For Christmas my Dad and I embarked on our first ever twosome holiday since in Asia. My dad has previously visited me in China and was due to spend 4 weeks with me. We definitely wanted to get out and go somewhere instead of staying in Shanghai and he firmly rejected my initial plan of going to Australia – he wanted to see Asia. And that we did. He wanted to rent a car, but I convinced him this is quite different from driving back home. In Asia people do not like to follow traffic rules. And it is not about fighting traffic tickets (by the way, you can discover more here if this is a current problem for you), it is about driving in general. If you happened to be in Asia, you would understand what I mean.
We agreed on Myanmar and coming from my usual backpacking angle it was clear we had to find a more grown-up version of travel. My dad is the fittest and best looking retiree you’ll come across, nonetheless I was concerned for his comfort and him having a great time was my foremost concern. A Shanghai friend recommended Let’s Go Myanmar, a local agency run a a Myanmar lady and her French husband based in Yangon. Thu Thu is the nicest and most helpful person and she provided me with a perfect itinerary for a two week stint in this beautiful country. We traveled from December 19th to January 4th and flew from Shanghai via Kunming to Yangon.
Upon arrival in Yangon we were picked up by our guide and driver for the first few days. The general set-up would be that we had flights booked in between the different locations and at each destination we would be provided with a new guide and driver.
Over the course of the coming days we were to see Yangon’s highlights with the Shwedagon Pagoda leading the pack. The next day we departed early for the Golden Rock, where we saw the wonder of a ginormous rock balancing on what saga calls a buddha hair. It’s stunning and the evening scenes with many pilgrims getting ready to sleep right on the space next to rock are wonderful.
From there we departed via bumpy jeep ride down the hill to then transfer back to Yangon from where we were scheduled to depart for Bagan – a place I was so much looking forward to as the images are so familiar yet you want to see it with your own eyes. It proved to be rather amazing and even more amazing was to meet my friend Anja on top of the “Sunset Pagoda”. I knew she was traveling and we had agreed to meet up in Mandalay – alas, we met two days early.
From Bagan we daytripped to Mt. Popa, where the spirits (Nats) live. It’s a steep climb up and which has been taken over by monkeys it seems – so hold on to your sunglasses and loose items. It’s a beautiful view from the top!
Up next was Mandalay, where we met with Anja as planned. There’s lots of handicraft around, such as woodworks and weaving. Mandalay is also home of Mahagandhayan Monastery, where it’s a true tourist spectacle to watch the monks line up for lunch. There’s hundreds of them, so spectacle is by no means an understatement. However, hundreds of tourists poking their cameras into the monks faces take a bit away from the serene scene. U Bein bridge is next on the agenda and of course well known. It’s great to stroll down the bridge, leave the tourists behind and you will get close to reaching the other side when you realize you have to turn around and walk all the way back as otherwise you have reached the opposite side which is a good 45 minute drive by car.
The Irrawaddy River calls for a boat ride and we were lucky enough to have a boat all to ourselves as we set out to visit Mingun and Ava. Both locations are beautiful but nothing beats the actual river cruise. Grab a deck chair, take a nap, enjoy the view. For the way home we bought some coconuts and a small flask of whiskey and made ourselves a little cocktail as we watched the sun go down.
Leaving Mandalay also meant parting with Anja who headed onwards to Bangkok (direct flight connections from Mandalay) and for us the journey continued to Inle Lake. You may have heard of the jumping cats monastery – well, let me tell you: cats no more. Too many tourists came for the cats alone and disturbed the peace of the monks, thus the abbot forbid further cat entertainment. Nonetheless, the place is definitely worth a visit. As are the floating gardens and fields that the local people farm their tomatoes above the water and fish below the water on. It’s stunning. One recommendation: bring extra clothes. No matter how warm it seems when you exit your hotel in the morning: the wind on the lake means temperatures will drop tremendously when racing in your boat across the lake. My dad ended up catching a terrible cold and thus the following five days which were meant for relaxation at Ngpali beach were thoroughly needed.
Ngpali Beach is .. as the name implies.. a beach. I’m not much of a “do-nothing” so I ended up getting early for beach runs and managed to read 6 books in the remaining 4 days of this trip.
A wonderful wonderful holiday – and one thing: more trips with Dad!
Our detailed itinerary provided by the agency looked like this:
Arrive in Yangon where you will be welcomed by your local tour guide and transferred to your hotel to drop off you luggage. If you arrived by mid day flight, we may proceed for lunch. After lunch, a walk through “downtown” Yangon, a diverse mix of faded colonial architecture from the British times, and high-rises built by more recent investors; Sule Pagoda, built in the early 3rd century is a landmark in the city centre. Late afternoon visit the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda of Rudyard Kipling fame and one of Myanmar’s most sacred places. The massive bell shaped stupa is plated with gold and the tip of the stupa is set with diamonds and rubies, sapphires and topaz – a stunning sight as the sun sets and a most fitting place to begin our trip in this “Golden Land”. Overnight at the Hotel.
Early morning drive via Bago to Kyaikhto passing the World War II War Cemetery, dedicated to the 27,000 Commonwealth Forces who died in Burma and the Sittaung Bridge, an area humming with riverside activity, with small markets at the water’s edge, and small riverboats, coming and going with passengers and cargo. Carts drawn by water buffalo amble along the highway. At Kyaikhtiyo Township, transfer from your car to a special open truck for your ascent to Kinmon Base Camp (appr. 45 minutes drive). From here continue the journey up to the Golden Rock on foot. (This trail is sometimes steep, but is smooth, and there are covered shelters every 50-100 meters to rest, and have a cold drink. Porters will be available to assist anyone who wishes help, and a “sedan chair” conveyance is available for those who do not wish to walk.) Along the way, will be many pilgrims who have walked from the very base of the mountain. At the shrine, is a small stupa placed atop the Golden Rock, a massive granite boulder. Covered with gold leaf, and precariously balanced over the edge of the mountain, it is purported to be held in place, “balanced on hairs of the Buddha”. Enjoy the late afternoon activities at the shrine, before returning back to your hotel for overnight.
After breakfast continue the journey by air-con car to the small village of Kyaikhto. On the way visit the cashew nut plantation and the nearby Buddhist boys orphanage and also a rubber tree plantation. In Bago visit to the interesting Bago Market with varieties of vegetables, flower and commodity goods, the Shwetharhlaung Pagoda, with its giant reclining Buddha, having a history over 1000 years old; the nearby Monastic Education Center; the Mon Village, with its array of cotton weavers; the Shwemawdaw Pagoda, with 114 metres the highest pagoda in Myanmar and walk from there to the Hintha Gon Pagoda, the place where Bago was founded. Late afternoon drive back to Yangon and transfer to your hotel for check-in and overnight.
(22.December.2013)Day 4: Yangon/Bagan
This morning we head for the airport to get the early morning flight to Bagan. Check into the hotel and depart for a sightseeing excursion around the Bagan Archaeological Zone World Heritage Area. A comprehensive exploration of Bagan includes Nyaung Oo market; Shwezigon Pagoda, the prototype of later Myanmar stupas; Kyansittha Umin; Wet-kyi-inn Gubyaukgyi Temple with exquisite mural painting of 13th century and Htilominlo Temple. In the afternoon, after a visit to lacquer ware workshops; continue to Manuha Temple built by exile King Manuha; Nanphaya, said to have been the residence of King Manuha; Ananda Temple, architectural masterpiece and Oak-Kyaung monastery decorated with multi colour mural paintings. Enjoy the breathtaking sunset from one of the temple of Bagan. Overnight at the hotel in Bagan.
(23.December.2013)Day 5: Bagan/Popa/Bagan
After breakfast at hotel, we head to Mt. Popa about 48 km south east of Bagan. Mt. Popa, known as the abode of Nats (spirits) – a collection of 37 magical spirits both feared and honoured by some Myanmar people and the nat museum, which houses 37 life-size nat statues sculpted from teak. It’s time to climb for 777 steps to the summit. Proceed to Popa Mountain Resort ( 1hr drive ) for our lunch. The restaurant offer a great view to the Popa summit that stands straight from the central plain. After lunch, return drive back to Bagan. On the way back, enroute stop at village cottage industry to learn the regional product as well as to watch the collection of juice from the palm trees, and its conversion to brown sugar. Overnight at the hotel in Bagan.
(24.December.2013)Day 6: Bagan/Mandalay
After breakfast at hotel, transfer to Nyaun U airport for flight to Mandalay. When you arrive at Mandalay airport, drive to ancient capital of Amarapura, the city of Immortality for a visit to Bagaya Monastery with a famous collection of Buddha images; weaving industries, two-century old U-Bein teak bridge on the Taungtaman Lake and observe the lunch process of thousand of monks who take their last meal of the day at 10:00 am in total silence. Proceed to Mandalay and check in at the hotel. After refreshment, you will take a sightseeing tour of Mandalay which includes Mahanumi, a life like Buddha image. Mandalay is the last capital of Myanmar and that make her to be the best place to see all the traditional arts and crafts. Start visiting gold leaf making work-place and see how the gold leaf is being made by hand in a traditional way. Continue visit the Old Palace grounds; Kuthodaw Pagoda, known as the world’s largest book for its 729 marble slabs inscribed with the Buddha’s Doctrine; Golden Palace Monastery, noted for its exquisite wood carvings and enjoy the panoramic view of the city from Mandalay Hill. Overnight at the hotel in Mandalay.
(25.December.2013)Day 7: Mandalay/Mingun/Ava/Mandalay
After breakfast, you will be transferred for Jetty for a private boat across the river Ayeywarwaddy to visit Mingun. The dedications of King Bodawpaya such as the unfinished Pathodawgyi Pagoda a brick counterpart of pyramid in Egypt and the Mingun Bell, the second largest bell in the world are the most prominent religious heritages. Then visiting the Myatheintan Pagoda, the best representation of the Universe, will refresh your tiredness and fatigue. Return to Mandalay.
After lunch, drive to Ava, 30-minute to the south of Mandalay, was known in the west as the Kingdom of Ava. Stop by a tributary and cross it with a ferry. Travel by pony-cart around Ava to Nanmyint leaning tower which gives a birds’ eye view of the mighty Ayeyarwaddy River; Bagaya wooden monastery; Aungmyaybonza Monastery made of brick and stucco. Though the Royal Palace has gone, the Pagodas, Temples and Monasteries still remain. Return drive to Mandalay. Overnight at the Hotel in Mandalay.
(26.December.2013)Day 8: Mandalay/Pindaya/Inle Lake
After breakfast, depart the hotel for flight to Heho on the Shan plateau. Upon arrival, transfer by road to Pindaya (60km) about 90 minutes drive. After check in at hotel, make an excursion to the caves which houses over 8,000 Buddha Images of various sizes, made from teak, lacquer, marble, alabaster and cement. In the afternoon, explore the district for it’s famous traditional paper & umbrella making home base cottage industry. Drive to inle. Overnight In Inle.
(26.December.2013)Day 8: Mandalay/Pindaya/Inle Lake
(27.December.2013)Day 9: Inle Lake
We plan to spend the day visiting villages and sampling the spectacular array of traditional handicrafts. We bought specialized Polarized Sunglasses for Fishing as we did not want any glare to affect us. We saw the unique method locals use to row their boats, fishermen with their own style of fishing, floating farms and gardens and a handloom weaving cottage with its own showroom. You will visit Phaungdawoo Pagoda which houses the five most revered Buddha Images in the southern Shan State. Continue our excursion by motorized boat to Indein pagoda complex, in the south-west of the lake. The boat leaves the lake and enters a narrow canal with a beautiful natural environment to continue to a small Pa O tribe village. From the village, follow an old covered path to a 13th century monastery and the very impressive ruins of hundreds of ancient pagodas, some hidden in the vegetation. The main stupa-area on the top of the hill offers breathtaking views over the surrounding mountains and down to the valley and the lake in the far distance. Return to your hotel and overnight at the hotel.
(28.December.2013)Day 10: Inle Lake/Kakku/Inle Lake
This morning, leave your hotel by boat and drive up through pine-clad hills to Taunggyi, capital of Southern Shan State and a former British hill station. Visit the local market where minority people sell their produce and a cheroot factory. Just a couple of hours from Taunggyi, discover the “long lost” ruins of Kak Ku in countryside inhabited by the Pa O people. Situated in the rolling Shan Hills, Kak Ku pagoda is very unusual and little is known about its origins. The Pa O people believe that the original pagoda was built on the site some 2,000 years ago. Dozens of small stupas surround the main pagoda in a huge circle. You can wander through the stupas which are decorated with fine stucco work and Buddha images. Unfortunately Kak Ku is in bad need of renovation but this is part of its charm. Lunch at Hlaing Khone Restaurant. Visit one of the many Pa O villages near Kak Ku and see a huge monastery on the way back to Taunggyi. Transfer back to Nyaung Shwe where you will board your boat return to your hotel.
(29.December.2013)Day 11: Inle Lake/Ngapali
We are heading back down country today to return to the airport at Heho for our flight to Thande. From Thande airport, transfer to Ngapali Beach. Upon arrival, check in at the hotel and overnight.
(30.December.2013-2.January.2014)Day 12 to 15: Ngapali
Leisure in Ngapali.
(3.January.2014)Day 16: Ngapali/Yangon
Today we take a flight back to Yangon. Upon arrival, check in at hotel. In the afternoon, we plan to visit by car to Karaweik, a royal barge for fantastic photo shot along the “pilgrims” causeway across the Royal Lake with stunning views of Schwedagon Pagoda and visit the Bogyoke Aung San Market (Scott Market) for souvenir shopping. Overnight at the hotel in Yangon.
(4.January.2014)Day 17: Departure
After breakfast at hotel, you will be transferred to Yangon International airport for your return international departure flight.
The hotel options provided by Thu Thu were just fine, however, after a research via tripadvisor I decided on a mix of 3 and 4 star hotels, which were:
in Ngapali, Amata Resort
in Inle, Amata
in Yangon, Kandawgyi Palace
in Bagan, Thazin Garden
in Mandalay, Shwe Inggyin – this is the only hotel I didn’t like as it’s lacking any sort of flair.
in Kyaiktiyo, Golden Rock
The reason why I went for a mix was on the one hand to balance out cost a bit and on the other hand to ensure nice places for Christmas and New Year’s.
See the full photo album here.