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Richard and I have traveled a lot in Asia. We've been to India many times over the past 50 years to visit and travel with a family (now regarded as "our family") who lives in Chennai. We love everything about Asia: the food, the people, the sights, the smells, the markets, and I'll be sharing more of my photos (Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan) here.
When our youngest daughter was about 16 (she now almost 33) she spent the summer in Bangkok with a school friend and she traveled with the family to Burma. Ever since we saw her pictures and heard her stories of that trip, we've wanted to go. Add to the beauty of the country as one reason, its history, the romantic mystery that's surrounded it, the political confrontation between the military government and democracy activists made this trip irresistible.
We were on our own, traveling with long-time friends — also well-traveled folks. We hoped to see a country newly exposed to the West, learn more about how people live, and what the future might look like for this emerging democracy. As we do with all our trips we spend the 3-4 weeks reading whatever we could get our hands on prepping for the travel.
Let me start off my saying that "cruising" isn't always my first choice when exploring a country but sometimes it just makes sense, in part when the river itself is part of a country's history. (Generally I love the excitement of interesting hotels, walking city streets, and finding the best places to eat — street food to gourmet.) And in Myanmar it made great logistical sense. Belmond ran this cruise ship, "The Road to Mandalay," going up the Ayeyarwady River. That fit in the perfect place for a cruise case.
In reality, there wasn't actually a lot of cruising on this trip, though the boat did dock in different places during the 7 nights we were on it. (The river was low when we were there in January, limiting to some degree how far we could travel.) The boat was well run, had great accommodations and facilities, great service, very good food, excellent excursions, etc. I'd definitely recommend it. Fun things on board included a resident astrologer, 1,000 floating candles in the river one night while we were anchored, lectures on history and culture, and a lesson on tying longyi. I should mention we had perfect weather ever single day (high 80s and lows in the 60s).
We were in Yangon and Mandalay (the latter did not live up to expectations) and boarded our boat at a small town named Myin Mu, which was charming. We did go to Amarapurna and (hesitatingly) walked over the U Bein Bridge. Bagan was certainly a highlight — not just our first hot air balloon ride, but also because of the many infinite variety of temples. Watching the sunrise from the balloon, and sunset from the top of one of the temples was truly unforgettable. We enjoyed the trip to Mt. Popa. We really loved the small villages we had a chance to walk around in (Alacapa was the name of one of them), the town of Monywa (the fifth biggest city in Myanmar). We found everyone welcoming, friendly and helpful.
After the river experience and seeing that part of the country we flew to Heho/Inle Lake where we stayed at the fabulous Inle Princess Hotel at Magyizin Village. There are numerous ethnic communities — Pa-O, Danu and Intha — and the entire 3 to 4 days was just a feast for the eyes. We loved our day long rides in a flat-bottomed boat seeing the traditional ways of living in this beautiful part of the country.
We spent a day in Yangon on the way out and had a terrific, but too short lunch with several democracy activists that a former colleague had arranged. They have their work cut out for them. Richard and I then ended the trip with a few days in Hong Kong, eating our hearts out.
In sum, I would highly recommend this adventure. For more details, visit Millerstime.net.