Our Adventures

Myanmar Dental Trip

9th November 2019

After an 11 hour flight from Auckland to KL and then a 2.5 hour flight into Yangon. I’m finally here in Myanmar and and what has taken months and months to organise is finally a reality… Sometimes its very hard to believe after all the “hick-ups” along the way that we are finally underway…

There are so many people to thank… Those who have donated money to help with this work, the local staff in Myanmar who have been a huge help and will continue to be, throughout this whole process and of course the dental team from the USA who have so generously donated their time and skills to help the children of Myanmar. At the end of this journey I will list them all as they all deserve to be recognised… Amazing beautiful people!

Today in Mandalay we will shop for all the items needed to help make this work a success… spoons, knives, forks, sheets, pillows, folding beds, mosquito nets, plates, cooking pots and pans, cooking oil and on and on but all are necessary for the success of this project.

This morning I will also interview a local cook who we will take to Kote Tet Monastery with us to prepare our meals so that the medical team can concentrate on their task without having to worry about meals, cleaning-up etc.

NEWS FLASH… I’ve just been told by our excellent Local Guide Mr Myo, that there is a cyclone on the way and if the rain is heavy in the area of Kote Tet, which it is forecast to be, then the roads will be impassable for our coach… Wow  another challenge to overcome. So we will hire a boat to take us to the monastery of Kote Tet instead of a coach… A 7 hour journey by boat… So now our dental team will experience an Irrawaddy River cruise but I’m afraid not a luxury one!

10th November 2019

At 1.10am and our very special group of dental specialists touch down in Yangon. Tired but happy and excited to be in Myanmar and to finally be able to look forward to carrying out the dental work that is so needed by the disadvantaged children here in this beautiful country.

Dr Peter said,” it feels like coming home,” as he, Dr Gifford and his wife, Alice, had done an Avalon cruise with me on the Irrawaddy River and that’s hows so many people feel about this very special place.

There is something very special about Myanmar and its lovely people that once you have experienced it, it touches you so deeply that it’s almost inevitable that you want to return and even help as this wonderful team from Utah is doing.

Tomorrow they will do sightseeing of Yangon with True Vacations wonderful local guide, Mr Myo. Tomorrow evening we will enjoy a welcome dinner at the former British Governors residence during the colonial times. Now a stunning hotel and restaurant, in the most beautiful of garden settings. Included will be a beautiful Burmese Cultural show… What a day and what a way to welcome these special people to Golden Myanmar!

11th November 2019

The roads from Mandalay are impassable so it’s a much longer small boat journey up the Irrawaddy River to Kote Tet Monastery where the dental work is to be carried out….but what a journey. The beauty of the Irrawaddy River is stunning and even though it was to be a 9 hour journey the dental team, especially those who were visiting Myanmar for the first time were just mesmerised by the rivers beauty.

I had hired a cook (Ms E E) and what a find she was! She had previously been a cook on the River Cruise Ship, ” Road to Mandalay” and boy, can she COOK!!! The first lunch that she prepared as we traveled north was just amazing and over a charcoal fire with minimal cooking equipment. The group almost immediately started praising her cooking skills and I knew immediately we found a winner! An Army marches on its stomach and so does a humanitarian dental team. I knew that with food of this quality, there would be no Mutiny on this trip! It would also be a chance for our jet lagged team to relax a little and catch their breaths before launching into their work.

So thankful for the rain, it changed our travel mode from Bus over very rough roads to a beautiful and relaxing river cruise. ARRIVAL AT KOTE TET. Despite the comfort of the small boat that I had chartered, it was still a relief to see the lights of Kote Tet Monastery come into view around 7.30pm.

We stepped ashore to the most amazing greeting! Around 60 children lined the steps leading from our mooring place up to the Monastery, many in their Monk robes… what a flash of huge smiles and beautiful colours as we stepped ashore… “Mingalabar” was the shout of welcome and what a welcome it was… Many hands clapping and happy faces all the way to the top of the stairs and for those of us who had been here before it felt like a welcome home. We were welcomed by the Head Monk in charge of the Monastery. A lovely man who had become a friend over the last 4 years, and who I had traveled up and down the Irrawaddy even though neither of us spoke each other’s language, a bond had formed and it was very special!

We started work immediately unloading our boat and setting-up the dental equipment in the “Dental Room” so that it was ready for our start the next day… And the accommodation, beds to be made, mosquito tents to be put in place, bags to be unpacked… and this wasn’t completed until around 10pm… We were all excited but tired… We all climbed into our freshly made beds, which the children from the Monastery helped us prepare and I don’t think it took more than two or three minutes before gentle snoring could be heard from beneath those beautiful blue and pink mosquito tents… WHAT A WONDERFUL DAY!

12th November 2019

Our original borrowed compressor lasted half/day before ceasing to operate… Disaster as all the dental equipment runs on compressed air… what to do?

I called the chief engineer Mr Win from the former Avalon Cruise Ship and he went immediately to a supplier in Mandalay brought a new compressor for us, hired a small truck and brought it to us in around 5 hours… Remarkable!

In return for this wonderful service our dentists gave him a dental check and performed a root canal and saved one of his major back teeth… What a pleasure to be able to help this wonderful man who dropped everything to help us! THANK-YOU MR WIN!

New Compressor

13th November 2019

I chartered a small boat to take us from Mandalay to Kote Tet Monastery, a journey of over 9 hours as the road was impassible due to rain. We used the boat as our dinning room. I also hired a cook to cook for us and the food was fantastic. She also cooked on the boat.

The team have committed to doing this again next year with a bigger team! Woohoo!

We have fixed the teeth of over 200 children so far!!!

14th November 2019

Its impossible to sleep in at Kote Tet… The Monks start chanting at 4.30am and so there was never a need to set an alarm clock!

At 5.15am a bell was struck and all the children were out of bed with brooms and cleaning gear in hand. The grounds and buildings were swept and cleaned, any rubbish was picked-up and by 6.00am the Monastery was clean and ready for the day.

There was absolutely no “grumbling” from the children, in fact just quiet laughter and conversations as they went happily about the tasks that had been set for them… What a joy to be part of this. If only for a short time, where children are taught that they have responsibilities to their home and their school and set about completing these responsibilities with a laugh and a smile… It truely was a joy to behold !

The team would rise around 5.45am and it was a beautiful time of the day!

The days were very hot and so was the night until around midnight when the heat started to wane and the cool would come… What a relief… We could sleep as there was no air-conditioning in this part of the world.

Breakfast was at 6.00am onboard our trusty little ship that we had charterd to bring us to Kote Tet. The Captain and his crew decided to stay with us at the Monastery instead of using fuel to return to Mandalay and then more fuel to return to collect us at the completion of our work… What an absolute blessing that proved to be as Ms E E could prepare our meals in their little galley and we had a clean place to eat our meals cooled by the gentle breeze of the beautiful Irrawaddy River.

The crew acted as our waiters and made my coffee… Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you! You are very special people and you made the experience for each of us very pleasant.

Thier little daughter “fell in Love” with our bedding, the comfortable mattress, colourful sheets and pillows and the pretty pink mosquito nets so we gave her our spare set. She was so happy and you would have thought we had given her the world !

WORK STARTED AT 7.00am. Ms Yinn, our nurse volunteer would start a little earlier checking the temperature and blood pressure of the first of the children to be treated noting their names and age and then they would go on to be x-rayed with an amazing hand held x-ray unit. The x-ray picture along with the personal details saved on a computer file so that the doctors could quickly reference it before treatment but also so that it is available next year when we follow-up on each child’s progress.

From the x-ray its either to teeth cleaning if there is no dental treatment required but very few were in this position or to the dentist for treatment.


The childrens teeth were in terrible condition as they had never seen a dentist before or been taught to brush properly and so the treatments were not simple with unfortunately many extractions need.

We started with the orphanes then moved on to the school children from the village.


The treatment schedule was “challenging” on everyone to say the least… The heat and humidity just sapped our energy but no one let up… No one… Peter and Jeff, the two dentists led the way and we all followed… It was truely amazing to watch the teamwork and commitment to these children!


We had incredible support from the Head Monk, a very beautiful human being with a huge smile. His assistant and the teachers at the Monastery School organised the children by age so that there was a constant but orderly flow of children into our clinic… Thank-you all. We just could not have achieved what was achieved with out your constant help!


And when I say shower it was really a plastic drum filled with brown water from the Irrawaddy River and a plastic scoop to scoop the very cold water over ourselves… What a shock when that first scoop of cold water hit your body… A sharp intake of breath was followed by relief as following scoops cooled down your body from a day of intense heat and consistent work.

For me I skipped Ms E E’s dinner and went to bed early as I wanted at least 7 hours sleep before the Monks started Chanting again…

More to come…

Group Photo Opportunity

15th November 2019

The children are amazing… THEY ARE TOUGH… The dental team were amazed that out of all the children we have seen only two cried… and some of the children were kindergarten age… only two… yet not one of them had ever been to a dentist before. Jeff, one of our dentists said he was amazed at this strength as his child patients at home in Page, Arizona would cry and there would be all sorts of dramas… But not one of with these kids from Kote Tet… Just strength and commitment to see it through.

Were they unafraid… NO… of course not… and you could see the worry and the fear of the unknown on their faces and in their eyes, so we played games with them. We gave each other the thumbs-up as they waited for their treatment and generally tried to put them at ease… Big smiles gentle hands from our team worked wonders as well.

The condition of the childrens mouths shocked us all to say the least. The decay, the tarter build-up and the gum disease was some of the worst our dental team had ever delt with.

The tarter especially was so thick against and under their gums that it literally needed to be prized away with a scraper and this caused not a whimper… Blood would flow from the infected gums… Peter or Jeff would say spit and they would spit out the blood and they would sit back upright open their mouths ready for the next round… TOUGH!

Beautiful, courageous girl from Kote Tet.

There were too many names to remember and it was impossible to do so, but some touched you so deeply that it was very difficult not to be moved and I will always remember that face and that wonderful smile of one such girl. She had had TB and now had severe shaking of the hands. Her head was down but when I spotted her trying to control the shaking by gripping one hand with the other I went up to her and said “Hi.” She looked up at me and I could see the fear of the unknown in her eyes but even so, she gave me the most beautiful smile I had ever seen… Her eyes were sparkling and at that point I decided to sit with her beside the dentists table and hold her hand as the treatment took place.

She gripped my hand as the treatment took place and we went through this very new and difficult experience for her together… The smile she gave me as she left made all the effort and frustration of getting this dental outreach in place worth while… I’ll never forget the shaking hands Her frightened grip and the beautiful smile that she gave me. It made it all worth while!


16th November 2019

The dental team were shocked at the very poor oral health of the children at Kote Tet. Infact Dr Jeff told me he had never seen such bad tarter build-up on children’s teeth, even having done similar humanitarian dental work in developing countries in South America.

“ Mark… come and look at this,” was the call I heard often and I would go over to the dentist table and look into the mouths of many beautiful children and even to my untrained eye I could see the serious decay and damage there.

“What can we do to turn this situation around for these children?” was the question asked by both Dr Peter and Dr Jeff and so I suggested we call a meeting through the Head Monk and the Village Head Man asking a parent from each of the families in the village to attend along with the teaching staff from the Monastery School.

They came and they sat on the floor infront of us both Doctors, the Head Monk and the Village head plus Mr Myo our wonderful local guide as translater and I spoke first about what we had discovered so far and how shocked we were at the poor condition of their childrens oral hygene.  How their children were growing-up in a new Myanmar, a modern Myanmar and that many would eventually leave the village to find careers and work opportunities in the cities.

With decayed and missing teeth it would be very difficult for them to find work in industries like tourism, cruise and retail… Very, very difficult!

The parents listened intently!

We asked them to stop buying sweets, soft drinks and other processed snacks for their children and to ensure they cleaned their teeth after breakfast and after their evening meal…. and NO CHEWING BEATLE NUT, a habit that is wide spread and destroys their mouths very quickly!

Both Doctors spoke and then The Head Monk spoke at some length about the effort made by the dental team to repair much of the damage that had been done through lack of oral care and hygiene and that they, as parents also had a major responsibility to ensure that this work was not in vein and to ensure that brushing and healthy food was a part of their children’s daily routine.

The parents listened to each speaker intently with many nodding their heads in agreement as each piece of advice was given.

As we finished they all came forward to shake our hands and thank us with big smiles. It was very moving and we all felt that the message was received and it would produce a positive outcome… We shall see when we return next year!

We went to bed that evening feeling that something very positive had been achieved!

17th November 2019

MS KHAING THAZIN WIN ( 13 Years of age/ Kote Tet Village, Irrawaddy River.)

“What a very fortunate young lady!”

Earlier in the year while David and I were Cruising down the beautiful Irrawaddy River and after an overnight stop at Kote Tet Orphanage and Monestry to meet the children and their carers, David approached me and said that he and two fellow travellers wanted to help by sponsoring a female student from Kote Tet Monestry school through her education including University… Wow… What a wonderful and generous gift to offer a young lady from this very remote part of Myanmar!

I told David that I would need some time to arrange this but that I would be back to Kote Tet in November 2019 with a dental team and I would at that time be able to talk to the Head Monk and teachers to identify the right person for this opportunity… This day has now come.

David also told me they wanted to help with the Dental Team visit as well… Which they have done now and it’s hard to put into words how much their generous contribution has meant to us… We thank-you, all three ,from the bottom of our hearts… You have helped make this humanitarian outreach possible and have made it the success it has been!

During our Dental Team stay at Kote Tet, I asked the Head Monk and the school teachers to put forward three of their outstanding female students and explain to me why they were chosen and also to show me the students classroom workbooks.

I also asked for an explanation of each students family circumstances. I interviewed them with the help of our fantastic local Guide, Mr Myo, and one of the teachers who spoke English.

I chose Ms Khaing for the following reasons:
> Her teachers told me she was an outstanding student, hard working, attentive and intelligent.
> Her school work was beautifully presented in her classroom workbooks.
> Her personal appearance was clean and tidy. She took care of herself and presented well.
> Her parents were totally supportive of this opportunity with her mother crying at being told of the opportunity being offered to her daughter.

SHE LOVES TO READ her teachers told me. She comes from one of the poorest families in the village.

When I asked her what she wanted to do with her life, her answers were firm, clear and she answered without hesitation… She wants to be an International Translator with the Governments International department.

I asked Khaing to make me some promises should she get this opportunity:
1) To work very hard and obey her teachers and carer and bring honour to her family and village.
2) No boys while she studies.
3) No smart phones, but could have a simple Nokia to communicate with her family.
4) When she finishes her education she is to help educate someone else from her village.


She will be interviewed and tested for entry to an excellent private school inJanuary 2021…
Pride ISM… A British Curriculum International School in Mandalay and will begin studies in the new year.

18th November 2019

Finally the steady and constant flow of children begins to slow… We are reaching the end… Its been exhausting to say the least, everyone on the dental team is tired, but still elated at what had been achieved… For me its been nothing short of amazing, as I never imagined that so many children would be seen and treated.

We start to see adults arriving. Some with very serious dental issues but the dental team don’t hesitate… They started treating them… I just wanted to sit down for a minute and get off of my feet but there was still work to be done!

Finally they stopped coming and the order finally came – “Lets pack everything up and get it loaded onto our trusty little charter boat.” We finished around 6.30pm.

The only things left to pack and load in the morning were our beds and our personal bags… DONE… FINISHED… WHAT A FEELING!

We sat for our final dinner at Kote Tet and the talk had already started about returning next year… I said “I’m in!” Each and every one of them said the same and Dr Jeff and Dr Peter stated firmly but with excitement and commitment in their voices.” Next year we bring a bigger team so that we can achieve even more!”


19th November 2019

“Let’s have breakfast on the boat in the morning as we sail.” The team had already learnt that the mornings on the Irrawaddy River are just stunning and so breakfast as we got underway was the plan.

At 6.15am the children came into our accommodation and started to pack up our mosquito nets and bedding and carried it all to the boat on small but very strong shoulders… We learnt very quickly that these Kote Tet children were no strangers to hard work.

Next it was our personal luggage… Up on their shoulders again and with big smiles down to our wonderful little boat.


Everyone was there to see us off… It was difficult to go to the boat as photos were taken and good-byes were said… We had planned to leave at 7am but it was well after that by the time we boarded and ropes were taken in… Tired but elated we waved good-bye to our many new friends.

The boat turned south and the engine speed increased. Time for one last look at Kote Tet and the many children still waving before the wonderful smells of Ms E E’s breakfast drew us slowly from the top deck to the breakfast table below.

We had a 5 hour cruise south to Mingun, just north of Mandalay where we intended to stop and provide some sightseeing for our very hard working dental team…

The Unfinished Pagoda built in 1790 but never finished as the King building it died before he could complete it…. Huge yet only 1/3 its intended hight, the biggest working bell in the world and my favourite – the white Pagoda… AND SHOPPING… YES. You can’t travel to exotic lands and not take home a gift or two for family and friends and Mingun is a wonderful centre of Myanmar arts and crafts…

But first… 5 hours of relaxation… No bending over children and gazing into their damaged mouths, bathed in sweat, calling for dental mirrors or whatever else was needed… but deck chairs, a cool breeze washing gently over our trusty little ship, keeping each of us cool and comfortable and the stunning scenery of the Upper Irrawaddy River… I’ve travelled on many of the worlds great rivers in my former role as a Cruise Director but none compare in beauty and interest to the “Irrawaddy.”

Just north of Mingun Im asked, “Whats that white mountain to the left?” They had spotted Marble Mountain which indeed appears white, as its top quality marble is quarried for the making of Buddha figures which will go into the Many Pagodas that are such an integral part of daily life in Myanmar.

“Keep an eye out for the Irrawaddy Dolphins. We are in an area they are known to inhabit,” and no sooner had I said the words, the Captain stopped the boat… “DOLPHINS!!” was the cry and there they were. Five of the very rare Irrawaddy Dolphins circling and feeding right next to our boat… Amazing! And how happy I was that the team who had come so far to help the children of Myanmar could see and experience one of the rarest sights in Asia… It was almost as if Myanmar and the beautiful Irrawaddy River was saying “Jezuba” or thank-you to this wonderful group of people.

There are only approximately 175 Irrawaddy Dolphins left in the river along a length of 1300 miles so to see these very rare dolphins was a very special experience indeed.

Mingun was in sight and so was the fabled city of Mandalay and so our journey was drawing to a close. We had dinner tonight with Dr Oo and members of the Mandalay Dental Association and some sight seeing of Mandalay tomorrow before flying to Yangon and flights back home.

What a journey… What an experience… To come all the way to Myanmar (Burma) and to know that children’s lives have been changed for the better… That they will be healthier and will have better opportunities in the future because of the work that’s been done!


Note: If you feel moved to help in this work, please contact Mark at www.Truevacations.co.nz or call him personally on +64 21 070 8956
We all, including the children of Myanmar, will be very grateful and all money donated goes directly to the dental treatment of the children.

20th November 2019



Mr Peter Banks.

Mr Jeffery Gifford.

Mrs Alice Gifford.

Mrs Sandra Oman.

Ms Ashley Erickson.

Ms Patrice Young. 

Ms Ashley Smith.

Ms Yinn (Our Myanmar Nurse).


Mr Myo.

Mr Alex.


Ms EI EI (Cook)


MS SU OF mASIA TRAVEL. Who helped me with the ground arrangements in Myanmar… A HUGE help!


Mr Win

And so many more not named, but to whom I will always be grateful! Thank you!

Humanitarian Work

Written by Mark Nicholls

Hi to all you lovely readers out there and a big thank you for stopping by. I’d like to introduce myself and the work that my team do, to make a difference to the beautiful world around us.

I’ve been working as a Cruise Director on a river cruise ship travelling on the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar and have been constantly struck by the poverty I came across as we called and visited villages, especially on the beautiful upper Irrawaddy River. One in particular touched me deeply, Kote Tet orphanage and Monastery which is located on the southern end of the 3rd Defile (Gorge) and which is a home to about 100 children who don’t have parents or family to care for them. They are however looked after and educated by Government teachers and adults from a nearby village. I started to stop there over night as part of our cruise program and we would take our passengers ashore to meet the kids and their carers. Our lovely passengers were so touched by the experience that they would ask me… “how can we help?” So I started a fund which passengers could donate to and I would ask the teacher for a list of needs… Sometimes school books, pens, pencils and clothing were needed. At other times we purchased art equipment for them which they had never had before and some of the artwork, the children produced was just stunning!! Medical kits and sports equipment… lol… the kids just loved receiving their soccer balls, badminton sets and volley balls. Sometimes it would be bags of rice to feed the children… So many things they needed and we were able to provide, through the generosity of our amazing passengers.

In 2018 I had two dentists and their wives on board from Utah in the USA, Dr Peter Banks, Dr Jeff Gifford. After a visit to the orphanage they asked me how they could help and we had a discussion about the poor dental health of children in these remote areas of Myanmar. They both told me that they had done humanitarian dental work in South America before and if I was to organise it, they would be more than willing to bring a team to Myanmar to repair the teeth of the children in the orphanage. Once that was achieved, they would then be willing to repair the teeth for as many of the children as was possible from the nearby village. I was so excited because here was an opportunity to make a very positive and long lasting effect on the lives of these beautiful children.

I started work immediately, organising the arrangements for the dental group. With the help of a very special person, Mr Myo, my local guide in Myanmar, without whom it would have been impossible to weave my way through the local government bureaucracy. We needed permission to bring in medical supplies and equipment etc. On many occasions I did wonder if we would ever make it happen. The bureaucracy was confusing and very frustrating to say the least… Mr Myo put me in contact with Dr Thin Naing Oo, the director of the Myanmar Dental Association and things started to “go right”!! a very big thank-you Dr Oo!!!

Dr Oo has had a dental team at Kote Tet assessing the children (see photos on below) so that our team can swing straight into action, repairing their teeth as soon as we arrived.


On November the 9th 2019, a dental team of seven will arrive in Yangon, 2 dentists, plus dental hygienists and assistants. We will travel to Kote Tet via Mandalay to begin the dental treatment with the children…

Watch this space!!!