My oh Myanmar!
Rudyard Kipling once wrote “This is Burma. It’s quite unlike any place you know about”. And he was absolutely right. Having recently returned from her breathtaking experience with 5* luxury holiday specialists Azure and luxury river cruise operator Belmond, Penny Bolger, Travel Consultant from Wayfarers Travel and Escape the Rock Guernsey shares the highlights of one of her all-time favourite destinations.
Shwedagon Paya - Day one
I was completely enchanted by the beauty, history and charm of Myanmar. The moment I stepped off my 15 hour flight from Gatwick to Yangon I headed to the capital where the downtown skyline is dominated by the “winking wonder” of Shwedagon Paya, a dazzling Buddhist temple that attracts pilgrims from around the World. It stands at over 98 meters tall and is thought to have been built more than 2500 years ago with hundreds of gold plates and a stupa encrusted with 4531 diamonds, the largest of which is 76 carats. I visited the paya in the early evening whilst the sun was setting and everything glittered; there was a serenity and calmness that is hard to put into words. It was an experience will remain with me for a long time.
I stayed at the Sule Shangri-La Hotel, a modern hotel in Yangon with excellent facilities including an outdoor pool, fitness centre and sauna. A perfect location to reach local attractions, the hotel was only a short walk to the Bogyoke Aung San Market and Sule Pagoda, whilst a 10 minute drive led me to the Shwedagon Paya and the National Museum.
Kalaywa Monastery & Sule Pagoda - Day two
We headed to the Kalaywa Monastery an international learning centre and a fascinating place to see monastic life where over 1000 monks and nuns reside. Next stop was the 2000 year old Sule Pagoda, one of the city’s most endearing landmarks which was also a perfect spot to view the city’s historical colonial buildings. At lunch we explored the Bogyoke Aung San Market, still commonly known by its British name “Scott Market” where we had great fun haggling with the local traders for a handicraft bargain! Later in the day we took a stroll through Kandawgyi Park, where the illuminated Shwedagon Paya stupa formed a perfect backdrop for a picturesque walk.
On Board the Belmond ‘Road to Mandalay’ Cruise - Day three
Taking a short flight from Yangon to Mandalay International Airport, we travelled to the hills of Sagaing, the spiritual centre of Myanmar which is home to hundreds of pagodas, monasteries, nunneries and Buddhist learning centres. We enjoyed expansive views of the Ayeyarwady River from the Soon U Ponya Shin Pogoada. We then headed to the Shwe Kyet Yet Jetty to board the ‘Belmond Road to Mandalay’ river boat cruise.
Belmond Road to Mandalay was an unforgettable river cruise combined with land excursions that provided an authentic glimpse into Myanmar’s culture. Along the river we disembarked at Kuthodaw Pagoda a UNESCO-listed site with 729 stone tablets inscribed with Buddhist scriptures and the world’s largest book. We also visited the atmospheric Shwenandaw, an intricately carved wooden monastery , once part of King Mindon’s living quarters completed in 1880. Our final stop of the day was the 200 year old U Bein Bridge—one of the most photographed sites in Myanmar. After a day of sightseeing we had a well-earned Spa treatment on back on board the ship then enjoyed a cocktail party with fine Western and Asian dining.
Ancient Ava - Day four
We joined the early risers for a spot of yoga before tucking into a delicious a la carte breakfast. We then set sail for Ava (or “Inwa”) , a 14th century ancient imperial capital where we took a scenic ride on a horse and cart to explore! We saw the ruins of King Bagyidaw’s palace walls and moat, a 19th century teak monastery, picturesque villages and rice paddies. The more adventurous amongst us set off on a mountain bike tour off the beaten track into Ava’s rural pathways, pedalling past the ancient ruins and farmlands (but luckily no steep hills!).
Bagan - Day five
Sailing into Bagan we enjoyed watching fisherman cast their nets and views of gilded pagoda crowns before setting anchor. Bagan is an awe-inspiring place; it is ranked one of the greatest historic sites in Southeast Asia with over 3000 temples dotted along the river, many were built between the 11th and 13th centuries. A fascinating insight into Bagan’s history and architectural styles, our tour also included a village rarely seen by visitors where we caught glimpse of a lifestyle unchanged for centuries. We met with local people to learn about their way of life, from nurturing peanut and sesame crops to making homemade sone—a tasty fried chickpea snack—in a villager’s home.
We took an afternoon excursion to Ananda temple, an architectural masterpiece built in AD 1090 with four gilded 30ft Buddha statues. As a Belmond guest we were given exclusive access to a small temple to view murals by torchlight, followed by a walk to a stunning view of the 12th century Thatbyunnyu, one of Bagan’s tallest pagodas.
Grilled specialities were the highlight of our dinner on the ship which was served on live cooking stations under the stars on the Observation deck. A magical evening with a classical marionette performance too.
Belmond Governor’s residence - Day six
Flying from Bagan to Yangon airport we travelled to the Belmond Governor’s Residence, a romantic colonial style mansion where we had chance to relax. This elegant 1920s hotel is situated in the Embassy Quarter and set in luscious gardens with lotus ponds and a fan shaped swimming pool. Run impeccably by Belmond, it is the epitome of style conjuring up a bygone era whilst offering every modern pleasure. Dinner was al-fresco by lantern light, a fitting finale for an unforgettable Myanmar experience.
Why not experience Myanmar ?
Find out more about luxury holidays and tours to Myanmar, contact our Azure and Belmond travel specialists at Escape the Rock