SIX WAYS TO EN­JOY MYS­TI­CAL MYAN­MAR

Travel Bulletin - - INDOCHINA -

One of the best ways to ex­pe­ri­ence Myan­mar is by cruis­ing the Ir­rawaddy River, but that’s only part of the ad­ven­ture, writes KERRY VAN DER JAGT.

THIS is Burma”, wrote Rud­yard Ki­pling. “It is quite un­like any place you know about.” More than a cen­tury af­ter Ki­pling penned these words, Myan­mar is still as­ton­ish­ing, from rid­ing in a horse-drawn cart past an­cient tem­ples to wit­ness­ing the one-legged fish­er­men of Inle Lake, it will spin you around and turn ev­ery­thing you thought you knew up­side down. It’s all raw and real and de­light­fully off­beat, an en­tire na­tion emerg­ing from the harsh con­di­tions im­posed by the pre­vi­ous rul­ing mil­i­tary, but now on the cusp of great change. So now is the time to visit, while the coun­try still wears its time warp charm and its peo­ple are buoyed and con­fi­dent for the fu­ture.

PAD­DLE INTO A SUN­SET – Burma is home to some re­ally big things - the World’s Big­gest Book, the grav­ity-de­fy­ing Golden Rock, the 90-tonne Min­gun Bell - but it’s the U Bein Bridge that will test the panorama func­tion on your smart phone. Span­ning Taungthaman Lake near Amara­pura, the 1.2-kilo­me­tre bridge is the world’s long­est and old­est teak bridge. Walk across the foot­bridge one way, then, as the sun slowly melts into the lake, re­turn by pad­dle­boat, cock­tail in hand.

RIDE IN A TRISHAW – you haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced Myan­mar un­til you’ve squeezed your west­ern-sized butt into a Burmese-sized side­car (and then suc­cess­fully ex­tri­cated

your­self back out again). A cheap and cheer­ful form of lo­cal trans­port tr­ishaws are now be­ing used to ferry vis­i­tors around some of the qui­eter neigh­bour­hoods. One of the best tours is to Dala, a mul­ti­cul­tural town­ship across the river from Yan­gon.

HIT THE STREETS – YAN­GON – the for­mer colo­nial cap­i­tal once called Ran­goon – is the per­fect walk­ing city. Stroll past el­e­gant build­ings, some beau­ti­fully re­stored, oth­ers crum­bling and await­ing their next rein­car­na­tion. Pause at the for­mer gov­ern­ment of­fices where Aung San Suu Kyi’s fa­ther was as­sas­si­nated in 1947, pick up a book at an open-air stall and salute Rud­yard Ki­pling with a G&T at The Strand Ho­tel. For jade, tex­tiles and an­tiques head to the Bo­gyoke Aung San Mar­kets and fin­ish the evening at the Sh­wedagon Pagoda, the holi­est site in the land. Guests of Scenic have the op­por­tu­nity to learn about the rit­ual of ‘oil lamp light­ing’ be­fore join­ing in with this lo­cal tra­di­tion.

EN­TER A NUNNERY – while it is ex­pected that most males in Myan­mar will spend some time in a monastery, less than four per cent of girls are given the equal op­por­tu­nity. Those that do are gen­er­ally es­cap­ing poverty or try­ing to get some ed­u­ca­tion. As part of Scenic’s cruise be­tween Man­dalay and Pyay, guests are in­vited in­side one of the nun­ner­ies that Scenic sup­ports, not sim­ply for a visit, but to join the pink-robed women and girls for their mid­day meal.

EX­PLORE BY HORSE-DRAWN CART – Be­tween 1365 and 1842 Inwa (Ava) served as Burma’s royal cap­i­tal - not once, not twice, but five times. To­day, this ru­ral back­wa­ter is best en­joyed by pony trap, the open-sided carts and plod­ding pace the per­fect way for view­ing the crum­bling stu­pas and monas­tic ru­ins spread across the coun­try­side.

TAKE TO THE SKIES – Ba­gan has long been syn­ony­mous with hot-air bal­loons, as that re­ally is the best way to ap­pre­ci­ate the World Her­itage-listed site of more than 2,000 reli­gious mon­u­ments spread across the dusty plains. While hot air bal­loon flights are an op­tional tour for Scenic cruise pas­sen­gers, all guests are in­vited for sun­set drinks at Clay Pot Moun­tain, a lit­tle-known hill­top lo­ca­tion far away from the crowds.

All pho­tos cour­tesy of Scenic

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