I have just returned from an amazing trip to Myanmar/Burma with several friends. This is a country that is ready to explode with tourists. They have doubled their American tourists in the past 2 years and you could see in each city changes that are occurring. Before I begin to talk about the country and its people a few house keeping notes.
First we organized our own tour with the help of Country Holidays, a travel company out of Singapore, http://www.countryholidays.com.sg. This is the 2nd time we have engaged Country Holiday to assist in Asian travels and I must tell everyone, they once again organized an over the top trip.
We departed from Singapore for Yangon for our first night. We were met by our guide and ventured out to the Gem Museum to see all the fine stones that are found in the mines of Myanmar. A couple of the ladies did buy pearl earrings and one purchased a beautiful ring. The prices were very good and everyone loved the opportunity to negoiate for the best price available. (Dr. Khin at May Mon Jewels was a great help, be sure to stop by her booth.)
We continued on a quick over view tour of the city and headed to lunch at Monsoon Restaurant for our first real Myanmar food. On the way to our hotel, The Governors Residence, we stopped for a tour of the old grand hotel of the city, The Strand Hotel. It was lovely and I am sure it was the best in its day. However, I vote for our hotel with a beautiful pool and large cool rooms in a garden setting.
We dropped our things off at the hotel and had a rest before heading out to the most unbeliveable spiritual Shwedagon Pagoda. It is hard to describe the energy you felt as you walk through this massive structure. There were hundreds of families sharing moments in their own special way, some in celebration of young men going to expereince monk hood, others celebrating a passing life. You will need to remove your shoes at every pagoda so having bare feet is something you will get use to as you venture through this country. After we watched the sunset from the high walls of the pagoda we ventured back to the hotel where we ate dinner and got to bed early. Most of the flights in Myanmar will depart early,
We boarded our 6 am flight to Mandalay after only one day in Yangon. Arriving in Mandalay we were met by our new guide and headed out to see a few of the temples along the way. We stopped in Palelk to visit the snake temple. Yes there are real snakes wrapped around the budha’s neck and arm. They seem to be very happy protecting the place, and were well taken care of. There are over 300 lesser know temples some of them now grown over by trees and vegetation. We wandered through the area and visited a fabric weaving project and wonderful small village along the river.
We stayed at The Sedona Hotel, a large modern structure across from the old kings palace. We dropped our luggage and went to lunch behind the hotel at a restaurant called “Unique”, good local food. Then out to Kuthodaw Pagoda where you experience over 700 individual structures housing 729 marble stone slabs with the entire Buddhist scriptures reproduced page for page.
We then went to watch the process of making gold leaf, and visit a couple of local work shops, wood carvers making masks and puppets. Our guide No Nyan Lwin: firstname.lastname@example.org was so patient as we shopped in the markets and asked many questions about how these temples and structures wee built. We did a quick stop at one of the holiest pagodas, Mohamuni Pagoda before heading out to watch the sunset as we walked across the U Being Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world. What a way to finish the day.
We had a simple dinner in the hotel and went to bed early since we had to get up early for a short cruise on the Ayeyarwady River. We boarded our wooden boat for a cruise to visit Mingus. When we pulled into where the boat would be held while we walked through the area we were met by carts drawn by cows/bulls, their taxi service.
There are ladies and kids running after you trying to sell you beads, cotton pants and hats. If you do decide to buy something, remember the price they ask is about half of what you are going to end up paying. As you walk through the ruins in this area you will realize that the king of this time, 1790, wanted to have everything be created to be the biggest. You will see the world’s largest working bell. Then walk a short distance to see Bodawpaya’s pagoda, at first it appears to be a huge pile of bricks, 330ft, There is a story that the tooth of the Buddha was a gift to the king and he had this pagoda built to house it. It was really never finished and then an earthquake struck and caused a lot of damage. Close to the other memorable sights sits the Hsinbyume Pagoda, worth the climb up the flight of white stairs. We jumped on one of the cow drawn carts and headed back to the boat for lunch and a two hour cruise to AVA.
When we arrived on the river banks of AVA we boarded horse drawn carts to travel on the dirt roads through the country side and visit many ancient temples. Then our driver pick us up and on the way back to the hotel we had a stop at “The Phaung Daw Oo School and Orphanage—www.phaungdawoo.org—. This was a very special moment in our day. The school houses kids that attend school during the year and then stay during the vacation since many of their families live to far away. Plus they have an orphanage for children that have no family. We gave them things for the school and visited with the staff. Before we left we pooled a small amount of cash as a donation. If you are in the area try to stop for a visit.
Up early for a flight to Bagan, we were the only 4 people on the flight with a whole crew. It was very hot upon our arrival, about 100, after a short drive and visit to two beautiful temples, Ananda and Gubyaukgyi we arrived under a huge tree and were treated to a fun picnic of local food. They had large umbrella protecting us from the sun and lovely dishes to share. Then off to our hotel, ” Aubeum Palace, Jasmine Villa” for a dip in the infinity pool and a rest before an early evening tour in horse drawn carts. We ended by climbing the Pyathagyi Pagoda to watch the sunset. There were two restaurants at the hotel so we just rested and enjoyed local fare at the hotel.
Up early for a magical hot air balloon ride over old Bagan and back at the hotel by 8:30 for breakfast. (Be sure to go on the hot air balloons it was wonderful)!!!
We ventured out to visit the local markets in Pakokku, it was about an hour away but great people watching and huge array of food and products all being sold to locals. We were the only Americans that we saw. On the way back we stopped at a place called “Queen”, it was along the highway but a great find. The entire lunch was about $15 for the 4 of us including fruit drinks. Be sure to allow yourself time to rest during the heat of the day. Then at sunset we went on a river cruise along the Ayeyarwady River, enjoyed all the river traffic and watched the sunset with a backdrop of many stupa’s and pagodas.
Next day we flew to Inle Lake and the cool air of a region about 3000 feet above sea level. We arrived at Heho airport and our driver pick us up and we headed out to a huge local market in the town of Nyaung Shwe. It is called the 5 day market because it rotates cities and only is back in this village in 5 days, so the selection of food to buy and fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and home products was over whelming. When we left we made a stop at the Yan Pyay monastery, where the young monks were having lunch and we watched them looking at their cell phones and chatting. It was a wonderful stop and the small temple next door had many little shrines dedicated to visitors from around the world.
Off to lunch at a local restaurant called “Viewpoint Lodge” located along one of the many canals. The lunch was one of the most interesting selections of local fare, served on small plates. They also had rooms to rent and the location next to the new bridge being built was fun people watching.
After lunch we boarded long boats for our 45 minute ride to our hotel “Villa Inle Resort”, our bags had gone ahead and were waiting for us upon our arrival. The lake is about 60 square mile lake. The trip was a wonderful snarl of weeds, fishermen rowing their wooden boats with one leg wrapped around the paddle. Our hotel was located on the banks of the lake about 36 individual cabins with every detail taken care of. We all headed tot he spa, I enjoyed a great 90 minute massage for $50.00 and went back the next day for another.
We had dinner at the hotel dining room since there is no place to go, they had a nice menu and a simple wine list but good values.
The next morning we were picked up early, stepped into our wooden boat and headed to tour the floating gardens. These gardens, called Kyunpaw are cultivated from boats, usually by the women. We saw rows of tomatoes, beans and cucumbers but they grow crops year round and these are another good source of income for the Intha people. The men are fishermen rowing their slender boats through the water with one leg wrapped around the ore their eyes looking for any movement so they can drop their nets.
When we left the floating gardens we headed out across the lake to visit Phaungdaw U Pagoda and our boat driver worked our little boat through narrow channels. We passed several other hotels along the lake, Paradise Resort was over the water and we also saw a lovely resort, Ana Heritage. Both were more centrally located but we liked our place on solid ground.
It was time for lunch and our guide had reserved at “Inthar Heritage House” we had a great lunch and spent time enjoying the beautiful Burmese cats that are being breed here. This area is home to the Pa O Village people, they are very proud weavers, and have a big factory making cheroot cigars.
The last morning we were picked up early by our boat and guide hades to the boat launch and off to catch our plane. We flew to Yangon to connect to our flight back to Singapore. Since we and several hours in Yangon we had a driver take us to lunch at Padonmar Restaurant for our last feast on local food.
Back at the airport waited for our departure to Singapore, loaded with all our treasures and memories.