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Burma - 2012

2012


This was a trip which we had wanted to make for many years and, at last, it seemed possible! Unfortunately, murder and politics, with major unrest in Rakhine State, meant that we had, hastily, to rearrange what was meant to be the relaxing part of the trip, on Sandoway beach.

We flew to Bangkok by EVA Airways Elite and then on to Rangoon by Thai Airways Economy class with a 2hr 40min transfer in Bangkok.

The EVA flight was excellent, landing slightly early and our baggage was checked through to Rangoon, so no problem with the transit through Suvarnabhumi. On EVA, the food was good, there was plenty of legroom, IFE good and we even managed to get some sleep! The Thai flight from BKK to RGN was also very good and took slightly over 1 hour, landing at about 6pm.

There was a slight delay at immigration in Rangoon but the queues kept moving and, to be fair, it was less hassle than either Indian or Indonesian airports.

We had arranged our own hotel for the first 3 nights, Traders, as it was well located for the main part of old Rangoon. The transfer was pre-arranged and we were at the hotel by about 7:30. As we had been well fed on our flights, we chose to swiftly unpack the items required, take a short stroll in the vicinity of the hotel, buying extra water and a few odds and ends and then turn in for an early night - this turned out to be almost 11pm! Rangoon was fascinating!

2012 Burma - Inside Sule Pagoda
2012 Burma - Rangoon Vendors
2012 Burma - Shwedagon Stupa

2012 Burma - Inside Sule Pagoda

2012 Burma - Rangoon Vendors

2012 Burma - Shwedagon Stupa

Following breakfast, the following morning, we had a look around the area. Our hotel, Traders, was ideally located for looking around old, colonial, Rangoon. We had already arranged a private tour of the main sights in the afternoon. We were a few hundred yards from Scott Market, but it was closed - and again on the following day. We understand that this was to do with the Hindu festival of lights, but the dates didn't seem to tie up.

We walked to the Sule Pagoda (only a few hundred metres away) and through the surrounding streets. Everywhere there were street vendors, selling everything and anything. The smells, the sights, the sounds and the colours were a mix of India and Malaysia/Thailand but seeing almost every person dressed in longyis (both men and women), with thanaka on their faces made you realise that this was somewhere unique. The old colonial buildings and streets and the general interest in westerners, made for a special and unique experience. After our walk we were soaked in perspiration and returned to Traders for a shower and clothing change. It was very hot and humid!

The guided tour was extremely interesting, taking in
Sule Pagoda and seeing various colonial buildings, Mahabandoola Gardens, City Hall, Chinatown, the waterfront, the Strand Hotel, Botatuang Pagoda, Kandawgyi Palace, gardens and lake, Maha Wizara Pagoda, and ending up at Shwedagon Pagoda shortly before sundown.

It would be too much to describe all these, but suffice it to say that Shwedagon Pagoda was, to me, far more stunning than the Grand Palace in Bangkok. I usually rise early when away and had intended to return to the Shwedagon Pagoda the next day, before the crowds arrived, to take some more photographs. We overslept and didn't make breakfast until about 10am, so we again spent the day just wandering around Rangoon, visiting various markets, Hindu and Chinese temples, photographing local people and generally enjoying the atmosphere. By the time we returned to the hotel we were shattered, once again.

We decided to pack our cases and eat in the hotel at their signature Chinese restaurant, as we had an early start next day for our flight to Mandalay.
In my opinion Traders hotel is ideally located for exploring and enjoying Rangoon.


2012 Burma - Bagan Pagoda
2012 Burma - Road To Mandalay Cabin
2012 Burma - Ava Transport

2012 Burma - Bagan Pagoda

2012 Burma - Road To Mandalay Cabin

2012 Burma - Ava Transport

Arising early and with coffee organised by the hotel (a breakfast box was offered) we were whisked away at 05:15 to the airport for the short flight to Mandalay.

The domestic airport was chaotic, but fortunately we were now in the hands of Orient Express, for our Road to Mandalay (RTM) cruise. From the moment we arrived at Rangoon airport, they took care of our baggage check-in, issued boarding passes (seating was a free-for-all), and pointed us in the right direction. Our Mandalay flight was fine, by ATR 72, and took about 1 hour - even better our luggage was taken care of and we next saw our suitcases in our cabin on the boat.

Arrival at Mandalay was straightforward and with no suitcases to worry about we were taken on a brief tour of Mandalay town encompassing the Mahamudi Pagoda, marble carving, gold leaf beating, the Kuthadaw Pagoda and the Shwenandaw Monastery, prior to boarding the ship at around lunch time.

The accommodation, on board, was excellent and far more spacious than we had expected. The dining room, food and the whole setup of the Road to Mandaly cruise was to a very high standard and, following a very satisfying lunch, all that remained was to unpack, familiarise ourselves with the boat (and bar) and take advantage of the pool deck and free soft drinks, tea coffee and beer until it was time for dinner. These were always free of charge - only wine and spirits had to be paid for. As we were to be aboard for 7 days, we booked the later of two evening dinner sittings for the duration of the time on the boat. This gave us plenty of time to shower and change following what was to be a fairly full tour schedule, which came as part of the cruise. Whilst it was suggested that jackets should be worn for dinner about 20% of men just opted for an open neck shirt.

2012 Burma - Toddy Tapper
2012 Burma - Mount Popa
2012 Burma - Grindstone

2012 Burma - Toddy Tapper

2012 Burma - Mount Popa

2012 Burma - Grindstone

The Road to Mandalay cruise was excellent, in all respects. Breakfast, buffet lunch and a first class dinner menu were included in the price, as were tea, coffee, soft drinks and beer. There was entertainment provided on board and daily excursions. Only 2 lunches were taken away from the boat, at Mount Popa and at Maymyo. Both these meals were extremely disappointing.

The boat remained at Mandalay on the first night and sailed the following day, after a visit to Ava. The boat anchored at night for a cocktail party and then arrived in Bagan mid-morning. From Bagan, trips were arranged to local temples, villages, markets and pagodas and to Mount Popa (an all day trip). We were to have taken a balloon trip over the temples, but the wind was too high. Suffice to say that, with the exception of lunch at Mount Popa, we were enchanted and enthralled by the area.

The boat set sail once more, for the return journey to Mandalay. This was our 45th wedding anniversary, so we took an excellent massage package, prior to another cocktail party and dinner. Dinner was excellent, as usual, and we dined in the company of another British couple, we drank far too much champagne and then turned in for the night, thanking our lucky stars that we were not due to arrive in Mandalay until after lunch the following day! Robert and Linda - thank you!

Following arrival at Mandalay, there were more organised trips, over the following few days. The Pagodas and nunnery at Sagaing were most enjoyable, as were the visits to local craft centres. A visit to, Maymyo, the former summer capital of the Raj in Burma and British military HQ / summer residence of the British Government in Burma was also organised. Maymyo has several old colonial residences of red brick and timber houses, English style gables, turrets and chimneys - but these are falling badly into disrepair. The botanical gardens here were disappointing, with nothing splendid to recommend them and the lunch, at the Kandawgyi Hill Resort was dire. Only the history of the place makes a visit worthwhile.

2012 Burma - Maymyo, Your Carriage Awaits
2012 Burma - Pot Maker
2012 Burma - Irrawaddy Sunset, Mandalay

2012 Burma - Maymyo, Your Carriage Awaits

2012 Burma - Pot Maker in Village

2012 Burma - Irrawaddy Sunset, Mandalay

The Road to Mandalay cruise ended with an early start, with tea in the cabin, an early breakfast and a transfer to the airport for our flight back to Rangoon on a pleasant enough, although somewhat crowded, flight. Our baggage appeared very quickly and we had arranged a private transfer to our next hotel, the Governor's Residence.

The Governor's Residence is a beautifully restored old teak building which was, as the name suggests, a large house from the colonial era. Our room was very pleasant, large bed area, large lounge area and a very nice bathroom. There was a pool with sun beds and it was a delightful experience. The food was good, but couldn't match the Road to Mandalay. The only slight downside was the number of mosquitoes / insects around the pool, which was surrounded by shrubs and plants.

Whilst we had every intention of visiting the National Museum and Rangoon town, after spending a short while at the pool, we never made it! The Governor's Residence is located a distance outside of the town, near the National Museum and, not fancying the trip into Rangoon, we ended up just chilling out at the pool, unfortunately picking up a few insect bites. We obviously needed the rest and these couple of days provided just that!

An early (and excellent) breakfast on our final morning was followed by a 7:30 transfer to the airport. Following less confusion (were we getting used to Burmese airports?) we were of on our Thai Airways flight to Bangkok.

Will we return to Burma? Yes, there is still more to see and do in this fascinating country.


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