Initially, I was reluctant as I’m used to managing my own itinerary. Also, I would be traveling without Lora. With her encouragement and my curiosity for a country which I know nothing about, even-though Myanmar is located next door to the country of my birth Thailand, I decided to embark on this adventure to learn about the foods, culture, people of Myanmar.
Traveling to Myanmar is surprisingly easy with many well-known international carriers servicing the country. My travels took me from LAX with a brief layover in Seoul into Yangon International Airport, I was impressed with the modern airport and discovered it has been in operation for about one year. After clearing customs, A & K arranged to have my personal guide greet and escort me to the iconic Strand Hotel.
After a restful night’s sleep to cure my jetlag, my guide returned to take me on a tour of Yangon. Some of the highlights include:
- Botatung Pagoda – an unusual 131-foot-tall hollow stupa which allows visitors the opportunity to walk around inside.
- Traditional Burmese fortune teller – near the Sule Pagoda area where I meet with one of Yangon’s most experience astrologers. This old-world custom of soothsayers and palmists is still very much alive and revered in Myanmar today, and they often are consulted before weddings and funerals in order to determine which days, months, colors and even foods might bring good fortune.
- Bogyoke Aung San Market (also known as Scott Market) – here I found an amazing array of antique heirlooms to fresh fruits, vegetables and everything between all under one roof.
- A few blocks from the Strand hotel lies a “local” market. Warning(strong odor) This market is located within an alley way and occupies a number of blocks that sells daily ingredients from fresh meats, fish, and vegetables. As well as a variety of items that even I could not identify!
- Lunch with my guide at a local restaurant – Feel Restaurant
After exploring some highlights of Yangon, the group I was traveling with transferred to Yangon airport to catch a flight to Heho. Upon landing, we transferred to a boat for a ride to our next stay at Villa Inle Resort on Inle Lake . During my extraordinary time at Inle Lake, I got to experience some incredible excursions and meet the loveliest local people.
- Inle Lake 5-day market – The vibrant market is held on a five-day rotating cycle, visiting the lake in turn. I had the opportunity to see and meet the local hill tribe people as they buy and sell their goods, which range from intricate handmade crafts to produce grown on the lake’s famous floating gardens.
- Stilted village of Inn Paw Khon – known for its ikat style silk weaving.
- Intha boat race
- Ngaphechaung Monastery – This elegant wooden monastery is built on stilts over the lake and has an impressive collection of Buddha images in the Shan, Tibetan, Bagan and Innwa styles on a highly ornate wood and mosaic pedestal.
- Insider Access with A & K, I had a unique chance to enjoy a serene lunch on a boat floating in the middle of Inle Lake. A pair of floating boats are on hand – one for dining and one completely outfitted as a floating kitchen, where the talented chefs prepared a delicious meal onsite, surrounded by the serene sights and activity on Inle Lake. This excursion was truly special and one of the highlights during my stay on Inle Lake.
After a few days of immersion in Inle Lake, we transferred to Heho airport for our flight to Bagan and checked into our hotel at the Aureum Palace Resort, Bagan.
- Insider Access with A & K – a Novitiation ceremony. The Novitiation ceremony (or “shinbyu” in Burmese), marks the first time a boy enters the monastery and becomes a novice monk. Almost every Burmese boy will participate in a Novitiation ceremony during his lifetime, as it is deemed a parents’ most important duty to encourage their sons to become immersed in the teachings of the Buddha. This ceremony is highly important in the Burmese culture and was very special to be able to witness this tradition.
Next, we transferred to the pier in Bagan to board the luxurious all-balcony ‘Sanctuary Ananda’, for a three-night cruise upon the timeless Irrawaddy River I have to admit, I’m not fond of cruising. However, this is my first experience with river cruising and my impression has changed. I am now a fan of river cruising because of the intimacy of the ship. The excursions arranged for us were fantastic:
- Anada Temple – regarded by folklore as one of the most beautiful temples in Myanmar. And I have to agree!
- Onboard, I participated in a cooking class with Executive Chef Sumet
- I visited the pagodas sprinkled around Sagaing Hill, an important religious and monastic centre, home to some 554 monasteries and 6,000 monks and nuns.
- I got to meet some lovely children and adults at the Monastic school and orphanage
- U Bein Bridge – This famous, long teak bridge snakes across the Taungthaman Lake Although it was quite cloudy and a bit drizzly during my visit, this was one of my favorite spots to meet locals and see them work and relax as they carry on their daily activities.
After disembarking from a fantastic 3-night cruise, I transferred with the group to Mandalay International Airport for a flight back to Yangon and our final night’s stay at the Belmond Governor’s Residence. During my final 24 hours in Yangon:
- I had the unique opportunity to meet with Ma Thanegi. She is the former personal assistant of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize Winner and leader of the NLD (National League for Democracy) in Myanmar.
- I visited the famous Reclining Buddha Pagoda . This impressive open sided pavilion houses a 230-foot Buddha statue in the reclining position.
- From day transitioning into night, I spent my last evening at Shwedagon Pagoda. This architectural masterpiece is a golden fantasy of gilded stupas, serene statues of Buddha and mythical beasts and is said to be over 2,500 years old. Although it is quite crowded, the lighting at dusk is truly breathtaking and should not be missed.
After a whirlwind tour of the top sights and cities to visit in Myanmar, I was transported by private guide to Yangon International Airport for my flight back to Los Angeles.
Honestly, I did not know much about Myanmar prior to this visit. Although it is next door to my home country, Thailand, limited information was available due to the country being closed to outsiders for many years. I have recently traveled to most of the countries in SE Asia and Myanmar is the most surprising and unexpectedly enjoyable country to visit.
The food, culture, and people of Myanmar are uniquely their own. The cuisine reminds me of a blend of Thai, Laotian, and Indian. The culture is deeply rooted in Buddhism, which makes me think of my home country. The kind and genuine people really made their mark on me. Their history has been unkind. They are living in a country where they have been closed off from others for years, yet they have been the most welcoming people of any SE Asian country I have visited. I did not see despair. I saw resiliency. I will undoubtedly return to this extremely magical country, and this time, I will be sure to experience it with Lora.
Traveling with the right on-site travel agency and local guides is extremely important, especially in a newly opened country such a Myanmar. I did and I highly recommend this as the tourism infrastructure is not fully developed. Contact us for details on how we can craft your own unique immersions/experiences to Myanmar and beyond.