Wednesday, October 31, 2012

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO BURMA


The golden marvel of Shwezigon Pagoda.

Select Collection travelled around magical Myanmar/Burma by longtail boat, car and plane. A journey back in time among glittering pagodas, stately Buddhas, and timeless lakes and rivers. We also wandered through today's intriguing markets, ate at some good (and not so good) restaurants, and saw the new icon of Burma - the home of Aung San Suu Kyi...

 But let us start with tips, some learnt the hard way:
  • Good word to know is Mingalaba (r) - hello.
  • Visa on arrival works perfectly. The cost is 30 USD, paid at the airport upon arrival.
  • Supply us with a scan of the passport page with all relevant information, at least three weeks before.
  • Your cell phone cannot be used in Burma, unless you rent a SIM card.
  • ATM machines do not work for foreign credit cards.
  • Cash is the best payment throughout the tour.
  • Bring USD non-marked bills. They are very strict about this, and will not take your money if it has even the smallest stain or folding marks.
  • You get best exchange rate for 100 and 50 dollar bills.
  • Just a few of the top hotels accept payment with credit cards.
  • Most of the airports have exchange facilities, and the rate of exchange is good.
  • Myanmar currency is kyat (say chaat).
  • Bring a good torch. Can be useful if you walk outside late evenings, or to be used visiting some of the pagodas.
  • Wet tissues are also worth bringing. Shoes need to be taken off before entering every temple and pagoda, so it is nice to be able to wipe off your feet before purring  your shoes back on.

Now follows a brief diary of our travels (note at the very end we had brief look at our Select Collection property Governor's Residence in Yangon - formerly called Rangoon):

22 September


We started the trip the best way, with an upgrade with Thai airways to business class on the direct flight from Oslo to Bangkok. The seats are quite ok, not all flat, but wide and comfortable.

23 September

Arrive Bangkok in the morning with just a few hours before the flight to Yangon.

In Yangon we were met by Erik Moe, the guide who would follow us all the way around Myanmar. He is a Burmese although his name sounds very Norwegian. Our agent lets one guide follow the guests around for the full trip, instead of getting a new local guide at every new place. 

In Yangon we started with a walk along Kandawgyi Lake, a green lung in Yangon, used by the locals for recreation. We ate at a restaurant built as a ship on the lake, where you can join a dinner show. The show is said to be great, the food was not so great.

In the afternoon we visited Scott market, a very crowded one, followed by the National Museum. Highlights are the manequin dolls dressed with national costumes from all the tribes in Myanmar and the lion throne.

We also visited the colossal reclining Buddha Chaukhtatkyi and ended up with a visit to the awe-inspiring Shwedagon Pagoda, a golden pagoda which can be seen from all over Yangon. This is one of the most beautiful pagoda complexes in Asia and should not be missed. See the image at the top of this page.

We ended the evening having dinner at a very good restaurant, The 365, with very good food and a nice atmosphere. The restaurant is at Thamada hotel. http://www.365cafeyangon.com/365.html

24 September

A very early rise this morning to reach the morning flight to Bagan, Myanmar's first capital. We flew with Yangon Airways, one of the five operating carriers. They all use the same aircraft - ATR turbocraft. Flying time from Yangon to Bagan is 1 hour 10 minutes.

Bagan is known for its many temples, pagodas and stupas. We visited many of them, but the highlight was the red and golden one called Dhammayazika. We climbed up on this one in the morning. To be on top of one of these gives a great view of this overwhelming collection of temples and pagodas spread over a big area.

We watched the sunrise from the top of this colourful
pagoda Dhammayazika.


We also had a chance to visit one of the villages in the area. We had a stroll in this village, to get the feel of people's regular lives.
We ended this day with a great river cruise on Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy)  river.  Highly recommended. Tea and snacks are served.


25 September

A new day visiting different temples and pagodas.
A highlight of the day was the sunset watched from top of another pagoda, Shwesandaw. The climbing up was tougher this time, with steeper steps than the one we climbed earlier. But the climb was well worth the effort to get the great view from the top. This is a popular place so you will not be alone here. We ended the evening with dinner and puppet show.

In Bagan we visited the best hotel here, situated in the middle of all the temples and pagodas, with a great view of them. The hotel has only 114 rooms, two restaurants, spa and gym, swimmingpools. We liked the deluxe rooms facing the pool, some with pagoda views. For longer stays we recommend the Garden deluxe rooms.

Aureum Palace:  http://www.aureumpalacehotel.com/

One thing we missed, but which we recommend for our clients, is hot air ballooning. Runs only in high season from mid October to March.

Recommended restaurants in Bagan:

The Green Elephant and the Beach Bagan.

26 September

An early rising again for the 30 minute flight to Mandalay,  the last royal capital of Myanmar.

In Mandalay we started with a visit to the ancient royal capital of Amarapura. First the well known bridge, U Bein bridge, crossing Taungthaman lake. It is more than two centuries old and at 1.2km is the longest teak wood bridge in the world. Here are a lot of vendors and beggers and the visit is better done early in the morning or late afternoon. It is nearly 45 minutes drive from Mandalay to Amarapura.

U Bein bridge, the world's longest teak bridge

We also visited Mahagandayon monastery, a huge complex with more than 130 buildings for about 1300 monks and novices. This is a school for young monks. We got the chance to watch the food ceremony.

Arriving Mandalay early afternoon, we visited more pagodas, a gold leaf hammering craftshop, Shwenendaw monastery and Kuthodaw pagoda with the world's largest book for its 729 stone slabs containing the entire Buddhist scriptures. We ended the afternoon with a drive up to Mandalay Hill. This is done with trucks, as the bus could not take us up the winding roads. Here we find a great view of all Mandalay and surroundings, including the Ayeyarwaddy river.

Dinner this evening we had at a Little Bit of Mandalay. This was a good choice when it comes to food and service.


27 September


A new early morning wake up call before the drive (c. 1 hr) to the airport for our 30 minute flight to Heho, the nearest airport to Inle Lake, our next destination.

We start with a one hour drive from Heho airport to the town called Nyaung Shwe where we enter a longtailboat to take us into the lake district. But first we took a stroll into the local market, quieter than the ones visited earlier.

One of Myanmar's few wineries is located close to here, Red Mountain estate. Here we got a tour of the house followed by wine tasting. The estate lies at the altitude of 1000 m, and all plants are imported from Europe.

After lunch we enter the longtail boats heading for the lake. Inle Lake is situated about 900 m above sea level.


Life at Inle Lake
In the afternoon we visited a lotus and silk weaving factory, and Jumping Cats Monastery. A heavy rainfall makes the trip exiting and exotic, umbrellas and raincoats keeps us as good as dry, but we end this day of sight seeing early.


28 September


Sun shining, we start the day entering the longtail boats again to discover more of the lake.

We start with a visit to Indain and its enchanting 17th century pagodas. During the day we visit a silversmith, a cheerot (burmese cigar) making and Shan traditional paper making family.

A "long necked" lady lives here, and we get a chance to see her and get the story behind this tribal feature. In Leshae village we visit Phaungdaw U Pagoda and see where they make Buddha images from dried flower powder.

During lunch at Mr Toes,  another heavy rainshower comes, but now we are safe under a roof.

The scenery is great during these two days and we see a lot. Most spectacular is to see the fishermen, standing on one foot, rowing with the other, using both hands to throw a net out or drag the fishing net back into their boats.

The art of balance - a fisher's dance at Inle Lake

29 September

Day of departure. A new early rise as we have both a long boatride and a car ride ahead of us before the flight back to Yangon. During the boatride we see the sunrise.

Flight time from Heho to Yangon is 1 hour 10 minutes.

In Yangon we have some hours to spend before the evening flight to Bangkok.

Driving from the airport into the city we pass the house where Aung San Suu Kyi lives, and where she sat in house arrest for so many years. NLD, National League for Democracy, now  have their offices here.

We start with an early lunch at Padonmar Restaurant.

 http://www.myanmar-restaurantpadonmar.com/profile.htm

This lies in the embassy district, and a short walk from the Orient Express Hotel Governors Residence.

This is the premier Burma property that we have in our Select Collection. We had a short visit to this hotel, but they had no rooms free to show us.
The Governors Residence is a small boutique hotel, housed in an old building from the 1920s, built in colonial style. There are only 48 rooms. The Deluxe rooms with garden view look into a nice green backyard.

Here there is a pool with deckchairs around it, a restaurant and a bar. They can offer traditional massage, in the rooms. No spa or gym.

Ngapali Beach is said to have some of Asia's best beaches. It is worth exttending your trip to spend some days here.

See more of our images:

Beautiful colours at the market.


It felt like being in an Indiana Jones movie.


Different ways of fishing.

Monks attending the food ceremony at
Mahagandayon monastry.


View from the top of the temple.




Buying spices at the market.




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