controversy around the sustainability of their jobs. Trishaw tour leader Zaw Min Soe worries about the new bridge project from Yangon to Dala, which is scheduled to finish in the next couple of years.
He believes that “tourists will just pass us by in Dala, and will prefer to take a car or bus than a trishaw tour”. Dala will also be more developed as a result of the new road, meaning that tourists might not want to see high rise buildings.
President of the trishaw collective U Than Htay is more optimistic, and believes that travelling at a slower pace enables people to learn more about the lifestyle of rural Myanmar from just a few kilometers away from the city. He doesn’t see the demand for traditional trishaw tours dropping any time soon.
For those interested in a trip to Dala, a ferry service runs from the Pansodan jetty 46 times during the day, from 5 am to 9 pm. On average it transports around 30,000 passengers daily across the river.
From: Myanmar Times