By Libby Brame, CTA, Cruise Groups Coordinator, Cruise Training Manager & Clendon DuRapau, Senior Travel Consultant, CTA
Traveling to Myanmar, known as “The Golden Land,” we knew we were in for a treat. We were looking for something different because both of us are pretty well-traveled and love off the beaten path destinations. We wanted to travel somewhere that was special, and culturally rich, unspoiled by a more Western, modern culture. Luckily for us, Myanmar with Avalon Waterways provided every aspect of the experience that we wanted, and then some. This was absolutely the vacation of a lifetime.
We arrived on the first day and explored beautiful, diverse Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon). What struck us as immediately unique – besides the stunning golden pagodas – were the people. No one hesitated with a smile, a hello (Mingalabar!), and unabashed friendliness and warmth. As far as we were from home, and as different as everything was, we were welcome. Avalon set up a stunning tour of the city, including a visit to the 3rd largest reclining Buddha in Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda – the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world, and a fantastic lakeside welcome dinner.
The next day, we took a privately chartered flight up to Bhamo, near the Chinese border. There, we met up with the gorgeous Avalon Myanmar. The ship was custom-built to cruise the upper Irrawaddy, where no other river ship can reach. And while the ship itself only holds a maximum of 36 guests.
The all –suite staterooms are spacious and full of lush local décor. We were met by local Burmese crew, who were always smiling, friendly, and ready to welcome us to our new home (the ship!).
From Bhamo, we began our journey down the Irrawaddy, to the Second Defile, where the river cuts through towering cliffs, with all sorts of hidden gems contained therein – small villages, tiny golden pagodas, wildlife, and people bathing and playing along the water’s edge, always happy to greet the ship by waving and cheering.
The next day, we arrived on the only inhabited island along the Irrawaddy, Kyun Daw, and saw over 7,000 stupas that surround the monastery there, pagodas both modern and ancient. It is considered to be one of the most honorable things in life, according to the Burmese Buddhists – to build and keep a stupa. We also visited and were welcomed into a local home, taught about the daily life and traditions passed through generations. After that, we went to a nunnery, and we were lucky enough to be amongst those to receive a blessing. It was a very moving experience.
The next day, we went to Katha & Tigyang. In Katha, we went to a very colorful, busy market, stopped at the British Club featured in George Orwell’s ‘Burmese Days,’ as well as his Burmese home, and met some very interesting Kachin people. We learned about their culture, their traditional dress (so chosen to deter and fight tigers, if necessary), and their method for making rice wine.
In Tigyang, we had the choice to either climb a massive hill by stairs, or the air-conditioned motor coach to the top where a massive reclining Buddha was built by a well-renowned monk, and were greeted with breathtaking views above a lush teak forest.
After that, we visited an orphanage/school that Avalon helps to support. The gifts we’d brought (notebooks, pencils) were received with much excitement.
The next day, we visited Kyauk Myaung, a village specializing in pottery. We saw how they made 50-gallon jars that are sold and used throughout Asia for storing a variety of things – liquor, fish sauce, peanut oil and more.
The next day found us in Mingun and Amarapura.
In Mingun, we saw the largest working bronze bell in the world, as well as the famous Hsinbyume Pagoda (White Pagoda), modeled after the Buddhist mythological mountain of Meru.
Mingun is also well-known for its artists, and was one of my personal favorite stops in Myanmar with Avalon Waterways.
After lunch, we continued on to Amarapura, the former capital of Myanmar, where we visited the U Bein Bridge, the oldest teakwood bridge in the world. We were surprised at sunset, where we were greeted by fishermen in sampan boats, and were road out to watch the sun sink below the horizon.
The next day we were on to Mandalay, where we visited a gold leaf workshop, and a tapestry & woodcarving shop. We learned all about how gold leaf is made, and the importance of gold in Burmese culture. Afterwards, we visited the Mahamuni Pagoda, the most revered shrine in Mandalay, where the gold leaf is continually applied to the Buddha – estimates are that it is at least 12 inches thick.
In the afternoon, we visited the Kuthodaw Pagoda and Shwenandaw Monastery. Housed within the Kuthodaw Pagoda at the foot of Mandalay Hill is the largest book in the world – not formed from pages, but rather from carved stone tablets, with each individual tablet housed in a stupa, each spread over large acreage.
After dinner that evening, we were treated to a traditional Burmese show, complete with local instruments, and a cast of fantastic performers.
The next day, in Sagaing, we took a ride up to what seemed like the top of the world, where we visited the Kaungmudaw Pagoda, an important religious site, and were treated to beautiful views.
In the afternoon, we visited a silver workshop, where we saw raw silver being made in to jewelry and various other pieces.
The next day found us in Shwe Pyi Thar, where most of the village work is focused on making palm sugar. One of the locals scaled spryly up to the top of a palm tree, collected the sap, and showed us the rest of the process, where it is cooked down until it thickens for palm candy.
Next, we were in Bagan, which marked the last stop of the Avalon Irrawaddy along the river. We woke up early to see the sunrise over 2,300 temples – a small number remaining from the original estimated 4,000 pagodas, when Bagan was once the capital city. We visited another local market, stopped at the Shwezigon Pagoda, and a lacquer shop. We then went on to visit the Ananda temple, and the Dhammayangyi.
Departing Bagan, we flew to Heho, located in the Shan State. From there, we took a motor coach through the beautiful mountains, first to a short stop where they made paper and bamboo parasols, and then on to a winery – the Red Mountain Estate – and were treated to a fantastic wine tasting and traditional Shan-style lunch. Afterwards, we drove down to Inle Lake itself, where we were to catch our water taxis that would take us to the resort. It was a stunning 30-45 minute ride, full of beautiful sights.
Once we arrived at the beautiful Inle Lake resort, there was still more to see. We had the rest of the day to relax and rejuvenate before moving on to explore the lives and crafts of those who live on the lake, in stilted houses, who farm gardens that float on the water.
We went to see the long-necked ladies from the Kayah state, saw how lotus silk is weaved into fabric, went to a silversmith, and cigar rolling.
We also saw the world’s smallest floating post office, and it was, unfortunately, with a heavy heart that our trip to Myanmar With Avalon Waterways had come to an end.
We flew back to Yangon the next day, and then back to our Western home.
CTA, Cruise Groups Coordinator, Cruise Training Manager
Toll Free: 1-800-935-2620 Ext: 631
By: Clendon DuRapau
Senior Travel Consultant and CTA
Toll Free: 1-800-935-2620 Ext: 672