Passion Points: Family
Indagare member, Lisle Davies, recently went to Southeast Asia for two jam-packed weeks with her husband, eleven-year-old son and thirteen-year-old daughter. Here are her impressions and tips for traveling to Myanmar.
We flew into Bangkok, where we spent two days. We had a particularly wonderful time at the Tiger Temple, where we bottle-fed baby tigers and played with older ones. We then flew to Luang Prabang, where we spent two days with the Pencils of Promise team, seeing their great work. We spent a little time in Chiang Mai, then flew to Yangon. We stayed one night at Governor’s Residence and I wanted to move in. Our stay started with gin & tonics on the outdoor veranda as we began to settle into the colonial feel of the place. The setting is just beautiful, on a street with many embassies. The managers were spectacularly helpful, even offering to change out dollars since they knew they would be rejected elsewhere in the country (our U.S. dollars weren’t printed with recent serial numbers). Yangon is fascinating with a bustling mixture of people, cars, trucks and bicycles. Shwedagon Pagoda is beautiful and so interesting. The complex is huge and has different areas designated for prayer for different things. For example, people born on Wednesdays have a specific section where they can pray. There is a beautiful tradition of pouring one cup of water over the Buddha’s head for each year you have been alive. We went early in the day, which I highly recommend because the city gets really hot.
We then flew to Inle Lake and spent a couple nights at Inle Princess Resort. This hotel was also really lovely and reminded me of a beautiful, high-end, eco-friendly summer sleep-away camp. The lake is so pristine and picturesque and felt very removed. We were able to see workshops where people were rolling cigars, weaving textiles and making jewelry. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch overlooking the lake at the Burmese Cats Café. The food was delicious and our daughter fell in love with the seventeen Burmese cats who live there.
Our next stop was a river cruise from Mandalay to Bagan on the Irrawaddy River. We cruised on the RV Pauken 2007, a replica of a 1940s river-cruising vessel built by a Scottish ship builder. The cabins were nice, and luckily, air-conditioned. The other passengers were mostly European and with a total capacity of 55, the experience felt intimate. The scenery was beautiful but felt sort of repetitive. We made one stop at a village where the residents make clay pottery. It was very interesting but felt slightly staged.
Our final stop was in the beautiful city of Bagan, where we stayed in the very grand Aureon Palace. We went into town and enjoyed lunch at Black Bamboo, which is owned by a Burmese man and his French wife. The hot-air balloons Bagan is known for had not been flying for several days due to high morning temperatures and wind, but we very much enjoyed taking a horse-drawn carriage around the temples and climbing some of them. The very narrow pathways are not for everyone and did not feel terribly safe, but it was very cool and a great bonding experience with my daughter.
The food in Burma was remarkably good and varied, it seemed like a combination of Indian, Thai and Chinese cuisines. The country is quite clean and food and ice were safe, from our experience.
We flew Air Bagan around the country. Considering how complicated it was to book the flights, we were surprised that all our flights were on time and the flight attendants were all immaculately dressed. We had a car and driver wherever we went, which we were grateful for. Be sure to request a car with air-conditioning (which costs extra).
I was surprised by how open the country felt. Considering the recent political turmoil, Myanmar had a much more relaxed vibe than I was expecting. In fact, as a traveler, I felt more stressed going through immigration in Shanghai. All the people we met were really sweet and genuinely seemed happy to see us. Everyone speaks English (in varying degrees), and while there are few American visitors, the country is becoming set up for tourism. In fact, Yangon airport is building a new state-of-the-art international wing. I never dreamed that I would love the country so much, and not want to come home… In fact, my entire family wanted to continue our journey in Myanmar.
Some tips for those considering a trip to Burma:
-Bring U.S. dollars, but only crisp, recent bills. We brought dollars that were a bit older and some vendors wouldn’t accept them. Luckily, Governor’s Residence swapped out bills for more recent ones.
-Print out all confirmation emails ahead of time: hotels, cars, flights, wire transfers, etc. We all have become so dependent on our phones and laptops, but in Burma it’s nearly impossible to get internet access.
-Visit temples early in the morning, as the weather gets very hot towards mid-day.
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