Mingala ba from Myanmar A journey down the Irrawaddy
Cox & Kings clients Anne & Jeff McCormack travelled to Burma, enjoying a luxury holiday cruising the Irrawaddy river.
Our holiday on the Irrawaddy river aboard the Orcaella was one of delightfully varied experiences – from walking barefoot around magnificent temples and pagodas and visiting riverside villages, markets and craft workshops, to attending a noviciation ceremony and a local school. We were initially disappointed that our itinerary through the gorges of the far north had to be modified due to river conditions. But we need not have worried. The impeccable organisation shown by the Orcaella vessel staff meant we had a truly memorable journey with many surprises on the way.
Our tour started in Rangoon (Yangon) where we stayed at the comfortable colonial style Governor’s Residence for a night and where we saw the famous bejewelled Swegadon Pagoda, but we were soon on our way via a domestic flight to Mandalay to join the Orcaella. Launched in 2013, the ship provided lovely accommodation, a superb chef and helpful staff and was a wonderful base to return to after a day’s sightseeing or just relaxing. We heard the traditional Mingala ba greeting wherever we went and met people who hadn’t experienced ‘foreigners’ before; all who were welcoming and friendly. A surprise cocktail party for the passengers on a sandbank at sunset turned into a venue for a game of cane ball between the crew and local villagers and a ‘question and answer session’ with them was a successful way of getting to know each other – they were apparently fascinated by the colour of our hair! Another unexpected treat: a dinner in the ruins of an old fort on the river bank provided a further opportunity of meeting local people who turned out in force to watch us!
Highlights along the river included a huge bell at Mingun, originally destined for a pagoda that was never finished; an elephant camp; the 200-year-old U Bein Bridge that is wonderfully atmospheric at sunset; and the many monasteries and golden temples that glistened in the sunlight with their Buddha images encrusted with gold leaf donated by worshippers – especially at Pagan (Bagan) where the sunrise and sunset views of more than 2,000 temples are spectacular. However, we were especially privileged to visit villages along the way with their bamboo covered houses and local industries such as pottery making, and we were able to experience their way of life at first hand in the markets teeming with fruit, vegetables and flowers. We were particularly privileged to witness a noviciation ceremony regarded as a very important moment for young Burmese boys and an honour for their families – we weren’t made to feel like intruders at all – and to visit a local school to distribute books and equipment donated by the ship. What an amazing welcome we received from the children who all wanted their photograph taken.
For a tourist visiting a country for the first time, impressions are often superficial and you need time to absorb and understand. Burma is one of those countries we would love to visit again to learn and see more! We left reluctantly with many memories to cherish.
View Cox & Kings' holidays to Burma.