This in-depth trip around Burma (Myanmar) takes us to fascinating sights beyond the classic highlights. We also spend longer in each place to really soak up the culture, sample tasty Burmese food and spend time with locals. Bagan - Watch the sun dip into the vast temple-studded plains of ancient Bagan Kyaikhtiyo - Climb the mystical Mount Kyaikhtiyo to see the pagoda precariously balanced on a golden rock Myeik - Explore local markets and visit a shipyard for the chance to witness traditional shipbuilding methods
Although not the capital, Yangon is the cultural and commercial heart of Myanmar. Colonial architecture faces onto the bustling streets, which are often filled with markets and tasty pop-up street food stands. Interspersed within all of this are the glittering golden pagodas which pepper the city's skyline. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 5pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Yangon at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Yangon International Airport (RGN), which is 30 minutes from our hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up the next morning, after breakfast. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, you might choose to visit the lively downtown area of Yangon. Here you will find an abundance of colonial buildings, which can be taken in from the circular train ride of Yangon. Perhaps even, finish with High Tea at the historic Strand Hotel.
Today we take a walking tour of Rangoon. Starting with a stroll along the banks of Kandawgyi Lake in the centre of the city we continue on to Botataung Pagoda. This pagoda is unique in that it is hollow - as we walk through we can see many ancient relics and artefacts displayed in glass cases. Later on we walk along Pansodan Street though downtown Rangoon, taking in the rich colonial architecture and bustling street markets. In the afternoon we make our way to the Chaukhtatgyi Paya, home to a giant 70 metre long reclining Buddha. The highlight of the day, though, is a visit to the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, the most revered Buddhist temple in Burma, whose golden stupa dominates the city skyline making it the ideal spot from which to watch the sunset.
We take an early morning flight to Bagan. Without doubt one of the most impressive religious sites anywhere in Asia, Bagan is an ancient city dating from the 9th to the 13th centuries with thousands of temples, stupas and monasteries covering an area of 140 square kilometres. A half-day tour of some of its most distinctive pagodas include visits to the Shwezigon Pagoda, the 13th century frescoes and cave temple of Wetkyi-in-Gubyaukgyi and the Ananda Pagoda, one of the best preserved monuments in the entire city. Late in the day we watch the sunset from a panoramic viewpoint on one of the upper terraces overlooking the temple site.
After breakfast we continue our exploration of Bagan with visits to the Sulamani Temple of King Narapatisithu and the finely crafted brickwork of the Dhammayangyi Temple, the largest shrine on the site. This afternoon has then been left free to enjoy as you wish. There is a chance to take an optional trip out to Mount Popa, Burma's sacred abode of the Nats (spirit gods). A volcanic plug that rises some 1,500 metres above the surrounding landscape, the summit provides some fine panoramic views of the surrounding hills. The journey also travels via a local farm producing traditional toddy palm juice.
This morning we enjoy a two to three hour boat ride along the Irrawaddy River to Pakkou, a bustling tobacco trading centre. From here we continue by road for about 3 hours to Monywa in the Chindwin Valley. This afternoon offers us the chance to visit the colourful Thanbuddhay Pagoda (home to more than 500,000 images of Buddha) and the Hiaungdawmu Buddha, the second largest reclining Buddha in Burma.
Crossing the Chindwin River this morning we visit the cave chambers of Po Win Daung and Shwe Ba Daung. A system of nearly 500 sandstone caves that honeycomb the Po Win Hills, these extraordinary caverns contain around 450,000 paintings, statues and carvings, representing what many experts believe to be the most comprehensive collection of Buddhist art anywhere in South East Asia. After our visit we continue by road to Mandalay, Burma's last royal capital and, for many, the centre of its most historic and culturally rich region. En route we hope to (depending on the season) stop in Monywee Kayemon village to visit a blacksmith and a local cottage industry where they make slippers.
A short distance to the south of Mandalay lies Inwa (Ava). Here we take a horse cart ride around the old city (which can be a little bumpy), visiting the monasteries of Manu Ok Kaung and Bagaya Kyaung and the 'Leaning Tower of Inwa'. In the afternoon we head on to the former royal capital of Amarapura, perhaps best known for the 19th century, 1.2 kilometre giant teak footbridge of U Bein that spans Lake Taungthaman. We also visit some local cotton and silk weavers, before driving back to Mandalay.
This morning we take a short cruise to Mingun village and the ruins of the unfinished Mingun Pahtodawgyi (pagoda) which, had it been completed, would have been the world's largest pagoda. Begun by King Bodawpaya in 1790, the pagoda work on the monument ceased with the king's death in 1890. Nearby we also visit the giant 90 tonnes bronze Mingun Bell - considered to be the largest uncracked bell on the planet. Returning to Mandalay we then spend this afternoon exploring some of the city's major highlights, including the world's largest book at the Kuthodaw Pagoda and the intricate wooden majesty of the Shwenanda (Golden Palace) Monastery. We also plan to include visits to craft shops where you can observe traditional and skilled gold-leaf making, tapestry making and wood carving as well as the fascinating jade market. If time allows we then head up Mandalay Hill for sunset and views across the river and over the city.
This morning we fly to Heho. From here we drive through villages and endless fields of dry cultivated mountain rice and potato. We make a stop at Pindaya noted for its extensive limestone caves filled with nearly 8,000 Buddha images of different sizes and made of various materials. Nearby we have the opportunity to visit a local family to see how they make paper umbrellas from the bark of a mulberry tree. In the afternoon we continue on to Kalaw. Set in the edge of the Shan Plateau this charming Colonial town was popular with the British during their time in Burma. The remainder of the day is free for you to Explore Kalaw.
Today we can look forward to a gentle four-hour trek through the Kalaw tribal heartlands. Starting in the village of Say Wingabar, we ascend through pine forest to Lu Pyi village. Our trail passes through rural countryside and provides us with views of the valley - a picturesque patchwork of rice and vegetable fields. We might see tribal villagers working on their farms, or en route to the market with their produce. At the end of our walk we make a stop at Myinmathi Cave to see its many Buddha images and small stupas. After a lunch stop, we have a short transfer back to the hotel where we can relax for the rest of the day. For those who would prefer not to take part in the trek, there is the option to relax at the hotel for the day.
This morning sees an opportunity to explore this engaging hill town, whose attractions include the gold lacquered bamboo Buddha of Nee Paya and the Catholic church of Christ the King. We then continue on by road for two hours to the beautiful setting of Lake Inle, high up on the Shan Plateau. Surrounded by hills and populated predominantly by the Intha people, Lake Inle is one of the highest lakes in the country. Devout Buddhists, the local population of self-sufficient farmers and fishermen live in simple stilted houses of wood and bamboo, growing their food on floating gardens of grass and seaweed. We plan to make a tour of some of the local villages by boat and pay a visit to the famous monastery of Nga Phae. Time permitting we will make a short visit to Leshae Village where you can see the making of Buddha images from dried flower powder.
Our boat takes us to the western part of the lake this morning, to a local Indein village, where we visit a hilltop complex of 1,000 stupas (places of worship). From up here we can enjoy some great views across the lake and on to the valley beyond. Continuing by boat on to the villages of Nanpan and Innpawkhone, we also get a chance later in the day to see some traditional boat making and silk weaving, and hopefully some local fishermen practicing their uniquely distinctive rowing technique.
We take a morning flight to Rangoon.Leaving Rangoon behind we drive to the town of Bago. Founded in 573AD, it is home to a number of sacred shrines and pagodas, including the Shwemawdaw Paya (the Golden God Temple) the tallest pagoda in the country. We visit the pagoda, as well as the Shwethalyaung Reclining Buddha (the second largest in the world) and the Kyaik Pun Pagoda. In the afternoon we continue our drive to the foot of Mount Kyaikhtiyo, or Kin Pun 'base camp'. Upon arrival we continue in an open truck up a steep 11 kilometre track to the top. From here we walk for approximately 20 minutes to the mystical and highly revered Mount Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda in time for sunset. Also known as Golden Rock, this pagoda is a large boulder precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff near the top of the mountain, supposedly held in place by a hair of the Buddha.
If our hotel is at the top of mountain we have a chance to view the sunrise before continuing on our way to Mawlamyine via the town of Tathon, where we will stop for lunch. If road conditions allow, we travel by way of Kawtgoon Cave, which has many intricate Buddha images carved into the walls, before proceeding on to Mawlamyine. The former capital of British Burma, Mawlamyine today is the capital of Mon State and the gateway to Burma's little visited south-eastern region. In the early evening we make visit to the 9th century Kyaikthanlan Phayar (Pagoda), the highest structure in the city, to enjoy the sunset.
After breakfast we take the bridge across to Bilu Gyun (Ogre Island) to visit some of the local communities that lie along the Thanlwin River. After a chance to explore some of the villages and watch traditional craftsmen at work, we head back to Mawlamyine for an afternoon tour of the city. The afternoon is left free perhaps to visit the 100-year old monastery of Seindon Minbaya Kyaung or a walk along the Strand Road to take in every day scenes.
Today will be a long but rewarding day, with a total driving time of approximately eight hours on roads which will be bumpy and unsurfaced on occasion. We will stop at Thanbyuzayet Station, known to be the western terminus of the infamous Death Railway that was built to connect British Burma with Siam during the Second World War. Much of the railway on the Burmese side of the border has now been reclaimed by jungle, but the Thanbyuzayet terminus remains, with a well-kept Allied War Memorial containing the grave stones of 3512 POW's that tragically died during its construction. We continue south, with our road winding its way through the lush forested Southern Plateau, which acts as a natural divide between Tanintharyi State and Mon State. Stopping in the town of Ye for lunch, we try some traditional Burmese dishes at a local restaurant. After lunch, we continue our drive onto the small town of Dawei.
Previously known as Tavoy under colonial rule, Dawei was one of the first cities settled by the British after the first of three Anglo-Burmese wars, and as a result the town is rich in history and colonial architecture. We set off on foot to explore the downtown area where most of the grand old buildings stand, resplendent in their fading elegance. We then continue on to the busy market where locals complete their daily shop, purchasing fresh fruit, vegetables, and locally caught fish. It is a town that receives very few tourists, so we are likely to find ourselves as a local tourist attraction! The remainder of the afternoon is free to spend at leisure, soaking up the unique atmosphere of this historic town.
;\red41\green51\blue61; \sa30027 We set off this morning for a full day's drive to Myeik, a journey of approximately 7-8 hours. The condition of the roads in the south is fairly inconsistent, so we will ensure the journey is punctuated with plenty of comfort breaks. \sb150 Known as 'Beik' by its locals, Myeik is located in the far south of the country, on a small peninsular that juts out into the Andaman Sea. The charming town is dotted with gleaming pagodas, Buddhist temples and beautiful wooden houses from its historic days of being a significant fishing port. Myeik is also famous for the Burmese pearls harvested by the Moken people, otherwise known as the Sea Gypsies that inhabit some of the islands that lie off the coast of Myeik. Here we learn about the harvesting of bird nests to make bird nest soup, considered a delicacy in many parts of China and believed to have wonderful health benefits. The swiftlets make their nests in empty buildings, and in some buildings loudspeakers, or tweeters as they are commonly known, have been installed to try and entice the birds in to build their nests. We also plan to visit a working boatyard, where fishing vessels are brought in for repair, and new teak vessels are built. There is no modern equipment used, all of the repairs are done by hand using traditional methods passed down from generation to generation. This evening we set off to Thain Taw Gyi Lan, an area that is full of beautiful old monasteries where we hope to encounter local Buddhist monks collecting alms. Our day's end is atop Phayargyi Pagoda for sunset, where we can enjoy vast panoramic views of the surrounding islands as the sun dips into the Andaman Sea.
Today has been left free, with the option to take a boat trip out to the stunningly beautiful Mergui Archipelago, an area almost entirely undiscovered by tourism. The Archipelago consists of some 800, mostly uninhabited islands nestled within the warm waters of the Andaman Sea. Of the few communities that are found in the area, most are Moken people, more commonly known as Sea Gypsies. They are a sea-faring people that spend large portions of their lives out at sea, fishing with spears rather than nets. We spend the day navigating the warm waters, stopping off for opportunities to snorkel the colourful reefs. Masks, snorkels and flippers will be provided on the boat. A picnic lunch will be taken on one of the deserted white sand beaches, where there will also be some time to relax before heading back towards the mainland. It's highly likely that we'll see fisherman docked off of the various coastlines, both the Moken and Burmese squid fisherman frequent these rich waters. The squid fisherman are easily recognisable by their huge bulb-laden outriggers, and they will often congregate together, waiting until nightfall. When the sun goes down the bulbs all burst into life, bringing a plethora of inquisitive squid up to the surface and into their nets.
Today we fly back to Rangoon, and after dropping our bags at the hotel, we make our way by boat the town of Twante. This historic town sits astride of Burma's two great rivers, the Irrawady and Yangon River, and a canal was built here by the British to connect the two for easy access to the Irrawady Delta. Twante is known for its handicrafts and pottery work, with many local artisans residing here. We spend time admiring the intricate works before exploring the rest of Twante by traditional Burmese 'Trishaws'. We return to Rangoon late in the afternoon, where it may be possible to catch our last glimpse of the Shwedagon Pagoda as the sun sets on our Burmese adventure.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Yangon. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Yangon at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Yangon International Airport (RGN), which is 30 minutes from our hotel.
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