Myanmar (previously known as Burma), once among the more isolated countries in the world, is in the midst of a tourism boom, with the number of annual visitors expected to multiply seven times by 2020 to 7.5 million people per year. That kind of unprecedented growth is getting high-end travel companies like Orient-Express and Sea Dream Cruises to take notice.
In July Orient-Express, already operating the ‘Road to Mandalay’, began it’s second Myanmar river cruise on a new ship, the ‘Orcaella’. The 200- foot luxury craft — complete with a small swimming pool and spa — is named for the snub-nose dolphins that swim the Irrawaddy River.
Later this year SeaDream II explores new ground visiting Asia’s most prominent locations including Myanmar.
The true feeling I got cruising the Irrawaddy River (or Ayeyarwady River) from Bagan to Mandalay on the ‘Road to Mandalay’ was immortalized in the words of Rudyard Kipling and his famous quote: “This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about” (Rudyard Kipling, Letter from the East 1898)
Bagan, the first imperial capital of ancient Myanmar, has an astounding landscape of over 3,000 stupas and pagodas. Some of baked brick, others brilliantly whitewashed, still others gleaming gold. Faint with fear of heights I climbed brick stairs of a large stupa until I reached the highest level and all around me, stretching for miles in every direction, stupas and pagodas of various shapes, sizes and colors, as far as the eye could see.
So many of the Buddhist population dedicate their lives to activities that enhance Buddhism: businesses that hand work the gold leaf for the Pagodas, villages provide daily food for the monks, making pots to hold water for local travellers and Silversmiths making the bowls used for offerings to Buddha.
In Mandalay up and ready at 7am one morning to see the daily ritual of the monks collecting food from the villagers; every day the ship is in port the Orient-Express cruise staff also offer dishes of vegetable, meat and rice.
Both young men and young women from the age of around 5 years spend a number of weeks in the Monastery or Nunnery for at least once in their lives and more often than not at different times throughout their lives. Some decide to remain and live their lives as a Monk or Nun. A married man can become a Monk if his wife agrees, demonstrating how Buddhism is integrated into their daily lifestyle.
To board our ‘local’ boat ride to Mingun (located 11 km up the Ayeyarwady River on the west bank from Mandalay) we literally had to walk the plank to get on and off – if anyone fell in it would be into seriously mucky water!
On arrival in Mingun the taxi, if required, was bullock driven! Walking around the sites is a given and with a sense of pride we were shown the enormous unfinished pagoda ‘Mingun Pahtodawgyi’, the un-cracked brass bell one of the world’s largest ringing bells dated A.D 2000 and the ‘wedding cake’ pagoda.
A Yarra Valley Yering Pinot Noir (US$45) was shared with new friends on our last night on board, something Australian is usually not far away!
Orient Express http://www.orient-express.com/web/rtm/road_to_mandalay.jsp
Sea Dream Yacht Club www.seadream.com
My travel agent:
Mob: 0407 239 676