Monday, May 1, 2017

Avalon Waterways - Myanmar (Burma) - Reflections: "Isn't This Amazing!?"

Avalon Waterway's Avalon Myanmar
on the Irrawaddy River
Myo, my intrepid guide during my Avalon Waterway’s Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River cruise, 

Myo, our kind, intelligent and insightful guide
on the Avalon Myanmar river cruise
repeatedly said during my 14 day Myanmar (Burma) experience:

“Isn’t This Amazing?”

My candid response always was, and now a few weeks later remains:

“Yes!”

My omnipresent very skeptical approach to this trip resulted in, well, "Amazement".  Unexpectedly, Avalon Waterways' (know for upscale, but not luxury, river cruise experiences) small, 18 suite, ship Avalon Myanmar presently delivers what is truly the best, most complete and in-depth river cruise experience in Myanmar; without exception or qualification. Yes, there are ships with more facilities and glitz, but none that deliver what you really traveled all that way to see:  Myanmar!  (In fact, building ships that large prevents them from going where the Avalon Myanmar does!)

Avalon Myanmar's outdoor Observation Lounge
To be sure, Myanmar is not what I expected, is far different than what can be seen by ocean cruise passengers that pretty much only visit the frenetic Yangon (formerly Rangoon), and is so much about the peoples of Myanmar and their philosophies, rather than merely gazing at a dizzying amount of pagodas, temples and stupas.  






Before I explain why, the first thing is to explain where and what Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is.  You have already noticed that Myanmar is also referred to as Burma and the Irrawaddy River is also know as the Ayerarwady River.  Add to that the changing of capitals on a whim, These are just hints of the fascinating (and troubling) complex and conflict history of this country.




Myanmar is a fairly large, undeveloped, country located in Southeast Asia bordered by China, India and Thailand (as well as small portion of Laos and Bangladesh) with a long border on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.  The Irrawaddy River pretty much runs right up the center of the country.



While those borders had been tightly closed for over 40 years these adjoining cultures have created a cultural mix that is only now (again) first being understood and appreciated (and, unfortunately, is also the subject of serious ethnic conflict).

My naïve impression of Myanmar before I visited was, “It must be like North Korea with limited resources, starving people and compliance everywhere.”  What I found – in the areas that tourists are allowed to visit – was very different.  While there is an underlying police presence (usually signaled by a curiously existing golf course), I found the people from the bustling Yangon to the extremely rural Bhamo to be incredibly friendly, charming and welcoming.  They, in fact, were probably more excited and fascinated interacting with me than I was with them.  And therein is the first Amazing thing about Myanmar:  The people.






Myanmar (especially the largest, central, Burmese, portion) is Buddhist.  This truly colors the perspective of the people.  Simplistically:  Today’s life is predetermined, so don’t try to change it; rather focus on doing good so that your next life is better. It results in kindness, but also a pacifism that has allowed the people to be controlled and taken advantage of time and time again.  (It also results in an incredibly low crime rate.  Perspective!)

Also, even in the most remote areas we visited there was plenty of food...and cheap Chinese goods. Every local market I visited was incredibly clean, abundantly and diversely stocked, and filled with items that were both familiar and exotic.  And, of course, the woman tending their shops were incredibly friendly.






You will undoubtedly see more pagodas, temples and stupas than you could imagine.  Avalon tries hard to not overwhelm you with too many, but rather presents unique and important examples surrounded by cultural or fun experiences giving you both context and the chance to say, "Isn't This Amazing!?"

Floating in a sampan watching the sun set while sipping on
a cold beer or cocktail is part of the Avalon Myanmar experience



Put in its simplest terms:  Myanmar (Burma) is a surprisingly comfortable, peaceful and warm place to visit, despite the underlying political tensions. (I note this impression is, in part, because tourists are not permitted to travel into the areas were active conflict exists.)


Avalon Waterways has put much thought and planning into its Irrawaddy River cruise resulting in what I believe is the best river cruise out there.  The ship, Avalon Myanmar, is a small, 18 suite, ship that comfortably brings the outside in, with attentive and friendly service, diverse and tasty local and Western cuisine, and an itinerary that no other river cruise offers - traveling from as far north on the Irrawaddy River as a ship can travel (Bhamo) to Bagan (pretty much as south as one wants to go...unless you want to spend 6 hours on a bus getting back to Yangon to fly home.  (Oh, and you cannot practically travel to Bhamo other than by an Avalon Waterways charter flight.)

You can read my nine articles detailing my experience in March-April 2017 immediately below.  The highlights of those articles are:

  • The Avalon Myanmar is an exceptionally well designed, purpose-built, and comfortable ship that affords you a beautiful, open, and comfortable decor with casual, but solid, cuisine (local and Western) and large accommodations that leave you essentially wanting for nothing while providing you with a truly upscale experience. 


  • The Southern Route is superior for a number of reasons including, but not limited to (a) you have more stops as traveling downriver takes less time - as you are not fighting the current; and, (b) you are able to experience the "untouched" parts of Myanmar first and then see how "modernization" is affecting the people and their lives.
  •  There is a wonderful balance of Experiential and Acquisitional experiences so you can balance enrichment of your mind and making those memorable purchases.  Whether it is your truly engaging and knowledgeable guide, the daily talks, the tours and free time on land or the shopping experiences (later in the cruise), there is more than enough of each to have you leaving feeling fulfilled.

  • While the trip is exotic, it is appropriate for 30 year olds and 80+ year olds who have a desire for a different "out there" experience; even for those with some limited mobility.  However, it is not for those with wheelchairs, walkers or significant vision impairment due to the limitations of the ship and the sometimes challenging terrain and logistics. Avalon does a great job providing assistance, but there are limitations.
  • At the end of your experience you too will be saying, "Isn't this Amazing!"  

Avalon Waterways - Myanmar - Part I




Avalon Waterways - Myanmar - Part VI (Kya Hnyat to Kyauk Myaung)


My Avalon Myanmar river cruise was, honestly, one of the best experiential journeys I have taken in quite a while.  It was nothing like what I expected, so I cannot say it was "better".  What I can say is that it touched me, made me think, gave me some memorable experiences and Avalon Myanmar gave me all these things in an extremely comfortable, upscale (and delicious) environment.

Interested in booking an Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River Cruise? Give Goldring Travel a call or email us at eric@goldringtavel.com