The Mystery of Myanmar
Myanmar is still in a state of transition from a military to a (largely) civilian government. Political difficulties remain to be resolved — alas, the army, shows little sign of simply going back to barracks and staying there — but the country feels infinitely more relaxed than it did five or six years ago. Burmese people are happy to see an increased number of American visitors and are eager to converse with them. The opportunities for luxury travel are restricted by a relative lack of disinguished hotels, but standards are improving and Burmese airlines now fly reliable modern aircraft. At the heart of any itinerary should be a cruise on an Ayeyarwady riverboat. Cruises to remote areas north of Mandalay and those on the Chindwin River, the main tributary of the Ayeyarwady, can last up to 13 days. Most travelers opt for a journey of three or four nights. Myanmar was isolated from the rest of the world for nearly half a century. The country is likely to develop rapidly, however, so now is the time to see it before modernity intrudes.
Day 1 - 3 : Yangon
Arrive in Yangon and transfer to the Belmond Governor’s Residence, located in the green and tranquil Embassy District. The main building is an atmospheric 1920s teak mansion with a wraparound porch. The hotel is an ideal place to recuperate after a long flight, and has a lovely swimming pool and excellent restaurants.
In the morning, take an escorted tour of the Shwedagon, one of the most remarkable religious buildings in Asia. Situated on a hilltop in central Yangon, the pagoda is 325 feet tall and still dominates the city’s skyline. Tradition insists that it is more than 2,500 years old and was constructed to cover relics that include eight strands of the Buddha’s hair. However, archaeologists maintain that it was built over a millennium ago, between the sixth and 10th centuries. The Shwedagon is solid and made of bricks covered with gold plates; the crown is encrusted with thousands of precious gems, including at least 4,500 diamonds and a 72-carat diamond at the very top. It is a focus of Buddhist devotion for the people of Myanmar, and its precincts possess a delightfully serene and meditative atmosphere.
After lunch you may wish to visit the National Museum of Myanmar, with its extensive collection of ancient artifacts, inscriptions and historic memorabilia. Later, stroll through the colorful Bogyoke Market, with its numerous stores selling Burmese jade and rubies.
Downtown Yangon has changed little since independence in 1948 and its grand brick colonial buildings remain largely untouched and gently decaying. Take a leisurely escorted stroll around the grid of streets laid out in 1852. The Yangon Heritage Trust, established in 2012 by Harvard-educated architect Dr. Thant Myint-U, organizes daily walking tours; many of them start at the YHT’s office on lower Pansodan Street. Afterward, have lunch at The Strand Hotel, which opened in 1901. Freshen up at the Governor’s Residence and then embark on a two-hour sunset cruise on the Yangon River. Later have dinner at Monsoon restaurant, which serves delicious pan-Asian cuisine in an atmospheric converted shophouse.