Read on to discover our ethos and team-centered approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations.
Use the buttons below to ask questions or if this handbook answers all of your questions you can request a space on the team by completing the booking form and submitting a deposit (bound by our T&Cs). We will then be in touch by phone or email to hopefully approve your place on the team!
Upcoming Expedition Dates
26th November to 12th December 2021
Arrive by 1200 on Day 1 into Yangon, Burma/Myanmar.
Depart: leave Yangon on Day 17.
Insurance: ensure you have comprehensive cover.
Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
The aim of this epic, self-supported expedition is to climb Mount Saramati (3826m) and be rewarded with views over Burma/Myanmar and India from its summit.
Located in the country’s north west on the Indian border, Saramati is the most prominent peak on mainland SE Asia. With no established route to the summit from the Burma/Myanmar side, completing this challenging and multi-day expedition will mean that your team has achieved the extraordinary, on a tough route punctuated by stays in welcoming Naga villages.
Climb Mount Saramati, on the border with India.
Camp in and near Naga villages en route.
Experience traditional Naga culture.
Visit a remote, hardly visited part of Burma/Myanmar.
Straddle the Burma/Myanmar-India border.
You need to organise your own international flights. As is often the case with small airlines, domestic flight schedules are sometimes not released until closer to departure. It is advised that you book a flexible international flight ticket that can be amended or refunded if the expedition dates need to be changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. See our Terms and Conditions online.
You need to be at the team hotel in Yangon by 1200 on Day 1 for a team briefing before your domestic flight to Mandalay. The the expedition officially ends after breakfast on Day 17..
Travel Insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).
Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad: at least $500,000.
Activities: ensure that any activities carried out on the expedition are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and Travel Aware.
Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose any to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.
Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit our Travel Insurance page.
Visas are your responsibility. Visas are required for all travellers to Burma. eVisas can be applied for using the Burma eVisa website. They are valid for three months from application and valid for 28 days. Then a ‘Visa on Arrival’ will be granted at Yangon International Airport. The visa costs USD$50 (payable in cash). Please ensure that you print out confirmation of the eVisa and have it with you at immigration. On your eVisa application form, put the Seasons of Yangon International Airport Hotel down for accommodation, the address is International Airport Mingaladon, 11021 Yangon, Myanmar.
Your passport should have a minimum validity of six months from your date of entry into Burma. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe place.
Day 1– Yangon – Mandalay
The team will arrive in Yangon and meet at a hotel near the airport at 1200 for a briefing before your domestic flight to Mandalay. Stay overnight in Mandalay.
Day 2 – Homalin
After an early flight from Mandalay arrive in Homalin before chartering a private boat to Thatmanthi. If timings allow we will continue our journey to LayShi, but otherwise we will spend the night at a guesthouse in Thatmanthi.
Day 3 – Khet Kaw
A long day as you continue your journey along dirt roads in 4×4 vehicles and (depending on road conditions) motorbike taxis to the small town of Khet Kaw. Stay in a schoolhouse or church.
Day 4 – Yawpami
Today you’ll start with a steep descent through a gorge to a rope suspension bridge. From there you’ll hike back up the other side to the next village of Yawpami. This will be a short day with around 12km of trekking.
Day 5 – Latt Te
Continue up the valley to the last village, Latt Te. Cross a stream along the way.
Day 6 – Kabarkasu
En route to Tashi Ti. Camp at Kabarkasu.
Day 7 – Tashi Ti
It’s likely that today you’ll reach the end of the footpath and rely on local knowledge to find the best way through the trees and up towards the higher reaches of Mount Saramati. This will be a challenging day with steep climbs and uneven terrain. Camping by a stream.
Day 8 – Basecamp
Continue up through the trees, cutting a trail through the scrub. Trek to the basecamp located at 3000m.
Day 9 – Summit day
Summit day! You’ll set off early, taking minimal kit, and climb the last few hundred metres to the summit. The aim is to reach the top for sunrise, and Saramati’s superior prominence ensures fantastic views of the surrounding countries. Back to the basecamp for another night’s camping.
Day 10 – Tashi Ti
Pack up camp and descend to Tashi Ti camp.
Day 11 – Kabarkasu
Trek to you wild camp at Kabarkasu.
Day 12 – Latt Te village
Today is a steep descent through the trees into Latt Te village.
Day 13 – Yawpami
A welcoming relief to reach the footpath connecting the villages and head back to Yawpami.
Day 14 – Khet Kaw
Continue re-tracing your steps to Khet Kaw.
Day 15 – Homalin
Transfer to Homalin by 4WD vehicles and then chartered boat.
Day 16 – Yangon
Fly back to Yangon via Mandalay. Hotel in Yangon.
Day 17 – Yangon
Notes on Secret Compass itineraries
Please remember that the itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but it will not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on numerous frictions that you will encounter along the way.
All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you will be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go. You will be required to be fit enough for the following.
Daily activity:trek up to 10 hours a day, with very steep climbing at times.
Carry: up to 10kg carrying a day sack with essentials such as water, jackets and snacks.
Terrain: very rough, rocky, mountainous, muddy and steep terrain at altitudes up to 3900m. Rope bridges. Exposed ridges.
Climate: In November-December, temps in the range of 20°C to 30°C are to be expected although at higher altitude, the temperature will often drop to below zero degrees. Although dry season it has been known to rain very hard.
No previous experience of mountain and jungle trekking is necessary to join this expedition but team members would benefit from trekking or hill-walking practice and being used to carrying around 10kg for up to 25km a day, for multiple days. Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. Team members should be willing to be part of a team working together to achieve the goal of the expedition. The biggest challenge on this expedition will be the unrelenting ridge lines and peaks and the hot climate.
Vaccinations. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS websites Fit For Travel and Travel Health Pro are useful. There is a risk of malaria so you should seek advice on appropriate medication.
UK health authorities have classified Gabon as having a risk of Zika virus transmission.
Dental. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.
Bring US dollars and change for local currency (Kyats). Ensure you change money in Yangon as there will be no access to cash once we leave the capital. Bills should be in perfect condition (no marks, tears or folds), issued since 2006 and WITHOUT a serial number starting with AB or CB. Newer, larger bills tend to get the best exchange rate. Yangon tenders accept USD but outside of the city, only Kyats will be accepted. Many credit or debit cards will not work in Burma, please check with your bank.
This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money, only for a beer in the town and some souvenirs on the way or for (discretionary but always appreciated) tips. We always recommended bringing $100-$200 cash and keeping it somewhere safe as an emergency fund.
The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for our expedition to Burma. You will be required to carry your essentials such as water and jackets, with the rest of your personal equipment and group gear to be carried by porters.
Secret Compass has arranged team members discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.
Baggage and Sleeping
RUCKSACK/DUFFLE BAG: 50-70ltr, all your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack which will be carried by a porter.
DAYPACK: 20-30ltr. A well fitting day sack that will fit water, waterproofs, a warm jacket, snacks and a camera.
WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable ‘canoe’ or ‘dry’ bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb etc.
SMALLER DRY BAGS: As above, but smaller bags to put essential items in. The large rucksack liners sometimes leak so anything important needs to be waterproofed individually.
SLEEPING BAG: Rated to -5°C comfort. At altitude the temperature drops at night.
SLEEPING BAG LINER: Silk or cotton. Coolmax are ideal. Used for extra warmth and can be used in guesthouses.
SLEEPING MAT: Thermarest or equivalent. Bring repair kit. Used in tents and villages.
WATERPOOF WALLET: For your passport and money.
2 x LONG SLEEVE SHIRT: Quick drying long sleeve shirt or top (not cotton).
1 x THERMAL BASE LAYER: Long sleeved thermal top. Helly Hansen or equivalent.
2 x LONG TREKKING TROUSERS: Thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
1 x MID LAYER: Fleece or equivalent.
1 x DOWN JACKET: It will be cold at altitude and in the evenings.
1 x WATERPROOF JACKET AND TROUSERS: Gore-tex or equivalent.
1 x WALKING BOOTS: Must provide ankle support and be worn in before the expedition. Please consult your nearest outdoor store for advice on choosing the correct boot.
4 x HIKING SOCKS.
SANDALS: Around camp and river crossings. Not flip flops.
WIDE BRIMMED SUN HAT.
WARM HAT FOR EVENINGS.
4 x UNDERWEAR: Sport or cycling-styled shorts don’t chafe.
2 x ROBUST WATER BOTTLE: Nalgene or Sigg.
1 x CAMELBACK: You need to be able to carry a minimum of three litres of water in a combination of camelback and water bottles.
Health and Hygiene
WASHBAG, TOOTHBRUSH AND TOOTHPASTE, RAZOR, DEODORANT.
SOAP: Anti-bacterial and BIODEGRADABLE.
WET WIPES OR BABY WIPES.
ANTIBACTERIAL HAND GEL.
LIP SALVE WITH UV PROTECTION.
VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
FACTOR 30+ SUN CREAM.
Small First Aid Kit:
A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried.
A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
PAINKILLERS: Ibuprofen and paracetamol.
ZING OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS.
MELOLIN DRESSING PADS x4.
2 x CREPE BANDAGE.
COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard/original item.
DIARRHOEA TABLETS: Imodium.
DIORALYTE SACHETS OR SIMILAR REHYDRATION PACKS.
ANTISEPTIC CREAMPIRITON TABLETS: For allergies.
EURAX CREAM: For bites.
ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination. You MUST make Secret Compass aware of any medical conditions before you travel.
TREKKING POLES: Many team members find trekking poles useful on slippery or uneven terrain or for steep descents.
HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES: Petzl Tikka heard torch or equivalent.
SUNGLASSES: With UV-filter lenses.
GAFFA TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit.
1 x KARABINER: For securing your rucksack.
SPARE BOOT LACES.
SMALL SEWING KIT.
RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings etc.
Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.
Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.
Local Partners and Bureaucracy
Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.
Infrastructure and Natural Events
The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.
In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)
Part of a Team
Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.
There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.
You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.
Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.
We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.
Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include accident (slips or trips) whilst trekking or other medical emergencies emergencies whilst in a remote environment. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email email@example.com
Incident Management and Medical
As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.
It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to four days) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.
Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.
Nagaland. The Naga were once a fearsome collection of tribes who practised headhunting and wore very distinctive traditional costumes. Nowadays, it is only possible to witness the traditions in the New Year festival as although there are some practising Naga communities to the north of Saramati, the area is highly restricted by the government. Many of the locals have moved to the cities and consequently the Naga traditions are dying out.
Religion. 19-Century missionaries passed through the Naga villages, building churches, many of which survive with priests installed. Despite this, there is government encouragement to convert to Buddhism through schools and boarding houses.
This expedition will cover varied terrain over rough, rocky, mountainous, muddy and steep terrain and through jungle, at altitudes up to 3900m.
The Sagaing Region has a subtropical climate that is mild with dry winters and hot summers. In November-December, temperatures in the range of 20°C to 30°C are to be expected at the start of the trek although as you climb higher in the temperature can often drop significantly and you should expect near or below zero temperatures at the summit. Rainfall at this time of year should be minimal, however previous expeditions have experienced extremely varied weather so you should also be prepared for heavy rain.
Upon arrival into Yangon, the hotel is just opposite the airport. Thereafter you will use a variety of modes of transport. There is an internal flight between Yangon and Mandalay, and Mandalay and Homalin; from Homalin you will travel to Thatmanthi and back by boat. This section of the journey takes six hours and earplugs are advised due to the ear splitting noise of the engine. You will be picked up in Thatmanthi by 4WD vehicles and taken to Khet Kaw (provided the roads are in good condition, if not then motorbikes are the back-up option for the last leg of the journey). The rest of the expedition will be on foot, supported by porters who will carry the food, cooking supplies and tents and team personal bags. You will be carrying a day sack with essential equipment to maximise the chances of reaching the summit.
The team will stay in basic hotels in Yangon, Mandalay and Homalin. Despite the recent development of hotels in the capital, the standard is still quite poor and there are frequent power cuts. During the expedition you’ll be sleeping either in tents provided by Secret Compass or staying in villages. The Naga villages are very remote and small, with around 30 houses in each. As you walk through the village there may be the opportunity to camp out in local primary schools, monasteries or stay in traditional houses.
All food will be sourced in country. In towns it will be in local restaurants and cafés. On the expedition you’ll have a local cook; expect simple yet nourishing food. Common staples noodle soup for breakfast, vegetable soups, a vegetable dish, a meat dish and lots of rice. You may wish to bring your own snacks for the trekking portion (snacks can be sourced in Homalin). During the camping section of the expedition, the three meals of the day will mostly be rice based. Vegetarians are well catered for.
Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.
Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.
Cell Phone. Your mobile roaming will work in Yangon and perhaps Homalin. You are very unlikely to get signal during the trekking section of the trip.
What does ‘most prominent’ mean?
Peak prominence refers to the height of a mountain’s or hill’s summit in terms of the vertical distance between it and the lowest contour line encircling it, but containing no higher summit within it. It is a measure of the independence of a summit. Many high mountains lack prominence because they are connected to other cols or peaks (i.e. because there are many mountains of a similar height all around). With a height of 3826m and a prominence of 2885m, Saramati is the most prominent peak on mainland Southeast Asia. It’s not the highest, but it’s the most prominent.
Burma or Myanmar?
Officially the country is called the ‘Republic of the Union of Myanmar’ although the national anthem still refers to bama pyi or ‘the country of Burma’. ‘Myanmar’ is intended to be inclusive of the population, (only 68% of whom are Bamar) and the term is recognised by the UN but not by the United States or the UK. A statement from the UK’s Foreign Office says: ‘Burma’s democracy movement prefers the form ‘Burma’ because they do not accept the legitimacy of the unelected military regime to change the official name of the country. Internationally, both names are recognised.’ The EU has been known to use both names on different occasions, or both together, i.e. Burma/ Myanmar. Citizens use Myanmar and Burma interchangeably, often the former when writing or in formal situations and the latter when speaking and in the home. Neither will cause offence when talking to local people.
How hot/ cold will it be?
In Yangon, Homalin and on the lower slopes during the trek, daytime temperatures can reach 30°C, dropping at night to a more comfortable 5-15°C. As you approach the summit temperatures drop, reaching as low as -10°C at night.
What could I bring as gifts for local people?
The schools in which you’ll be staying during the village section of the trek have very limited equipment and any gifts will be greatly appreciated. Salt is also highly valued in the villages and would make a welcome thank-you for their hospitality. We recommend buying any gifts for the villagers once in-country so as to support the local economy. It will also be cheaper and you can buy school books in local languages. Books, pens and toys can all be bought in the market in Homalin and your local guide will be able to help you with the shopping.
Is it a malarial zone?
Please consult your medical professional for advice on malaria preventatives and vaccinations.
Can I charge my electricals?
This will be very challenging with limited access to power once the trekking section begins. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.
Will there be telephone signal?
Your mobile roaming will work in Yangon and perhaps Homalin. You are very unlikely to get signal during the trekking portion.
Can I arrive a day late?
As The Plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates out to and back from the start of the trek and so start and end dates are not flexible.
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab and teammates will need to be realistic about preferences given the remote region and the locally sourced nature of the food.
How can I join this team?
If you feel that the Handbook answers all your questions, you can request a space on the team by completing the booking form and submitting a deposit.