BURMA (MYANMAR) THE GRAND TOUR
7 - 30 November 2012
with Richard Hunt
PROVISIONAL COST: £3795 including Thai Airways (via Bangkok), internal flights, transport by coach & boat, accommodation in best hotels (in twin rooms with half board - full board cruise), entrance fees, guides
EXTRAS: Insurance, Visa (currently £20); light lunches, tips, personal items, Single room supplement £945.
Burma (renamed Myanmar in 1989) is a beautiful country with an ancient history and culture. Its long coastline, the valleys of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers and its mountains and hills make for a landscape and vegetation of great variety. Her peoples include the Burmese among many ethnic minorities. Civilizations date back to the 1st century, but her period of greatness dates from the 11th-13th centuries after the country was converted to Buddhism and unified as the 1st Myanmar Empire, with its capital at Pagan (now Bagan). 300 years of decline, including the Mongol invasion, was followed by a 2nd Empire in the 16th century. This, too, collapsed & a 3rd Empire, with capitals at Mandalay and other cities, was established in 1752. The country soon became the subject of rivalry between western colonial powers. She was annexed by the British in stages during the 19th century and remained a British colony until independence in 1948 (with Japanese rule from 1942-5). In 1962 a military coup introduced a period of harsh authoritarian rule. A pro-democracy movement won an election in 1990 but the military government refused to relinquish power. For many years Burma was closed to foreign tourists, but is now open on relatively unrestricted terms. Tourist facilities are very good, enabling us to visit in considerable comfort, but still see a country that is as yet unspoiled by commercialisation. The tour is planned at a comparatively relaxed pace, with many of the excursions by boat, at a time of pleasant weather after the monsoon, and with time in the cooler climate of the hills. Our visit is timed for the spectacular Full Moon Festival at Yangon, when there is a robe-weaving ceremony inside the Shwedagon Pagoda and parts of the city (including our picturesque hotel) will be illuminated with lanterns.
OUR TOUR HAS SEVERAL BROAD AIMS:
We visit some of the great monuments to Burmese history and culture, hoping to provide insights to art, architecture and the decorative arts of this beautiful country.
It caters for those who wish to understand something of the 'REAL' Burma - the lives of ordinary people in towns and villages. We will aim to look at their domestic lives, their work, their religions and cultural traditions. The tour is planned with some time to stop and look!
This is a holiday! There is so much to see, but we cannot see everything! So we have planned a gentle itinerary that is selective, yet offers variety and some time to explore alone or in small groups, go shopping or just relax beside a swimming pool. When we are not in transit you are perfectly free to include or omit any aspect of the programme. We stay in comfortable hotels - often the best – sometimes chosen for their location or interest rather than every western 5* luxury. We hope this will more than compensate for the occasional inconvenience that we may meet in the east!
We do hope to offer very good value for money! We use good airlines, hotels and excellent ground services. Dare we say that our tours are better planned and led than some that are much more expensive?
SHOULD WE VISIT BURMA AT THIS TIME? Press publicity and some sectors of the pro-democracy movement suggest that it is inappropriate to visit Burma. Not because it is dangerous to do so - it is not - but in case we give financial or moral support to a corrupt and despotic government notorious for human rights abuse. A counter argument suggests that to boycott a country is to allow the regime to rule without visitors to observe and report. Tourism, on the other hand, brings the Burmese people and the regime into greater contact with the rest of the world, and may decrease the abuse of human rights by greater exposure. The revenue from tourism goes mainly to support the ordinary people who work in the industry, in a country where unemployment is a major problem. Many Burmese, including some in the pro-democracy movement, hold this view. Of course, we hope to enjoy a delightful and rewarding tour, and are certain to find a warm welcome from a hospitable and delightful people. If we travel with understanding, supporting non-governmental businesses and artisans directly, perhaps our visit can be of some help.
RANGOON (now called YANGON) We fly to Yangon via Bangkok on Thai Airways for the start of our tour. The city was not always the capital, but occupies a strategic site as port for both the coast and hinterland on the Irrawaddy delta. Built around several lakes, Rangoon's famous landmark is the Shwedagon Pagoda, the centre of religious life, with its great golden spire rising to 99 metres. Rangoon is our port of international arrival and departure, a place to recuperate from the flight and our base for a variety of excursions – the Shwedagon and perhaps other pagodas in the city, the ‘downtown’ city with colonial buildings, the fascinating evening markets.
Two nights at the Governor’s Residence (4*+) at the start of the tour and two more at the end. This is a lovely hotel, recently refurbished, part of which was a teak-wood governor's palace. Charming garden with out-door dining & swimming pool.
BAGAN An early flight takes us to Bagan - surely the most remarkable sight in all Burma - perhaps the most extensive religious site in Asia. In an area of some 40 square kms are more than 2,500 religious structures - mainly temples and stupas, all built between 1057 and 1287. This period began with King Anawrahta's rule in 1044, at a time when Burma was moving from Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism to Theravada Buddhist beliefs. The King was converted, seized quantities of religious relics from his neighbours, and embarked on a hugely ambitious building programme, which was continued by his successors. In 1298 Marco Polo described the gold and silver towers as '…one of the finest sights in the world'. The area was overrun by the Mongols of Kublai Khan, but possibly only after the area had been deserted. Only the religious buildings were made of stone and brick, so the wooden palaces and other buildings have all disappeared. [NB There is a good introduction to the history, architecture and religion of the area in the Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma) volume]. Among the many crafts of Burma is the famous lacquer-ware for which Bagan is especially renowned.
2 nights at the Bagan Hotel (4*). A comfortable hotel, with teak bungalows set in a lovely garden on the banks of the river Irrawaddy. Breakfast and dinner in the garden, sometimes with spectacular music and dance against the background of the temples. Good swimming pool.
MOUNT POPA An excursion from Bagan takes us into the mountains to the abode of Burma's most powerful 'nats' or spirits (a form of worship - belief in animal or other spirits, including some Hindu deities - that existed before Buddhism and which still plays an important part in Burma's culture). Mt Popa is an extinct volcano rising to 1518 metres above sea level. At the base of the rock outcrop is the Mahagiri Shrine, with life-size models of 37 nats. It is a popular pilgrimage site and our visit may coincide with a festival. At the top are a cluster of monasteries, stupas and shrines, and a magnificent view. On previous visits not all our members climbed to the top!
1 night at the Mt Popa Resort. A delightful luxurious hotel (4*deluxe) in a magnificent setting in the hills above the shrines, with spectacular views across the infinity pool
IRRAWADDY CRUISE TO MANDALAY. Next day we return to Bagan to board the River Vessel Paukan for a two night cruise. The original Irrawaddy Flotilla Company used to operate a huge fleet of passenger and cargo vessels until the second World War. Now recreated, the Company operates a few luxury passenger boats for tourists. The original Pandaw was built in Scotland in 1947 and later converted to a comfortable cruise boat. Our boat, RV Paukan is a very comfortable replica vessel: the observation deck, wide verandahs, bar, air conditioning, teak and brass furniture and fittings, large cabins with showers and full board meals all make for great charm and comfort. We travel slowly upstream, watching the villages, farms, forests, and temples on the shore and the occasional river traffic. The boat stops at several villages and ports of call, which we explore on our journey. These include a fascinating pottery village, where dozens of families produce traditional pottery, which is bought by traders, loaded on barges and traded along the river. A delightfully relaxing journey, with good food provided rather too often!
MAYMYO HILL STATION (or May Town, named after Col May) or modern Piyn Oo Lwyn.
We disembark from the RV Paukan in mid morning, saying goodby to our crew, and drive the short distance to Maymyo, a hill station that was established by the British in 1896. It became a kind of Cotswolds to the British who spent holidays, convalesced, left their children in boarding schools and in the season enjoyed all the trappings of a hill station, with garden parties, picnics, flower shows… The church, the club, tennis courts and botanical gardens were all provided, and the British also built splendid bungalows. Much of this has long disappeared but some of the bungalows are now renovated and turned into hotels. In 1942 during the Japanese advance the British established their HQ here (Rangoon having fallen) but this was short-lived as the Japanese advance continued and the British withdrew to India. During our stay we will have a chance to relax in the botanical gardens, take a picnic to the Hampshire falls (perhaps taking the small horse drawn cabs which remain in the town).
2 nights at Kandawgyi Lodge 4*+ a characterful former bungalow in a lovely garden.
MANDALAY Next morning we drive down from Maymyo to Mandalay, capital of the last kingdom of the Myanmar dynasty before the British annexation of this area in 1885. The present city is fairly recent (founded 1857), though in the region are the sites of four former capitals - all now deserted. Mandalay itself has the impressive walls and towers of the palace fortress (the teak palace was bombed by the allies when it was a Japanese HQ. Fortunately King Mingun had donated his wonderful palace bedroom - also made of carved teak - to be rebuilt as a monastery elsewhere in the town - it is the only surviving original palace building. A rather disappointing entirely reproduction palace has now been built on the site of the original). The city is undergoing a period of economic growth due to the trade with China in the north, so there is a building boom in and around the city. The city is also an important market for many of the ethnic minorities who come down from the hills for trade. Buddhist temples and monasteries abound in and around the city, and the markets and bustling river-front are very interesting. Mandalay is our base for a number of excursions.
2 nights at the Emerald Land Hotel - a small, comfortable hotel (3*+) with all facilities.
A late afternoon excursion takes us to MINGUN - the site of one of the former capitals. Across the Irrawaddy, it is only accessible by boat. Work began here on an enormous stupa in 1790. It was never completed, but was planned to rise to 150 metres. Although damaged by an earthquake, the remains are very impressive. Nearby is the great Mingun Bell, cast in 1808, and weighing 90 tonnes.
AMARAPURA, AVA & SAGAING We return to Mandalay and stay overnight. Next day we travel just 11 kms south of Mandalay to Amarapura, a capital of the Kongbaung dynasty in the 18th century. The palace ruins barely survive, but there are monasteries and temples and a unique 200 year old teak foot-bridge 1.2 kms long, which crosses a lake. Amarapura is also noted for its silk and cotton weaving.
We travel on to Ava, a few kms further south. This was capital of the Burmese Kingdom for over 400 years from 1364. A watch tower is all that remains of the royal palace, but villages, monasteries and stupas are scattered within the city walls. Across the river is Sagaing, which enjoyed a short-lived period as a Shan Kingdom around 1315. Today it is an important religious centre with numerous monasteries and nunneries. The stupas which rise above the west bank of the Irrawaddy are very picturesque. We return to Mandalay overnight.
HEHO, PINDAYA & INLE LAKE
A morning flight takes us to the airport at Heho, from which we drive first to PINDAYA in the Southern Shan State. At an altitude of some 1200 metres it is cool and refreshing and is famed for its picturesque lake and the limestone caves in which over 8000 Buddha figures have been installed over many centuries. Some are covered in gold leaf and they form a labyrinth within the cavern. Several minority ethnic groups - the Danu, Pa-O and Tuangyo people inhabit the area. Hand made paper and parasols made from Mulberry bark are a local speciality.
INLE LAKE We drive on and embark on long tailed boats to Inle Lake, home of the Intha people who live along the shores in houses built on stilts and in house-boats. At 1328 metres, the area is comparatively cool and very picturesque, with high hills rimming the lake in all directions. The lake and surrounding countryside has a rich bird life. Several ethnic groups live in the area; there are villages dotted around the lake, with floating markets, Buddhist shrines and everyday scenes of agriculture and fishing. Some of the villages specialize in silk weaving, while others have potters or boat-builders. With luck we will encounter Buddhist festivals (usually in the form of ceremonial donation of gifts by the communities to the monks) taking place at one or another of the monasteries.
A fascinating and very picturesque excursion takes us to Indein - once a prosperous village on some hills near Inle Lake, but now a place of mainly deserted and crumbling temples, shrines and Buddha images. We approach by boat, first across part of Inle Lake and then following a twisting river.
Another excursion will take us through narrow canals south to the village and temples of Sagar.
Altogether we plan to spend a relaxing time exploring the lake area by long-tail boat (or canoe).
4 nights at Myanmar Treasure Resort Resort (3*+), The Hotel is made of bamboo and timber on stilts overlooking the lake.
RELAXING ON THE BEACH AT THANDWE (SANDOWAY)
A flight takes us to the beach resort of Thandwe on the Andaman Sea. Completely unspoiled, with beautiful beaches, separated by rocky headlands, fringed with palm trees, with fishing villages and boats – an excellent place to relax for a few days… On previous visits we have chartered a small boat to take us along the coast to areas for snorkeling, swimming, dining at a local restaurant… Some have taken hotel cycles along the coast…
4 nights at Amazing Nagpali Resort, a very charming luxury beach resort (4*deluxe) with all facilities. The studios have direct access to the very clean beach with clear blue water, swimming pool, lovely restaurant.
RETURN TO YANGON On 27 November we take a short flight s back to Yangon for 2 days relaxation, sightseeing or shopping (Christmas shopping?). The same evening is the eve of the very auspicious November Full Moon Day, with a monk-robe weaving ceremony in the Shwedagon Pagoda, which we will visit. 28 November is Full Moon Night which we can enjoy in Yangon and our hotel should be beautifully lit with lanterns. On our last evening we take a Thai Air flight back to Bangkok and a connecting flight to London, arriving at 06.00 next day.
2 nights at the Governor’s Residence Hotel (4* de luxe)
Irrawaddy River Scene and Ruined temples at Indein (river trip from Inle)
|Sat 6 Nov
||Fly Thai Air 12.00 via Bangkok [note that Myanmar is 6 1/2 hours ahead of GMT]
||Arrive Bangkok 05.40 Depart 08.40 Arrive Yangon 09.25 Governor’s Hotel [1 night]
||Sightseeing in Yangon
||Fly to Bagan. Bagan Hotel [2 nights] Sightseeing
||Sightseeing Bagan temples and monuments
||Drive to Mt Popa. Overnight at Popa Mountain Resort [1 night]
||Irrawaddy Cruise on R.V.Paukan [2 nights]
||On the river
||Arrival Mandalay. Emerald Land Hotel or Sedona Hotel [3 nights]
||Visit Mingun / at leisure
||Visit Amarapura, Sagai, Ava
||Fly to Heho, drive to Pindaya and on to Inle Lake. Boat to Paramount Inle Resort [4 nights]
||At leisure on Inle Lake sight seeing by boat (floating villages and gardens, monasteries)
||At leisure on Inle Lake sight seeing by boat (Sagar Village)
||At leisure on Inle Lake sightseeing by boat
||Drive to Taunggyi – Full Moon Balloon festival Aye Tha Yar Golf Resort [1 night]
||Flight to Thandwe. Amazing Nagpali Beach Resort [3 nights]
||Fly Yangon. Governor’s Residence Hotel [2 nights]
||Yangon sightseeing/ leisure/ shopping in Yangon
||At leisure until evening departure flight for Bangkok
||Flight TG depart Bangkok 0045 Arrive Heathrow 06.00
The Governor’s Residence – our hotel in Yangon and R V Paukan – our cruise
ship on the Irrawaddy