We knew it wouldn't be easy, starting a tour company off the beaten path...in Lashio. The vision was always to create opportunities for people and communities where there was little opportunity, so going to a place where no one else was doing anything in tourism development was what we were aiming for, but its hard! A place not known for good tourism experiences, we knew we had to change the narrative on Lashio, change the perception.
When we first connected with the Ministry of Hotels & Tourism in Lashio, they were excited about us coming and had a vision for getting people to go see pagodas in Lashio, and as worthwhile as some of this can be, we saw so much potential in the diverse & isolated communities outside of the city. People from Lashio scoffed at the idea that we came to Lashio to start tourism, even their narrative was one of a naysayer. But we've won over even people from Lashio, as now even locals stop me on the street wanting to do tours with MAO, because we've found places and created experiences even Lashio locals never thought possible.
With Hsipaw just down the road, our challenge has been to get perhaps 3-5% of people who would stop in Hsipaw to continue on up the road to Lashio, and in actuality we are happy to send people on to Hsipaw. Hsipaw has some great trekking, and we aren't trying to compete with Hsipaw, but rather create unique experiences that would make both stops worthwhile, electing to help develop tourism throughout Northern Shan State, and not pitting Lashio against Hsipaw or Kyaukme or Naunghkio. So many great opportunities for authentic adventures in Northern Shan!!!
When we first came to Lashio, water festival had shut the town down, and we were left uninspired. Reading wikitravel, we found the perception of Lashio was one of a big dirty market town with nothing to do. It is a big town, one of the biggest in Shan State. It has an amazing market where all of the diverse communities converge for buying and selling. It is certainly not such a dirty town in comparison to many places in Myanmar.
And beyond all this, there are amazing untouched adventures just over the hills of the city. In my opinion, the best waterfall experience that can be had in all of Myanmar is just outside of Lashio, a feat we've come to achieve by going dozens of times and learning all there is to learn. But beyond this, MAO has even put some waterfalls on the map that now Lashio's locals know about because we put them on the map. All of this comes from endless exploration. North Face, the popular brand, has the slogan "Never Stop Exploring", and we've embraced this mindset. There is always more to explore, and we are determined to find it, pushing every boundary, leaving no rock unturned. We've found so many things, and so many places, experiences that few have even encountered with us yet. For many who have come with us on an adventure, now two years later, there is so much more to do that we didn't even know about two years ago.
For example, Lashio is famous for hotsprings, but in my opinion, the best hotsprings are not inside the city, but the untouched ones outside of the city, with at least 4 places with amazing hot springs we've only taken a handful of people to, two of which we've never showed to anyone yet.