Long closed off to the rest of the world, the one-time colonial outpost of Burma (now known as Myanmar) is back on the international jet-set agenda. Now is the perfect time to visit its untold cultural riches before the rest of the world rediscovers this untouched Southeast Asian jewel. By Eric Rosen
Day 1-2 | Yangon | Strand Hotel
Your first destination in this fascinating country will be its largest city and former capital, Yangon (you might also recognize it by its colonial name of Rangoon). This is a bustling metropolis, but operates at a more sedate pace than Southeast Asia’s other urban centers. Spend the afternoon relaxing in colonial-era splendor at the venerable Strand Hotel (their afternoon tea is practically a local institution), and pop around the corner to Monsoon for some traditional Burmese dishes before turning in for the night.
The following morning, your Ker & Downey guide will be on hand to show you around the city, including the unassuming 2,000-year-old Sule Pagoda and the enormous reclining Buddha at Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda. The fascinating historical and cultural exhibits at the National Museum of Myanmar include replicas of the eight royal thrones of Burma, and you can bargain for everything from hand-woven fabrics to brilliant gemstones at the Bogyoke Aung San Market.
Perhaps the city’s oldest, but certainly its most famous landmark, gleaming golden Shwedagon Pagoda towers over 300 feet high and contains holy relics that draw devout pilgrims from all over Myanmar and the Buddhist world alike. Dusk is the perfect time to visit to join the reverent crowds and take in this awesome sight in the perfect lighting.
Linger over dinner at House of Memories, a gourmet Burmese restaurant housed in the century-old, timbered Nath Villa that was once the offices of Burmese independence hero Aung San. Your dinner might include specialties like mango pork curry, fried cauliflower with tamarind sauce and a spring garlic curry made with tender river fish. Don’t stay too late, though, because you have an early flight to catch in the morning.
Day 2-4 | Bagan
Your plane from Yangon to Bagan departs pre-dawn, but the better to maximize your time in this little-known wonder of the ancient world. After your hour-long flight, you will be met at the airport by your Ker & Downey guide and shown around this spectacular site in the comfort of your own private vehicle. A former capital of imperial Burma, Bagan is an enormous complex of temples and palaces dating to the 10th century that number over 4,000. Everywhere you look on this dry plain flanked by the wide Ayeyarwaddy River, you will see red brick stupas poking up above the tree line. Your first morning will be a survey of some of the most majestic, including the golden Shwezigon Pagoda, the imposing Dhammayangyi Temple, and the elegantly styled Sulamani, which means “crown jewel” in the local Pali language. Be sure to visit Gubyaukgyi to see its jaw-dropping frescoes before a light midday lunch and siesta. Once the heat has passed, you will return to the temple trail and sights like the filigreed towers of Ananda Paya. Just before sunset, you will climb the terraced pyramid of Shwesandaw Paya for picture-perfect 360-degree views.
The following day, set off on the 90-minute drive to the lush slopes of Mount Popa, traditionally considered the home of ancient nature spirits in Burmese lore. Along the way, you will stop at a palm-sugar farm and hike through mountain villages to meet the locals and learn about their way of life. By lunchtime, you will be ready for the panoramic vistas from the dining terrace at the Mount Popa Lodge. Afterwards, you will make it back to Bagan in time to freshen up before a sunset river cruise where the only question will be whether the sunset in the sky or reflected in the river is more stunning. Get to bed early, because you’ve got another morning flight to catch.
Day 5-6 | Inle Lake | Pristine Lotus Spa Resort
Your destination today is two quick 20-minute flights (there is a stop in Mandalay) to the town of Heho, which is the gateway to the bucolic region of Inle Lake. Almost a mile above sea level, the lake is a sunny but temperate zone where travelers are transported back to a traditional way of life that feels centuries old.
After a pickup by your Ker & Downey guide and driver at the airport, you will be ferried in a private longboat to your hotel. Spend your first day relaxing in the spacious villas at the Pristine Lotus Spa Resort on the lake’s western bank, or venture out on a bicycle to explore the local villages, renowned for their therapeutic hot springs and yellow tofu.
The following day, your Ker & Downey guide will pick you up (again in your very own longboat) for a day out cruising the lake’s waterways and stilted villages. You will catch the traveling open-air market wherever it happens to be that day, explore the picturesque ruined stupas of Indein, admire the five golden Buddha statues and state barge at Phaung Daw Oo Paya, and visit silversmith and lotus-weaving villages. Stop for a gourmet lunch at the lovingly restored Inthar Heritage House before continuing on to the fisherman’s village where, if you are lucky, you will catch industrious villagers plying their trade and casting their nets from their dugout canoes, much as they have done for centuries. Marvel at the sprawling floating farms on your way to the imposing Nga Phe Kyaung monastery, a famous center for learning in this region, and then stop for a snack of homemade rice crackers at a nearby village before returning to your hotel for a restful evening and a spectacular lakeside sunset.
Day 7 | Yangon | Sule Shangri-La
You have one final afternoon in the city to pick up a few last-minute presents. Drop your things at the top modern luxury hotel in the city, the Sule Shangri-La, and head to Pomelo, a charming little boutique on the third floor of an unassuming building down near the Strand for fair trade arts and crafts sourced from all over the country.
These are things you won’t find anywhere else and that you can savor as souvenirs of your trip or hand out to jealous friends back home.
For more information about adding Myanmar to your next Ker & Downey itinerary, contact your Travel Professional or visit us online at www.kerdowney.com. To read the current issue of QUEST magazine online, click here, and be sure to stay up to date on all of QUEST’s online content by following the QUEST Facebook page.