The Golden Land of... Burma
Cox & Kings client Iain Walton travelled to Burma on our Golden Land of Burma tour earlier this year.
5000, 1000, 4000, 1000, 3000, 1000, 2000…….OK, 2000, and with that I sealed the deal. With a seven year old souvenir seller called Cissy. We were on the banks of an Irawaddy River tributary waiting for a local boat to transfer us to the other side where our horses and carriages awaited to tour ancient Inwa and another step back in time. We’d arrived in Rangoon a few days earlier and flown to Mandalay soon after. More arid than the south the landscape here was brown rather than lush green.
A day trip to the former British Hill Station of Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo) provided a welcome respite from the lowland heat, but our coach laboured up the mountain road, defying gravity and overtaking lorries more exerted than us along twisty, vertiginous roads. Halfway up was an enjoyable pit stop. Locals preparing food, locals selling food from trays balanced atop their heads, cigarette lighters attached to some pulley contraption above each dining table to prevent them from walking and the lorries needing to be doused in cold water by young lads with hoses cooling the engines.
Enjoyable day meeting many monks and market stall holders – happy, smiling people. Race back down the mountainside chasing the sunset at U Bein Bridge. Our driver does well and it’s a mad dash through the car park to catch the last glimpse of sun as it sets. As Maw, our guide, jokes, “If we miss the sun we can always enjoy twilight.”. Bizarrely, we pass a baby owl for sale. Harry Potter’s been and gone. The teak bridge is teaming with tourists – both local and international.
Morning has broken and we visit the Mahagandayon Monastery to see the thousand or so saffron robed monks receive their lunch. It’s the day Davy Jones dies and it’s an easy transition from monks to Monkees and daydream believing.
Another internal flight. Another Sprite. More sights. Temples to be precise. Pagan (Bagan) has plenty of them. We see plenty of temples. Inside. Outside. Climbing on. Views of sunset from. Views of other temples from. Never done so much barefoot.
Flight to Heho for Inle Lake via Mandalay and a short stop on the tarmac to stretch legs whilst waiting for more passengers. We hear a carnival procession in the distance and informed it’s Aung San Suu Kyi – she’s just landed on the aircraft next to ours and is proceeding into Mandalay. It’ll take her a while at that pace. Heho airport baggage handling is efficient. Decant bags from aircraft onto trolley. Trolley pushed from apron to car park. Coach loaded up. Simple.
We’re now spending three days in Waterworld - five to a long tail boat and travel everywhere by boat. Think Venice without the architecture but it’s the highlight of the trip. Forty minutes racing across the lake and we discover the main area of habitation. Monasteries, markets and manufacturing. The locals have devised a method of agricultural farming on the lake by creating floating reed beds to grow vegetables and the like. Excellent avocado. Refreshing G&T watching the sun set from the balcony. Very chilly evenings though.
Another day on the lake visiting local markets, enjoying the cookery school and the food produced by it. Motor up a tributary to Indein village passing water buffalo bathing and locals washing themselves in the muddy water. Short walk through the village and up the hill through woodland to see the stupas and the view back over the lake. It makes the walk worthwhile. The rooster tails of our motorised long tail boats glimmer in the late afternoon sun like incessant firework fountains.
Sun rises over the lake like a ghostly apparition through the early morning mist and we fly back to Rangoon. Maw has saved the best pagoda until last. Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda is not only a place of worship but also a social centre. Picnics. People. Prayers. It’s the place to be.
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