Sunday, March 26, 2017

Avalon Waterways - Myanmar - Part I

I depart today for a 14 day Avalon Waterways cruise down the Irrawaddy River on the purpose built Avalon Myanmar, a 18 suite shallow draft luxury river cruise ship.

Avalon Waterways' Avalon Myanmar
This ship and experience is different from the standard, premium, Avalon Waterways river cruise experience with its 245 square foot all suite and very inclusive onboard experience.  (I will describe the suites in detail once I am onboard.)

Cruising Myanmar's (formerly known as Burma) Irrawaddy River is far more challenging and limiting then the well maintained European rivers or even the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia. The waters are, to my understanding, shallower, inconsistent in depth and not as well maintained. (AmaWaterways found that their ship required too much water to be practical and, even after adjusting itineraries, found it just needed to start over - so it has withdrawn from the Myanmar market until late 2018 as it's new ship is being built.)

You may recall that a few years ago I traveled through North and South Vietnam (one country, but still pretty much divided) and Cambodia on land and down the Mekong River.  It was a very moving experience not only from the standpoint of better understanding different perspectives of the Vietnam War, but how the local people have lived under a repressive government and slowly (if at all) adapt to the introduction of "modern" society while combining Hindu and Buddhist religions in a unique way.

So what exactly is the itinerary, you ask?

Avalon Myanmar Itinerary

There is an option of traveling upriver or downriver.  I chose downriver.  Why? Most of the development is at the mouth of the Irrawaddy (such as the city of Yangon).  When I was traveling down the Mekong River I found it fascinating to see how approaching more developed towns and the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh changed the local culture.  I am anticipating a similar affect here. Let's find out if there is the same impact or if it is different.

After arriving and being transferred to the Sule Shangri-La Hotel in Yangon the first day and night is on my own.  I'm hoping to have a good wander and find some street food; picking up where I left off during my brief time in Kawthaung, Myanmar while on the Silversea Silver Discoverer in November. As Yangon is more developed I may just be drawn into a restaurant.  Only a nice long walk will decide my fate!

My second day will be the true start of this adventure with a walking tour of the city, visiting the historic sites (including the Sule pagoda), stopping at a  local tea shop then visiting some pagodas - ending at the Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset (hopefully).  Afterward is a dinner at "one of Yangon's best restaurants".

I pause here to mention that my 84 year old mother (who is incredibly active...as in crazy active) just told me that four of the women in her book club just happen to be on this same journey.  It will be very interesting to see how an older demographic copes with the numerous walking tours and other physical activities in this hot and humid climate.  (By the way, I'm not worried about them telling my mother any "tales out of school" about me.  What I put my mother through - especially in my younger years (or was that last week?) - has cemented a certain level of "That's just Eric being Eric".)

On Day 3 we fly north to Bhamo, closer to the source of the Irrawaddy and board the Avalon Myanmar. The rest of the day is relaxing, cruising and viewing what is supposed to be some spectacular scenery in what is called the Second Defile.

Next up is a visit the island village of Kyun Daw where there are over 7,000 stupas (dome shaped Buddhist shrines).  Here we will have another walking tour of the village, visiting a fisherman's home, a nunnery and a school.  The afternoon is spent sailing down river; something I truly enjoy.

Day 5 is, hopefully, a highlight for me as we visit a local market. Hopefully I can pick up a few goodies...or maybe even score some mohinga (a fish noodle soup that is the national dish); one of my favorite dishes!  After some historical touring we then visit a local Jingpo Village.  The Jingpo are one of the over 100 ethic minorities in Myanmar (Burmese is the major ethnicity who basically live in the central part of the country running from north to south).  As there remains great ethnic tensions and claims of continued ethnic cleansing even under the new government I am very interested to experience this.  (In the south, the government has set up a tourist village for the Mokan people (also known as Sea Gypsies) to live.  You can read about my experience and thoughts here.) That afternoon we visit the village of Tigyang for a walking tour,

Day 6 brings us to an interactive visit with the monks living in the village of Kya Hnynat.  When I asked my children what the best part of their Vietnam/Cambodia experience they both said it was the time they spent with the local monks; incredibly spiritual.  I am hoping for something similar; this time being able to focus on myself as I am traveling alone.

The following day we visit Kyauk Myauk, a village that specializes in pottery making.  Honestly I am not sure what else is planned for this day.  Not having a checklist is a good thing!  Remember that!

Day 8 is a busy day with another walking tour, this time through Mingun - which is home to the world's largest working bronze bell.  (It kind of reminds me of my time living in Australia where there are a number of towns with the biggest whatever...or is it the movie Vacation where they sought out the World's Largest Ball of Twine?)  Regardless, we are then off to the former capital of Burma, Amarapura; a place I have long wanted to visit.  Part of our experience will be sampan (wooden skiff) ride on Taungthaman Lake; another things I am truly looking forward to.

The next day is also a potential highlight day as we visit Mandalay (No, not the Las Vegas version!) visiting a number of craft workshops (hoping these are not actually little more than "shopping opportunities" because I do love learning about the craftsmanship), followed by some pagodas and the Shwenandaw Monastery - the last remaining remnant of the Golden City that was bombed out of existence during World War II. In the evening is a traditional dance performance; something that I have found in Southeast Asia are quite unique and engaging.

A visit to Sagaing, an important religious site, starts Day 10 followed by a visit to a silversmith workshop and another pagoda (which may be fascinating or cause the addition of ABP to the ABC (another bloody church) and ABM (another bloody mosque) to my alphabet soup.  This is part of what makes travel and my first hand experiencing these journeys so interesting...and helpful when guiding my clients to the right travel experience to fulfill their individual desires.)

As my trip begins to wind down, a lazy morning is followed by an afternoon walking tour of Shwe Pyi, a typical village on the Irrawaddy along with a visit to a local farmer's home with, apparently a focus on CANDY made from the sap of the toddy palm.

Our last destination is Bagan, the capital of Myanmar from the 9th to 13th century.  Visits to a local craft market, a lacquer shop and a pagoda are in the morning, but the afternoon is focused on the Architectural Zone -which I am excited about.  The day ends with an ox cart ride to a temple to enjoy a sunset; a bit of fun.  The ship apparently docks overnight in Bagan, so hopefully I can do a bit of exploring.

The next day we fly to Yangon.  While Avalon Waterways provides another night in Yangon, I am going to head straight to my flight home; not because I don't want another day in Yangon, but the flights work out much better.

So let's take this journey together.  If you have any questions or observations along the way...or if you would like to book this, or any other, Avalon Waterways river cruise (or a Globus land tour), email me at eric@goldringtravel.com while I am away or call me upon my return:

United States:       (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:  020 8133 3450
Australia:              (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530-562-9232