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expedition handbook

This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this epic Secret Compass expedition to Burma/Myanmar.

Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, to secure your spot on this expedition team with a Booking Form and deposit.

Key facts

  • Arrive: on 10 Nov 2017 to Yangon, Burma/Myanmar.
  • Depart: leave Yangon on 26 Nov.
  • Insurance: ensure you have comprehensive cover.
  • Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
  • Balance due: 90 days before departure on 10 Aug 2017.
  • Find FAQ and Testimonials online.


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. We have a unique partnership with Student Universe (a specialist division of the Flight Centre Travel Group and no, you don’t have to be a student to use them). The dedicated Secret Compass team understand us, our destinations and use global buying power to save you money and offer security along with a 24hour assistance helpline. Fill in a no-obligation Flight Request Form using the link on our Flights page or call (UK) 0844 560 9799 for assistance in booking international flights.

It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed for a fee or refunded if the expedition dates are 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 1800 on 10 November 2017 and the expedition officially ends after breakfast on the 26 November 2017 although you are free to depart anytime as many flights depart early in the morning.


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. They are valid for three months from application and valid for 28 days. eVisas can be applied for using the Burma eVisa website. 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.


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: Nov 10 – Yangon

The team will arrive in Yangon and meet at 1800 for to have briefings and dinner. Stay in a hotel (Seasons of Yangon International Airport Hotel, which is just across the road from the airport).

Day 2: Nov 11 – Homalin

You’ll leave the capital and fly to Homalin, arriving around 1300. Spend some time in Homalin, preparing for the expedition, buying supplies for the boat ride. Dinner and stay in a local hotel.

Day 3: Nov 12 – Khet Kaw

An early start to catch the public boat to Thatmanthi at 0400. Arrive and drive to Khet Kaw. Stay in a schoolhouse or church.

Day 4: Nov 13 – 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: Nov 14 – Latt Te

Continue up the valley to the last village, Latt Te. Cross a stream along the way.

Day 6: Nov 15 – Kabarkasu

En route to Tashi Ti. Camp at Kabarkasu.

Day 7: Nov 16 – 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: Nov 17 – Basecamp

Continue up through the trees, cutting a trail through the scrub. Trek to the basecamp located at 3000m.

Day 9: Nov 18 – Summit and down to Tashi Ti

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 breakfast, then pack up to descend to Tashi Ti camp. Depending on the team and local conditions, this may take around two days.

Day 10: Nov 19 – Kabarkasu

Wild camp at Kabarkasu.

Day 11: Nov 20 – Latt Te

Today is a steep descent through the trees into Latt Te village.

Day 12: Nov 21 – Yawpami

A welcoming relief to reach the footpath connecting the villages and head back to Yawpami.

Day 13: Nov 22 – Khet Kaw/Yawpami

Walk to Khet Kaw or, if not already used, take the contingency day to remain in Yawpami.

Day 14: Nov 23 – Khet Kaw

Either a contingency day in the village of Khet kaw or walk from Yawpami.

Day 15: Nov 24 – Homalin

Transfer to Homalin by 4WD and boat.

Day 16: Nov 25 – Yangon

Fly back to Yangon. Hotel.

Day 17: Nov 26 – Yangon

Fly home.

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.

  • Expedition Grade: 360° (our toughest).
  • Walk: up to 25km a day.
  • 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 and steep terrain at altitudes up to 3900m. Rope bridges. Exposed ridges.
  • Climate: In November, temps in the range of 20°C to 35°C are to be expected although at higher altitude, the temperature can often drop to near zero degrees. Although dry season it has been known to rain very hard.

Previous experience

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.

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. The latest (2009) $100 bills currently 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.

The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for the 2017 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.

Kit list

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.
  • SANDALS: Around camp and river crossings. Not flip flops.
  • 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

  • SOAP: Anti-bacterial and BIODEGRADABLE.
  • VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.

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.
  • COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard/original item.
  • 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.
  • WATCH.
  • 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.
  • RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings etc.

Our approach

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.

Typical teammates

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.

Teammate mentality

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.

Risk management

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.

  1. Risk assessment.
    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.
  2. Safety plan.
    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.
  3. Delivery.
    The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.

Key risks.

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 info@secretcompass.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.

Informed consent

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 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, temperatures in the range of 20°C to 35°C are to be expected although at higher altitude, the temperature can often drop significantly. The rainfall is minimal at this time of year, although has been know to rain very late as late as mid-November. At the summit expect near zero degree temperatures.


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 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). 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 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.


Lachlan Bucknall is an experienced Secret Compass leader, former Army Officer, qualified Mountain Leader, UK climbing instructor and ski instructor who has enjoyed mountaineering internationally for over 15 years in Europe, the Americas, SE Asia, Norway and more. He has lead this expedition twice before and will be supported by local guides who also know the route and the region well.


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.

Read our General FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. We will populate the below as we begin to get asked questions about this expedition that aren’t covered in this handbook. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.

The Journal

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See you on a team soon…

Terms and Conditions
  1. One entry per person.
  2. Closing date for entries is 12:00 JAN 19th.
  3. Entrants must be at least 18 years old.
  4. The prize includes: 1 ticket valid for one-day entry on either Saturday 20th or Sunday 21st January 2018
  5. Getting to the venue in London is the responsibility of the winner.
  6. The prize is only available from 20th – 21st August 2018.
  7. The prize cannot be exchanged for a cash alternative.
  8. The prize cannot be sold or used by anyone other than the winner.
  9. The promoter reserves the right to provide an alternative prize of similar value should the specified prize become unavailable for any reason.
  10. Neither the Promoter nor any other person or party associated with this promotion shall be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever suffered (including, but not limited to, indirect or consequential loss or damage) or personal injury or death suffered or sustained in connection with either participation in this promotion or with any prizes offered.
  11. The promoter reserves the right to cancel or amend the terms of this prize and without notice in the unlikely event of a major catastrophe, war, earthquake or any anticipated or alleged breach of any applicable law or regulation or any similar event or if circumstances arise outside of its control.
  12. The winner will be selected randomly by Secret Compass on 19 JAN 2017.
  13. Attempts will be made to notify the winner using the email address provided at the time of entry. If the promoter, having used reasonable efforts, is unable to contact the winner, then the prize is forfeited and further draw(s) may be conducted.
  14. The winner may be required to take part in reasonable publicity as specified by the Promoter.
  15. The Promoter cannot be held liable for IT system failures or delays or loss of entries.
  16. The organiser reserves the right to cancel this competition, or to change any condition of this competition, without notice.
  17. Acceptance of these terms and conditions is a condition of entry.
  18. No purchase necessary.