Updated 9-February-2019

Sometimes the most memorable adventures unfold before you in unexpected ways. Such was the case when my day trip from Yangon turned into two days of volunteering in a village on nearby Dala Island.

Yangon was meant to be the only stop in my ten days in Myanmar that allowed time for touristy activities. This was my second volunteer travel experience with RAKLife and I knew the other days would be full as we supported projects in local communities. But, after meeting the group for the first time at breakfast our guide, Jim, excitedly told us about his idea for a different sort of adventure in Yangon.

I’ve volunteered with Jim before and know that he loves any opportunity to learn about the culture and people from wherever he’s visiting. He had arrived a few days earlier and, while exploring Yangon, met a teenage girl named Khin.

While purchasing postcards from Khin, Jim learned that she lived in a village across the Yangon River. He asked if she would take him there and she said yes.

As they explored her village and Dala Island together, Khin shared a bit about life in Myanmar. As they parted ways, Jim asked if it would be possible for our group to visit the next day. This is where our unexpected day trip from Yangon began.

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Visiting the Markets on Dala Island

Two young boys pose for photos while play sword fighting outside of the market on Dala Island. This market is where we bought the ingredients to cook for Khin's village.

The next morning, we met Khin near a pagoda in the center of Yangon where we hopped onto tri-shaws (three wheeled bicycles with seats on it like a taxi). After a short ride, we arrived at the ferry terminal that would take us to Dala Island.

The day before, Jim had asked Khin if we could prepare a meal for her village as a thank you for our visit. Khin smiled and agreed that would be a very nice treat! The previous night she had spoken with other women in the village to agree what dishes we should prepare and made a shopping list.

Our shopping list included several live chickens, large bags of rice and vegetables I’ve never seen before! We spent the afternoon visiting several different markets near Dala, collecting each item on the list.

The markets are a social hub of the villages, where children play and adults socialize. The young boys pictured above paused their pretend sword fighting outside the market to pose for a photo. When I showed them the photo on my camera, they couldn’t stop giggling.

Once we found everything, we delivered it to Khin’s friend’s home, where the food would be prepared the next day. The sun was sinking low in the sky and we were exhausted and thirsty. We took a seat on the side of the road and bought fruit juice drinks from a stand across the street. It was time for day one of our day trip from Yangon to come to an end. We needed to rest up for the day ahead.

Preparing the Meal

The women in the village stayed up all night excitedly preparing large pots of food for the meal!

The next day, we made the same journey back to Dala, our day trip from Yangon now becoming a 2-day trip. We arrived to discover that several of the women were so excited about the meal that they had stayed up most of the night cooking (and slaughtering chickens). I was a little disappointed I wouldn’t get to do some cooking, but their excitement was contagious. Khin explained that meat was a special treat that they don’t have often.

Since the food was nearly prepared, we began to measure out bags of rice to distribute to the families as a thank you for welcoming us into their village. Large bags of rice (roughly 30-50 lbs each) were dumped onto a woven mat that was covering the floor. From there we had metal cans that we used to “measure” out equal amounts of rice for each family into bags. The hardest part was tying the bags shut without tearing the bag!

Talking Politics, Life, and Aspirations

Khin's family invited us for lunch at their home before serving the meal for the village.

Before serving the meal, Khin’s family invited us all to eat in their home. Their home was made of bamboo and stilted to stay dry, a typical design for this village. Khin explained that four people live in her home. With the addition of our group of ten, we literally took up every inch of space!

While we ate, we talked with Khin about her friends and the Presidential election in Myanmar. This would be the first elected civilian President in 50 years. She shared how hopeful she was the future of her country.

Her and her best friend, Nae Nae, also talked about what life is like as a teenager in Dala. In so many ways, it’s similar to life as a teenager as I experienced it in the US. Khin told us how fortunate she is to have learned English which allowed her to earn money working with tourists; selling postcards and giving tours.

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Random Acts of Kindness on a Day Trip from Yangon

We rode tri-shaws from the ferry terminal to Khin's village on Dala Island on our day trip from Yangon.

It was a very hot day and the time was getting late, so we hired tri-shaw drivers to take us down the long dirt path to where we would serve the meal.

At first, the building seemed like it was a community building on the edge of the village. However, I noticed that there were murals painted on the walls inside that depicted scenes of death and the afterlife. I realized that we were serving food in the village’s crematorium.

The women explained to us that equal portions are very important. They took care showing us how to serve the perfect portions for everyone. Each serving should have the same number of pieces of meat and potatoes. While they showed us how to do this, members of the village starting arriving for the meal!

Serving the meal was quite hectic as we carefully tried to make sure we everyone got to enjoy it!

In all honesty, the serving of the food was quite stressful. It quickly became chaos so some of the women stepped in to help us! In the tiny space of the crematorium, there must have been nearly fifty people.

Understandably, some of the children were wary of us visitors, while others were quite curious. The radiating energy in that space is something I will never forget.

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There were smiling face all around during the meal we shared on our day trip from Yangon. This young boy happily showed us around the village before the meal.

After lunch, we delivered bags of rice to each home in the village saying thank you to each family for welcoming us. A man who seemed to be the leader of the village walked with us making sure each family received just one bag. When one little boy tried to sneak a second bag, the man laughed and explained he’s a mischievous one.

As we walked through the village, we had a sea of children walking with us. What’s amazed is that wherever I go, there are elements of play that remain the same. You can always play peekaboo, tag, or race each other. There’s just no language for being a child.

My Day Trip to Yangon Comes to an End

Me with Khin and her friends as we said goodbye at the ferry terminal as our day trip from Yangon came to an end.

All good things must come to an end. As we hopped on our tri-shaws to take the long dirt road back to the ferry terminal, I glanced up to see the little boy who had been by my side all day chasing after us waving and smiling. Khin and her two friends rode with us to make sure we made it on the ferry safely and to say goodbye.

While my expectation was to see the sites in Yangon, this day trip to Dala was the most wonderfully heartwarming surprise.

About Volunteer Travel

Not all volunteer travel experiences are designed to benefit local communities in a sustainable way. I recommend doing your diligence on any organization you are considering volunteering with.

Things to look for are how money is spent to support the local community, whether there are enduring genuine partnerships with the local community, and whether the time and situation allows for authentic connections to be made. The ethical nature of a volunteer travel organization or NGO is often not immediately evident on the surface.

This experience unfolded very unexpectedly and organically. All materials were purchased through local vendors. Our emphasis was on learning about the culture and expressing our thanks to Khin’s village for welcoming us. To be transparent, this volunteer experience contributed financially to the local community but was not sustainable.

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The most memorable adventures often are unexpected. Instead of exploring the city of Yangon, I ended up spending 2 days volunteering in a nearby village on Dala Island in Myanmar. #southeastasia #myanmar #burma #volunteertravel
Sometimes the most unexpected adventures become the most memorable. While on a volunteer travel trip in Myanmar, we spent an unexpected day in Dala Village near Yangon. If you're considering volunteer travel, click to read more about the volunteer travel experience performing random acts of kindness in Myanmar. #volunteertravel | #ethicaltravel | #culturaltravel |  #Myanmar | #rak |#travel

18 Comments

  1. I loved the way you put your article, as I have done something similar lately in the same place. What I wanted to ask is that I read alot of places that this is a scam done by the locals. I personally gave rice to the children and women, so I didn’t give money to anyone (except for the rice which I believed was quite expensive), and felt great about it, but later on came across many forums assuring me it was a scam :(. Now I have so many mixed feelings:/.

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Hi there! Thanks for your message. It’s so hard to tell what is and is not a scam so I can relate to how you’re feeling. What felt different about my experience was that we spent 1-1/2 days in the village, helping to cook and serve the food, and then being welcomed into many of the homes. We walked up to each home to offer the rice with the leader of the village helping us to make sure no one was getting more than their share. We did learn that if we (foreigners) bought the rice at the market, the price would be higher and so one of the people from the village offered to go in and buy it at a local price. You’re right to be suspicious, but I do think that each experience is unique and not all are scams. Each volunteering experience I’ve had has given me a chance to reflect on my own intentions and those of the others involved in the experience!

  2. Laura Nalin Reply

    This looks like an incredible experience! I really love Myanmar; I’d have to say it’s one of my favorite countries. I’m glad you had this opportunity to connect with the locals. Your photos are gorgeous and those children are SO CUTE I CAN’T STAND IT OMGZ

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Ha ha the children were just the sweetest 🙂 Thank you! Isn’t it just an amazing and special place? What was your favorite experience in Myanmar? It’s so hard to pick just one!

  3. What a beautiful post! This is what travel is all about, as long as you can interact with people as equals and not cause harm. You’re very blessed to have had such an experience, and to speak about the election as well, learning what life is like for this community in Myanmar. Thanks for sharing!

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Thanks so much! Yes, it’s a challenge to make sure you’re making genuine connections and not causing harm when traveling. This was an incredibly humbling experience!

  4. Such a beautiful and touching story. And an incredible experience to see how such a different culture lives. The picture of the boy at the very beginning of this article is absolutely the cutest ever. So wonderful that you were able to accomplish so much good on this trip!

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Thank you! Isn’t he just the sweetest little boy? 🙂

  5. I LOVE the idea behind this. I think we don’t do enough good while traveling and I love the idea of doing an act of kindness to give back to the community. Love the photos!

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Thank you! Yes, it’s a chance to peek behind the curtain and get a sense for the daily lives of those who live where you’re visiting. I really appreciate the connection I was able to make with some of the people I met in this community!

  6. Fascinating story and good article. Getting in touch with locals in such a special way is incredible. Spend time with them, stroll thorugh local markets and try to find the right ingredients and cooking with them must have been awesome. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us!

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Thanks so much! It was such an impactful and memorable experience!

  7. Thirty30Courtney Reply

    What an amazing mission! I can only imagine what serving the food must have been like. Sometimes things can get quite hectic. Keep it up.

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Thanks! Yes, it was incredibly hectic, but in the best way possible!

  8. Nina Danielle Reply

    That’s really heart warming about the women cooking the chickens. It’s so great that you were able to bring rice to families, I’m sure they appreciate it so much.

  9. What a wonderful idea to do a RAK while traveling. Your efforts were tiring, but I’m sure the meal was very appreciated! I love the photos you shared of the children.

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Thanks so much! I definitely slept well that night 🙂

  10. What a lovely experience!

    I think it is so important for us to give back during our travels. It makes the experience so much more rewarding

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