Balloons over Bagan
Owned by an Australian-Burmese couple, this venerable company offers the stunning 45-minute balloon rides across the temples of Old Bagan. Their safety record is impeccable, due to the fact that they only fly when the weather conditions are perfect. If you have a chance to partake, it’s one of the most memorable experiences in this part of the world. The company employs a host of locals and is involved in a number of community projects. Reserve for the first day of your Bagan stay; that way if the weather doesn’t play along, you have a few more opportunities to make it up into the sky.
This is not on anyone’s sightseeing list and you need a local guide to help figure out timing, as the train runs on a somewhat erratic schedule. Making the loop from downtown Yangon, into the outlying suburbs and ending back in downtown, you get an incredible overview of the lay of the land and local life. When I went, the excellent team from the Orient Express’ Governor’s Residence arranged for my group to take the train for about 20minutes (ending in the outskirts where a bus picked us up). Within minutes of leaving central Yangon, the train runs through impoverished neighborhoods, its residents boarding with luggage and lifestock and squeezing into the compartments already filled with young and old, monks and locals. Vendors maneuver through the rattling train cars (stripped except for two wooden benches running along the sides), selling snacks and fruit. Locals did a double-take when they saw us visitors boarding but everyone tried to make room for us on the benches, a lovely gesture rarely seen in my New York City subway back home.
Numerology and palmistry is huge in Myanmar, where locals consult their local palm reader or numerologist before every major decision (it is even rumored that the government moved the capital from Yagon to Nay Pyi Taw due to the recommendation of one of the general’s palmists). In Yangon, any hotel can arrange for a professional to come for an appointment but more fun is to visit one of the small rooms clustered around the entrance of the Sule Pagoda. Go with a fortune-craving partner, as one of you needs to take notes for the other while predictions are being made. Come prepared with your birthday, including the exact time you were born and what day of the month, as well as with a few specific questions you would like answered. The rates range from 5000 kyat (about $5) to $35.
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