SE5 Myanmar (burma)

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TOUR HIGHLIGHTS:

Yangon: Shwedagon Pagoda; Stunning Bagan: site tour; Mandalay: "Golden City"; Ancient capital of Amarapura; Inle Lake: scenic, cultural boat tour

Full Itinerary


Day 1 Arrival in Yangon
Today we arrive in Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar's former capital and main port.

Founded in 1755 by King Alaungpaya, it grew into a trading port after the British annexed lower Burma in 1826 and became the capital after the whole of Burma fell to the British in 1890. The city is an amalgamation of British, Burmese, Chinese and Indian influences, and is known for its colonial architecture, which even today remains a unique example of a 19th-century British colonial capital. Today it's a bustling, rapidly modernizing place full of energy and hope for the future.

Later today (or at some other point on our program) we visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. This golden stupa dominates Yangon, and it is the spiritual rallying point for much of the population. Somerset Maugham said it was "like a sudden hope in the dark night of the soul". The Pagoda is said to date back 2,500 years, and was built to house eight sacred hairs of the Buddha. Its bell-shaped structure is covered in almost 60 metric tonnes of gold-leaf, and on top of the Pagoda there are gold and silver bells studded with rubies, sapphires and topaz. The diamond orb is encrusted with 4,350 diamonds and crowned with a 76 carat diamond. Legend has it that two Burmese merchants travelled to India and met the Buddha under the sacred bodhi tree.

Overnight in Yangon.
Meal plan: dinner

Day 2 Yangon - Bagan: Site Tour
Today we fly north to Bagan, where across 40 sq km stand thousands of pagodas and temples. Bagan was once the largest and most splendid city ever built in Burma and it was a rival to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Its pure Hinayana Buddhism had no rituals, no sacrifices and no priests; only monks, vowed to poverty and meditation.

Upon arrival we'll begin our sightseeing program,* which will include several temples that are unique or important in some way. Many of the monuments are undergoing restoration, and may be either closed or obscured on a rotating basis, but there are plenty to choose from! Our program usually includes Sulamani Temple, restored after the 1975 earthquake, utilising brick and stone, with frescoes in the interior; and Ananda, as important as it is huge. Considered to be the best surviving masterpiece of Mon architecture, Ananda is the finest, largest, best-preserved and most revered of the Bagan temples. We'll aim to be at Shwesandaw Paya at the end of our day -- an excellent place from which to view the sunset.

* The exact order and content of our Bagan area sightseeing will likely vary depending on restorations, weather, group interest, and Tour Leader preference.

Overnight in Bagan.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 3 Bagan Area Tour
Today we have a full day in the Bagan area, visiting some of the more important and picturesque monuments therein.

We will visit the Manuka temple, with its reclining Buddha image, which records a captive king's impression of life in prison; the fine stone carvings of Nanpaya Temple; Thatbyinnyu Temple, the tallest in Bagan; and Bupaya Pagoda (to name a few). We may also have time to travel to a viewpoint overlooking the Irrawaddy River.

Note: This morning is the ideal time to participate in an optional excursion that has grown VERY popular amongst the arriving foreign tourists -- ballooning over the temples of Bagan at sunrise. The excursion begins very early in the morning and is run by Balloons Over Bagan, a British-owned operator that has been operating in Bagan for years. For those who wish to participate in the balloon ride, please note that due to its popularity, you MUST book in advance. The cost of the balloon ride is $320 USD. Please contact the Adventures Abroad staff if you wish to make the booking so that we can contact Balloons Over Bagan far in advance. If there is no room for this morning's flight, we can try for the next morning in Bagan. Please note that this excursion cannot be confirmed until our tour is a guaranteed departure; once paid, the cost is non-refundable.

Overnight in Bagan.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 4 Bagan - Mt Popa
Today we travel by bus to the monastery at the summit of Mt Popa. On the way, we stop at one of the roadside mills where you may watch docile buffalo slowly circumnavigating the central stone, grinding palm seed into oil. This is a good opportunity to taste some 'jaggery', the local candy made from palm sugar.

Mt Popa is an incongruous extinct volcano that dominates the area. However, Popa's attraction today lies not so much in its geological aspect, but more in its religious and mystical attributes that are still prevalent. Popa is popularly recognized as an abode of many "Nats," or spirits of ancient ancestors, who dwell in various parts of the mountain. In the days of old, it also used to be referred to as the "Mountain of Spirits". The evidence of these beliefs is abundant in the form of Nat shrines, ceremonial offerings, annual representative festivals, and a never-ending stream of pilgrims. We will have time to ascend the hill on foot before continuing to our nearby hotel (Mt Popa Resort), which features spectacular views.

Overnight near Mt Popa.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 5 Mt Popa - Mandalay
This morning we travel by bus to Mandalay, the "Golden City", founded in 1857 by King Mindon after a legend that told of the Lord Buddha's visit 2,400 years previously when he prophesied the founding of a holy city. It lies on the east bank of the Irrawaddy, about 805 km (500 miles) north of Yangon. It was Burma's last capital before it came under British rule. The magnificent Mandalay Palace was burned down during the Second World War and only a scale model remains in the palace grounds, which are surrounded by a moat. However, many pagodas and monasteries still stand.

Time permitting today (or tomorrow), we will stop at the U Bein Wooden Bridge (named after the former town mayor), constructed out of materials salvaged from the forsaken Ava Palace. The bridge, the longest made from teak in the world, is about three-quarters of a mile in length.

Overnight in Mandalay.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 6 Mandalay: Amarapura
This morning we drive to the ancient capital of Amarapura, the "city of immortality," described in its heyday as a microcosm of Burmese civilization. As a capital it was founded by King Bodawpaya in 1783, the year after he came to the throne. Bodawpaya died in 1819 and his grandson Bagyidaw shifted the capital back again to Ava in 1823. That was not the end of Amarapura though, for in 1841, during the reign of Tharrawaddy (the brother of Bagyidaw), it became the capital once more. Sixteen years later, with King Mindon in power, Amarapura was finally displaced by Mandalay.

Back in Mandalay we visit Bagaya Monastery with its myriad Buddha images and vast collection of various antiques. During our time in Mandalay, we will also visit Shwenadaw Monastery, Mandalay Palace, and see how gold leaf is produced.

Overnight in Mandalay.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 7 Mandalay: Mingun
Today we travel up the Irrawaddy River to Mingun and the Myatheindan Pagoda. The seven wavy terraces around the pagoda represent the seven mountain ranges around Mt Meru, while the five kinds of mythical monsters can be found in niches on each terrace level. Mingun has two remarkable objects which we see on our tour, both the brain-child of King Bodawpaya -- the Mingun Bell and the Pagoda.

In 1838 an earthquake struck and part of the building collapsed; today you can still see a huge fissure in the giant slab. Guarded by a pair of dilapidated brick chinthes, the Mingun Pagoda is truly a bizarre and incongruous sight. This may not have been the largest pagoda in the world, but it does have the world's largest uncracked bell, 14 times the size of that of St Paul's. It is possible to crawl inside, and pray that none of the entourage of giggling kids rings it while you're underneath! Not surprisingly, the bell fell off during the earthquake of 1838 and it lay on the ground until 1896 when it was re-mounted. It is now covered by a shelter open on all sides.

Overnight in Mandalay.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 8 Mandalay - Heho - Inle Lake
Today we fly from Mandalay to Heho from where we continue by road to Inle Lake via a stop in Kalaw where we do a quick town tour and visit a local market.

Inle Lake actually has two meanings: "little lake" and "four lake" (because there are four big villages on the lake, though 200 in all). People began migrating to the lake area as early as the 14th Century, completing their resettlement during the 18th Century. To survive, they became fishermen and developed their unique style of leg-rowing and catching fish in conical traps. Since the land fronting the lake belonged to the Shans, they were forced to build their homes and villages on the water itself.

Depending on the timing of today's flight, we may be able to accomplish some of our sightseeing program today upon arrival.

Overnight at Inle Lake.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 9 Inle Lake Area
This morning we have a boat excursion to Indein Village, located at the western side of the lake. Passing Nyaung Ohak Monastery and following a stair path lined with many hundreds of wooden columns, we reach the impressive Shwe Indein Pagoda complex. From the hillside we have great view over the lake area. On the way back to the boat, we walk through a romantic bamboo forest at the riverside.

We then return to Inle and have afternoon visist to Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery, a silver and goldsmith, observe cheroot making, as well as the blacksmith, cotton and silk weaving industries.

Overnight at Inle Lake.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 10 Inle Lake & Kakku
Today's day trip from Inle takes us deep into the Shan Hills to the hidden 'forest of temples' at Kakku. Travelling from the flatlands around the lake, we drive higher and higher into the hills, criss-crossing the railway line and passing through small villages inhabited to the Pa-Oh people. At Kakku, we are rewarded with a spectacle: more than 5,000 stupas from the 11th century rising high above the plain. We are able to wander amid these mysterious stupas in an area closed to visitors for many years.

In addition to visiting the temples, our local will introduce you to the customs and lives of the people as we pass thgrough nearby villages.

Return to Inle Lake.

Overnight at Inle Lake.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 11 Inle Lake - Yangon
Today we fly back to Yangon.

Depending on flight schedules, we may accomplish any Yangon sightseeing missed during our first visit. Time-permitting we'll visit the National Museum and other sites, such as the Sule Pagoda and / or Reclining Buddha.

Overnight in Yangon.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 12 Yangon - Mount Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock)
Today we travel by road to Mount Kyaiktiyo, the third most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Burma after the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Mahamuni Pagoda. A glimpse of the "gravity defying" Golden Rock is believed to be enough of an inspiration for any person to turn to Buddhism. Balancing on the cliff top at its peak, this huge boulder, covered in gold, is without doubt one of the most magical destinations in Myanmar.

The legend associated with the pagoda is that the Buddha, on one of his many visits, gave a strand of his hair to Taik Tha, a hermit. The Hermit, who had tucked it in the tuft of his hair safely, in turn gave the strand to the King, with the wish that the hair be enshrined in a boulder shaped like the hermit's head. Kyaiktiyo Pagoda has become a popular pilgrimage and attraction. At the peak of the pilgrimage season (November to March), an atmosphere of devotion is witnessed at Kyaikhtiyo pagoda.

The latter part of our journey involves a winding 11km ride (45-60 min) in an open truck with no top (be prepared for rain or sun!). Due to limited space, it is best to bring an overnight bag for this one night and leave large bags in Yangon. Once settled, we will be able to walk the short distance (10 min) from our hotel to the Golden Rock for our visit.

Overnight in the vicinity of Mount Kyaiktiyo.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 13 Mount Kyaiktiyo - Yangon
Today we travel by road back to Yangon with the balance of the day at leisure.

Overnight in Yangon.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 14 Departure
Departure from Yangon.

BON VOYAGE!
Meal plan: breakfast