Myanmar, Land of Gold

At A Glance

  • N A L A N D A B O D H I
  • March 3 to 10, 2013
  • People-to-People Encounters
  • Buddhist Culture & Organizations
  • Medititation Practice

Itinerary Brief

  • M Y A N M A R
  • Yangon
  • Inle Lake
  • Bagan
  • Mandalay

Myanmar, The Spiritual Land

U Po Kyin, Sub-divisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, in Upper Burma, was sitting in his veranda. It was only half past eight, but the month was April, and there was a closeness in the air, a threat of the long, stifling midday hours. Occasional faint breaths of wind, seeming cool by contrast, stirred the newly drenched orchids that hung from the eaves. Beyond the orchids one could see the dusty, curved trunk of a palm tree, and then the blazing ultramarine sky. Up in the zenith, so high that it dazzled one to look at them, a few vultures circled without the quiver of a wing." George Orwell, Burmese Days (for a more contemporary portrait of the country, we recommend The River of Lost Footsteps, by Thant Myint-U).

Not much has changed since Orwell spent his time in what was then Burma, to the delight of travelers who have found almost every other destination in Asia transformed in recent decades. Following the classic travel itinerary of the country, although with our unique take on the sequence of places visited, this trip, will focus on the deep spirituality of Burmese culture and people-to-people encounters from an up close and intimate perspective.

This trip will encompass the sacred highlights of the country and far lesser known ones, along with unique activities and sightseeing, while emphasizing religious customs, arts and crafts, and vanishing traditional lifestyles in the villages through personal encounters in areas where few other travelers venture including monasteries and the Buddhist University in Mandalay where we will learn about the region's unique expression of Buddhism firsthand. We'll also savor the region's stunning diversity of landscapes, from karst river valleys, desert plains, high-mountain ranges at time's best for photography.

The Inle Lake basin offers a sublime setting, a visually intriguing landscape and where a diversity of colorful hilltribe cultures converge in the tranquil setting. Differing from popular destinations, Bagan and Mandalay, Inle features cooler mountain landscapes and a rich diversity of hilltribe villages and we'll delve deep into the unique aquatic culture here.

Professional English-speaking guides are top-tier university graduates and/or most-experienced and knowledgeable in their region or field. A tour manager based in Yangon will monitor your trip will also ensure your journey with pus goes as smooth as possible. Accommodations feature the finest boutique hotels in deluxe rooms, chosen for historical interest, character, amenities, location and/or staff and client favorites.

Itinerary

March 3

Arrive Yangon

After arrival in Yangon, proceed to visa kiosk to process visa on arrival* (about twenty minutes) before meeting escort for transfer into the rustic old capital where decaying majestic colonial-era buildings contrast with squalid shanty towns. (about 45 minutes).

Yangon Colonial
Slideshow of Colonial Yangon

After arrival at hotel, we will meet for refreshments and orientation, and then head out to enjoy several hours sightseeing in the city, with lunch featuring traditional Burmese favorites, such as the national dish, mohingha (rice noodles in fish soup). [Watch a video on dining in Yangon]. Today we'll explore notable religious monuments of Yangon, including Sule Pagoda, the large golden stupa in the city center and focal point for the country's recent political protests, Chaukhtatkyi Pagoda, with its famous colossal reclining Buddha; and the National Museum, rich with an abundance of religious artifacts and cultural exhibits of Myanmar, offering an interesting introduction to the country and its history, followed by exploration of Botataung Pagoda a famous landmark of the capital on Rangoon's waterfront which retains many ancient, sacred relics.

In the afternoon, traveling outside central Yangon to explore Kaba Aye Pagoda, built in 1952 for the Sixth Buddhist Council that he held from 1954-1956 in the city. Time permitting, optional visit Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy offices, meeting with staff and learning about their organization. For dinner, meeting with the members of the Young Buddhist Association. (L,D)

Le Planteur, offering pleasant tropical garden dining, Coriander Leaf for fine Indian, the 50th Street bistro, Coliander Leaf for fine Indian, or Thai at Sabai Sabai.

*Visa-on-arrival authorization is required in advance of arrival (arranged by Indochina Travel). Please carry documentation with your passport, which is required for boarding your Yangon flight.

Thai Airways TG 303 Depart Bangkok 8:00 AM, Arrive Yangon 8:45 PM (0h 45m) TBA

Traders • No. 223 Sule Pagoda Road • (95-1) 242828—Telephone • (95-1) 242800—Fax

"Then, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon, a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple-spire. It stood upon a green knoll, and below it were lines of warehouses, sheds, and mills. Under what new god, thought I, are we irrepressible English sitting now?." ~Rudyard Kipling

March 3

Yangon to Inle Lake

Yangon

At dawn, visiting the sacred Shwe Dagon Pagoda (or "Great Dagon Pagoda" and the "Golden Pagoda") as monks arrive to worship at sunrise. The pagoda is the country's most revered religious monument and at over 2,500 years old, one of the world's oldest. We'll pause to converse with a few of the monks here to understand more about their rituals before meditiating in a quiet area beneath the golden stupa.

Afterwards, return to our hotel for breakfast before return to airport for flight into the high mountains of the Shan State. After arrival in Heho, if it the 5-Day Market day in the town then we will explore this colorful hilltribe market, attended by locals throughout the region, before driving onto Inle Lake (about one hour).

After our drive through the scenic hills into the sublime Inle basin, arrive on Inle Lake at the resort overlooking the placid waters. After arrival, enjoying lunch while taking in the scenery.

Yangon

After lunch, enjoying a pleasant cruise on the lake observing the fisherman and "floating islands," dismebarking to visit an Intha tribe monastery, meeting with monks before venturing to Indein and strolling through the dozens of ancient stupas. (B,L)

Air Bagan W9 119, Departing Yangon 10:30 AM, Arriving Heho 11:45 AM (1hr 20m) Paper Ticket

Pristine Lotus • Khaung Daing Village • (95-81) 209317—Telephone (Villa)

The British wilted during the summers, but September into March is ideal, dry and cooler (even chilly at night and early mornings on Inle Lake).

The Nan Pan Market, large and bustling, where one can find a real local atmosphere with a variety of produce from the lake but the real attraction at the market are the variety of hilltribes in the area who come to trade, including the Palaung, Pao, and striking Padaung ("long-necks") who collect their home-made products and come to trade and sell, traveling in boats to the market while others by land.

March 4 & 5

Inle Lake

Two full days exploring scenic Inle Lake, featuring the most stunning landscapes in all of Myanmar; rising at dawn to witness fisherman rowing in the eccentric one-legged style; passing villages built over the water on stilts with their unique, "floating islands."

Each day, after savoring the views of the lake over breakfast, cruising by boat to visit a village visiting cottage industries, including one with women of the famous Padaung hill tribe, who wear heavy brass rings around their necks as jewelry. Here, local workshops also produce paper and traditional crafts we'll observe before visiting Indein, a village with hundreds of ruins scattered among the vegetation. We will also stop into to visit a local daycare, high school and monastery of the Intha tribe who inhabit the lake. Also exploring the Nan Pan "5-day market," on the day it is in the area and Indein, a village known for it's collection of 17th century pagodas, pausing for introductions and photos with a local family. Afterwards, visit the unique 'jumping cats' monastery, Phaungdaw U Pagoda, and cottage industries and hilltribe villages in the area.

By preference, on one morning visiting the Inle Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary at sunrise, an area established in 1985 for the safety of migratory birds and their habitat. To date, 254 bird species have been recorded, including the rare Jerdon's Bushchat and Sarus Crane (the best time for viewing migratory birds is from December to May). After exploring the sanctuary, return to resort for sunset dinner overlooking the lake. After dinner, orientation and planning for the next day's journey. (B,L)

We recommend dinner at the nearby Inle View Resort (about 1/2 mile south of the Pristine Lotus)

Interestingly, the Padaung are actually a Mongolian tribe who have been assimilated into the larger Karen ethnic group. The Padaung only number several thousand, but attract a lot of interest for their practice of neck stretching. The custom is more than just a rare and certainly strange expression of beauty — the number and value of the rings confers status and respect on the wearer's family. The process begins when girls or around five or six, then continues with successive ring being added every two years. Padaung women can wear up to 45 pounds of the heavy brass rings around their necks.

The Palaung hilltribe (not the Padaung long necks), common in the Inle area, derive their income from tea. It is said that about five hundred years ago the King of Shan state demanded tribute from the Palaung, who being animist, tribal and living a subsistence life could offer nothing. The king gave them tea and taught them how to cultivate it and today it is their cash crop. In recent history, the area was ideal for growing poppies for opium cultivation, but almost all growers have converted to other specialty crops unique to the high-altitude area, such as mandarin oranges, bananas, and tea (local Tea shops are typically the center of life and social activity in any town and a good place to sample the local product)

March 6

Inle Lake to Mandalay

After morning exploring or meditating on Inle by preference, return to Heho airport after leisurely lunch for short flight to Mandalay, the historic old capital. Mandalay is where the strongest expression of traditional arts and crafts are centered, rich with historical sites, cultural memorials and significant Buddhist monuments which we will begin to explore after arrival. After touching down, we'll drive southwest to visit Mahamuni Buddha Temple, an important pilgrimage site with a highly venerated Buddhist image. Afterwards, driving into Mandalay for lunch.

Palaung Hilltribe

Balance of afternoon visiting spiritual sights near Mandalay Hill, including Kuthodaw Pagoda, that contains the "world's largest book," Shwenandaw Monastery, featuring lovely teak carvings of Buddhist myths, before leisurely trekking up Mandalay hill with panoramic views over the palace and river, an ideal location for viewing the area's stunning landscapes and where we may again see our new friends from the university. In the evening, sightseeing in central Mandalay and dinner near the legendary Ayerwaddy River or palace area at one of the local tea shops or chapati cafes. (B,L)

Air Bagan W9 TBD, Depart Heho TBD, Arrive Mandalay TBD (0hr 25m) Paper Ticket

Mandalay Hill Resort, No. (9), Kwin (416.B), 10th Street, Mandalay Hill, Tel: 95 2 35638

Although Mandalay is well known for its largely romantic literary fame from a colonial-era past, Rudyard Kipling never actually visited the city and Mandalay itself is largely newer construction; in the 1980s, the city was hit by two major fires that destroyed tens of thousands of buildings and much of the central area of the city are buildings erected since that time. Many of the recent inhabitants are also new, an estimated 300,000 ethnic Chinese have recently made the city their home.

March 7

Silver Smith Mandalay

Mandalay & Amarapura

Today, exploring the spiritual capital of the country, sightseeing by car and boat outside Mandalay, visiting the former royal capital of Amarapura and nearby U Bein Bridge, a striking 200 year-old bridge and the longest teak one in the world. Although little is left of the old capital, Amarapura is today known for its traditional silk and cotton weaving, and bronze casting, an we'll pause to engage and watch local artisans in their craft.

Also sightseeing in central Mandalay, including notable temples and stupas, including Mahamuni Pagoda, Shwe Inbin Monastery, and Shwenandaw Monastery, noted for its exquisite wood carvings; Kuthodaw Pagoda, renowned for its stone slabs of the Buddhist scriptures, and local galleries (Maharnadi) and artisans, including highly-regarded gold-leaf producers and silversmiths.

Midday, we visit for private encounters and teachings with monks at the graduate Pariyatti Sasana University below Mandalay Hill – a educational place to visit and meet informally with a select group of two hundred of the country’s highest educated monks.

Afterwards, crossing over the Ayerwaddy River, to visit Sagaing, an important religious center (Buddha is said to have visited the hills of Sagaing), with dozens of historical stupas, Buddhist nunneries and monasteries, as well as an important monastic hospital and Sitagu Buddhist Academy, the university of a strict Sangha Buddhist order (read more below). Most notable here is the Kaunghmudaw Pagoda, a large whitewashed building whose name means 'work of great merit', and Tupayon Pagoda, known for its unique architectural style. In Sagaing also resides Mingun bell, the largest ringing bell in the world and Innwa Bridge, a British-engineered, 16-span bridge that dates to 1934 (it was the only bridge crossing the Ayerwaddy River until 1998). (B,L)

Mandalay's tea shop feature Indian delicious appetizers, lassi, and sweet milk teas. The setting are very informal, but fascinating. Shwe Pyo Moe near the Sedona Hotel Nay, on 27th street are two good choices.

Mandalay is the country's spiritual capital and based in and around Mandalay, is a strict monastic "Sangha" of ordained Buddhist monks or nuns. The Sangha were originally established by Gautama Buddha in the 5th century BCE in order to provide a means for those who wish to practice the Dhamma full time, in a direct and highly disciplined way, free from the restrictions and responsibilities of everyday life. The Sangha also fulfills the function of preserving the Buddha's original teachings and of providing spiritual support for the Buddhist lay-community. The key feature of Buddhist monasticism is the adherence to the vinaya, which contains an elaborate set of rules of conduct including complete chastity and eating only before noon. Between midday and the next day, a strict life of scripture study, chanting, meditation, and occasional cleaning forms most of the Sangha's duties and transgression of rules carries penalties ranging from confession to permanent expulsion from the Sangha.

March 8

Bagan

Mandalay to Bagan

Today, transfer to Mandalay airport (about 45 minutes) for short flight to renowned plains of Bagan.

Henri Yule, one of the first Westerners to see Bagan in 1855 wrote in his reflections: "The whole, as seen from the river, might pass for a scene in another planet, so fantastic and unearthly was the architecture."

You will savor this same view coming onto the ruins by plane. After arrival, transfer to hotel (15 minutes) to freshen up, and then visit the Bagan viewing platform with panoramic views over the temple plain while your escort provides an introduction on the history of the area. After lunch, exploring primary temples of the complex through the afternoon. As the day wanes exploration of Bupaya, a Pyu-style stupa which is located on the banks of the Ayerwaddy River. (B,L)

Air Bagan W9 205, Departing Mandalay 7:40 AM, Arriving Bagan 8:10 AM (0h 30m) Paper Ticket

Aye Yar River View, No. 23-C,Thukha Waddy St, 6 Ward,Tel. (95-061) 60313, Fax: (95-061) 60353 (Premier)

March 9

Balloons over Bagan

Bagan

At dawn, a spectacular untethered balloon ride offering stunning views over over Bagan, floating high above the temples plain providing a spectacular vantage point for shooting (optional, requires advance reservations) or enjoying a sunrise meditation on the temple plain.

After landing, begin formal sightseeing tour of one of Asia's most renowned archaeological sites, visiting several of Bagan’s distinctive pagodas including Ananda Pagoda, one of the finest, largest and best-preserved in Old Bagan with a display ornate murals of 554 scenes from past lives of the Buddha, and next to it, Ananda Ok Kyaung, one of the few surviving brick monastery buildings from the Early Bagan period.

Also visiting Thatbyinnyu, Sulamani, 11th-century Shwezigon Pagoda , and Wetkyi-in- Gubyaukgyi , a 13th century ‘cave temple with interesting fine frescoes.

Balance of day visiting primary or secondary temples by preference, including the distinctive Dhammayangyi Pahto, a massive, later period temple with the finest brickwork in Bagan. At dusk, enjoying a scenic boat ride on the river upstream before return to town and dinner. (B,L)

Note: today, we will also visit a local monastery, meeting with novice monks. By preference, we can also visit a local medical facility where locals come for treatment, meeting with staff.

Tradition carried by the local chronicles, catalogs a long line of fifty-five kings ruled over the Myanmar kingdom during the span of twelve centuries. However, the monuments were erected mostly between the 11th and 13th centuries A.D., when Bagan was the seat of the Myanmar dynasty. During this period an estimate 4.500 temples were built of which just over 2,000 survive, spread over 40 square kilometers. Several of these monuments are still highly venerated by the population, and attract numerous pilgrims and devotees from all over the country, particularly at festival times. This authenticated history of the dynasty, supported by epigraphic evidence, begins with the reign of Anawrahta (1044-77 A.D.). In 1057 Anawrahta conquered Thaton, the capital of the Thaton Kingdom, which ruled present day Lower Burma between the 9th and 11th centuries, and brought back to his capital the Theravada scriptures, a large number of Buddhist monks, and artists and craftsmen of every description. From the Mon monks the Bagan people received their alphabet, religion and scriptures. It was from this momentous moment that there began the extraordinary architectural and artistic activity which, in a little more than two centuries, covered the city and its environs with thousands of splendid monuments of every shape and size.

March 10

Bagan to Yangon, Yangon to Bangkok

BaganAfter early breakfast, return to airport (25 minutes) for morning flight to Yangon. After arrival transit with escort to a lunch with the Young Men's Buddhist Association outdoors on the pleasant Inya Lake area. After farewells, return to international terminal for EVA international flight to Bangkok. Upon arrival in Bangkok, meet agent for expedited immigration and escort to international flight to Colombo. (B)

Bangkok Arrival Procedures
After arrival in Bangkok, meet escort inside terminal area (escort will be holding a placard with your name) for expedited Fastrack immigration*, baggage claim and transfer to connecting flight. If a long delay, we recommend having lunch during your layover in Bangkok. The airport also has excellent wifi, but you must register and obtain access information at an information kiosk.

Air Bagan W9 205, Depart Bagan 8:25 AM, Arrive Yangon 9:45 AM Paper Ticket
Thai Air 302, Depart Yangon 2:55 PM, Arrive Bangkok 4:50 PM TBA
Sri Lankan Airlines UL 889, Depart Bangkok 8:05 PM, Arrive Colombo 10:00 PM (3hr 25m) Airbus A340 TBA

Hen gap lai, see you again, and thank you for traveling with us!

[END OF SERVICES]

Airline information listed for reference only; please check actual tickets or e-tickets for actual flight times = E-Ticket = Operated by partner carrier
(B,L,D) = Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Aung Kyaw Htet

Yangon Artist Encounter

Much as Vietnam's now-flourishing art scene was a decade ago, Burmese artists are scattered across the city typically working out of their homes and there are only a handful of galleries yet they are begin to be noticed. The River Valley, owned by New Zealander expat Gill Pattison is a obvious place to begin, centrally located in the Strand Annex, Ms. Patterson can also speak about here six years in Yangon and her experiences with the local artist community. An important stop in the community is a visit with Aung Myint in his Inya Gallery. Myint has exhibited since the 1960s and is considered a pioneer in experimental art, rejecting traditional romanticism and confronting social and critical issues through a range of distinctive styles and media. Aye Ko's New Zero Art Space features a wide range of Burmese artists and manages an artist-in-residence program, under which foreign artists visit and share ideas with Burmese art students.

Non-traditional galleries and artist studios around the city to be visited by preference.

Accommodations

Yangon

Traders

The Traders is a top three property in the city, with a convenient downtown location only half-block from Scott Market. Part of the Shangri-La International Hotel group, the Traders was recently renovated in the summer of 2012 with all Club-level rooms being newly built. Club-level is recommended not only for the fine views, but access to the roof-top lounge and semi-private dining. Traders also has the most reliable Internet functionality amongst all hotels, even the Governors. There are two restaurants, bar and the hotel also has a swimming pool, gym, and spa. Small touches, such as suggested jogging routes from the hotel, in addition the panoramic views over the city (the only hotel to have this), make the Traders one of our favorites.

Inle Lake

Pristine Lotus

Our top choice on Inle. Without the pretense of the Aureum nor the funkiness of the Inle Princess, the Pristine enjoys a sublime setting on the quieter side lake. The hotel overlooked by those looking for a "lake view," but even the Aureum and Princess "views" are nothing special and besides, one is typically on the lake all day. Stylish interiors are modern Asian and understated. Service is top notch. For convenience, the hotel has it's own dock. The Inle River View, a French property about one kilometer south has a wonderful restaurant. Note the Lotus Suite is not amenable to those with mobility problems or small children (the outside railing is not child proofed). Hotel Web Site: [Pristine Lotus Web Site].

Mandalay

Hotel by the Red Canal

Mandalay Hill View

The city's finest is a large hotel set dramatically beneath Mandalay Hill with views over the scenic area of the city. Recently renovated, the hotel features a expansive grounds, including large pool area and outdoor stage where evening entertainment is arranged. The hotel has a single, standalone villa set in pond and lush foliage next to the spa that is arguably one of the finest and most unique in all of Southeast Asia.

A second, more boutique property of equal quality is the Rupar Mandalar hotel on the east side of Mandalay. [Hotel Web Site]

Bagan

Aye Yar River View Resort

Our favorite in Bagan. Far less ostentatious, better location, and without the ownership controversy of the Aureum. The 103-room Aye Yar features the finest location in Bagan on the curve of the Ayerwaddy River and is close to Old Bagan and the small market and crafts collective that is open on evenings.

Lush, sprawling grounds, with generous, pleasant public spaces, tasteful, wooden interiors and attentive service. We recommend the balcony river view rooms although there are standalone cottages for privacy and families. [Aye Yar River View Web Site]

Readings & Media

Burmese Days

The classic colonial-era novel by George Orwell. “The Quiet American” for Myanmar, a historical drama about the British colonial period. "Imagine crossing E.M. Forster with Jane Austen. Stir in a bit of socialist doctrine, a sprig of satire, strong Indian curry, and a couple quarts of good English gin and you get something close to the flavor of George Orwell's intensely readable and deftly plotted Burmese Days. In 1930, Kyauktada, Upper Burma, is one of the least auspicious postings in the ailing British Empire--and then the order comes that the European Club, previously for whites only, must elect one token native member. This edict brings out the worst in this woefully enclosed society, not to mention among the natives who would become the One.

Orwell mines his own Anglo-Indian background to evoke both the suffocating heat and the stifling pettiness that are the central facts of colonial life: "Mr. MacGregor told his anecdote about Prome, which could be produced in almost any context. And then the conversation veered back to the old, never-palling subject--the insolence of the natives, the supineness of the Government, the dear dead days when the British Raj was the Raj and please give the bearer fifteen lashes. The topic was never let alone for long, partly because of Ellis's obsession. Besides, you could forgive the Europeans a great deal of their bitterness. Living and working among Orientals would try the temper of a saint."

Indochina Travel comments: "Were the colonial British really that uptight? Evidently, for Orwell served for five years in Myanmar as a police officer.  His very first novel and a classic. Good backdrop of the country’s colonial period from the one of the strongest critics of Britain’s colonial past. This fictional story reads very much as if they were Orwell's personal experiences during his five years in the country" ~Doug Graham

[Amazon Link]

The River of Lost Footsteps

By Thant Myint-U (grandson of former UN Secretary-General U Thant) . "In The River of Lost Footsteps, Thant Myint-U tells the story of modern Burma, in part through a telling of his own family’s history, in an interwoven narrative that  is by turns lyrical, dramatic, and appalling. His maternal grandfather, U Thant, rose from being the schoolmaster of a small town in the Irrawaddy Delta to become the UN secretary-general in the 1960s. And on his father’s side, the author is descended from a long line of courtiers who served at Burma’s Court of Ava for nearly two centuries.

Through their stories and others, he portrays Burma’s rise and decline in the modern world, from the time of Portuguese pirates and renegade Mughal princes through the decades of British colonialism, the devastation of World War II, and a sixty-year civil war that continues today and is the longest-running war anywhere in the world."

Indochina Travel Comments: "I met Thant at a book reading in San Francisco and was immediately taken by his story. Exceptionally well written, scholarly while entertaining. Covering Burma's past and present. A perfect introduction to the country. The most recent and complete history of Myanmar, and the region, set against Thant’s own family history. " ~Patrick Morris

[Amazon Link]

The Glass Palace

Rising Indian writer Ghosh's epic novel of Burma and Malaya over a span of 115 years is the kind of "sweep of history" that readers can appreciate, even love, despite its demands. There is almost too much here for one book, as over the years the lives and deaths of principal characters go flying by. Yet Ghosh (The Calcutta Chromosome; Shadow Lines) is a beguiling and endlessly resourceful storyteller, and he boasts one of the most arresting openings in recent fiction: in the marketplace of Mandalay, only the 11-year-old Indian boy Rajkumar recognizes the booming sounds beyond the curve of the river as English cannon fire.

The year is 1885, and the British have used a trade dispute to justify the invasion and seizure of Burma's capital. As a crowd of looters pours into the fabled Glass Palace, the dazzling throne room of the nine-roofed golden spire that was the great hit of Burma's kings, Rajkumar catches sight of Dolly, then only 10, nursemaid to the Second Princess. Rajkumar carries the memory of their brief meeting through the years to come, while he rises to fame and riches in the teak trade and Dolly travels into exile to India with King Thebaw, Burma's last king; Queen Supayalat; and their three daughters.

The story of the exiled king and his family in Ratnagiri, a sleepy port town south of Bombay, is worth a novel in itself, and the first two of the story's seven parts, which relate that history and Rajkumar's rise to wealth in Burma's teak forests, are marvelously told. Inspired by tales handed down to him by his father and uncle, Ghosh vividly brings to life the history of Burma and Malaya over a century of momentous change in this teeming, multi-generational saga."

Indochina Travel comments: "My favorite read on Myanmar." ~Mark Tuschman

[Amazon Link]

The Piano Tuner

By Daniel Mason. "In 1886 a shy, middle-aged piano tuner named Edgar Drake receives an unusual commission from the British War Office: to travel to the remote jungles of northeast Burma and there repair a rare piano belonging to an eccentric army surgeon who has proven mysteriously indispensable to the imperial design. From this irresistible beginning,

The Piano Tuner launches its protagonist into a world of seductive loveliness and nightmarish intrigue. And as he follows Drake’s journey, Mason dazzles readers with his erudition, moves them with his vibrantly rendered characters, and enmeshes them in the unbreakable spell of his storytelling."

Indochina Travel Comments: "Made into film as well. An extravagant if not contrived story of rescuing a piano in inner Burma during the colonial period. Engaging with vivid descriptions. Trivia note: Mason was in medical school when he wrote this." ~ Patrick Morris

[Amazon Link]

The Stone of Heaven

"Levy and Scott-Clark are excellent story tellers, and do they ever have a story to tell. Tracing the history of imperial green jade, or jadeite, they begin in the late 18th century with Chinese emperor Qianlong and 400 riveting pages later end in present day Myanmar. Along the way the reader is exposed to the unrestrained profligacy of the Chinese emperors and the equally unrestrained ignorance and arrogance of the British colonialists. There is scheming and plots within plots as players in the Chinese dynasties kill their own progeny to ensure a malleable emperor will succeed.

The plundering by the British of the old Imperial summer palace is shocking, and the primitive warfare of the Kachin in Burma is horrifying. Levy and Scott-Clark's descriptions put the reader right into the midst of the action: the writing is so effective that you can feel the clinging humidity of the Burmese jungle as 19th century British explorers plod along in search for the mines from whence the jadeite is extracted."

Indochina Travel Comments: "A semi-fictional story about Chinese emperors and the jade mines in Myanmar. Action adventure, but in-depth historical content and descriptions of the country. Muddled and trivial in some parts, nonetheless a rare chronicle of China and Myanmar's history in such detail." ~ Doug Graham

[Amazon Link]

Golden Earth

By Norman Lewis


Like most travelers in Burma, Norman Lewis fell in love with the land and its people. Although much of the countryside was under the control of insurgent armies-the book was originally published in 1952-he managed, by steamboat, decrepit lorry, and dacoit-besieged train, to travel almost everywhere he wanted.

This perseverance enabled him to see brilliant spectacles that are still out of our reach, and to meet all types of Burmese, from District officers to the inmates of Rangoon's jail. All the color, gaiety, and charm of the East spring to life with this master storyteller.

[Amazon Link]

From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey

A Burmese Odyssey by Pascal Khoo Thwe (autobiography). The incredible and unlikely tale of a Padaung hilltribe boy who went on to become a rebel and eventually make his way to England to attend college. "In 1988 Dr John Casey, a Cambridge don visiting Burma, was told of a waiter in Mandalay with a passion for the works of James Joyce. Intrigued by this unlikely story, he visited the restaurant, where he met Pascal Khoo Thwe. The encounter was to change both their lives.

Pascal grew up as a member of the tiny, remote Kayan Padaung tribe, famous for their 'giraffenecked' women. The Padaung practiced a combination of ancient animist and Buddhist customs mixed with the Catholicism introduced by Italian missionaries. Theirs was a dream culture, a world in which ancestors were worshipped and ghosts were a constant presence. Pascal was the first member of his community ever to study English at university. But in Burma, English books were rare, and independent thought was discouraged. Photocopies of the few approved texts would be passed from student to student, while tuition consisted of lecturers reciting essays that the students learned by rote."

Indochina Travel Comments: "My favorite book on Myanmar. Wonderful descriptions of rural life in and around Inle Lake and the Shan State and struggle of the people during a time of revolution and upheaval. Trivia note: Pascal is from the famous Palaung tribe (long-necks)."

[Amazon Link]

Burma : Rivers of Flavor

By Naomi Duguid.

Interspersed throughout the book's 125 recipes are intriguing tales from the author’s many trips to this fascinating but little-known land. One such captivating essay shows how Burmese women adorn themselves with thanaka, a white paste used to protect and decorate the skin. Buddhism is a central fact of Burmese life: we meet barefoot monks on their morning quest for alms, as well as nuns with shaved heads; and Duguid takes us on tours of Shwedagon, the amazingly grand temple complex on a hill in Rangoon, the former capital. She takes boats up Burma’s huge rivers, highways to places inaccessible by road; spends time in village markets and home kitchens; and takes us to the farthest reaches of the country, along the way introducing us to the fascinating people she encounters on her travels.

[Review]

The Wise Washerman: A Folktale from Burma

By Deborah Froese. Ages 5 and up.

"Centering on the universal tendency to overlook the obvious in search of the extraordinary, this sublime retelling of a Burmese folktale combines myth and legend into an inspiring tale for our time. With a harmonious blend of motion and color, detailed paintings underscore the story's transcendent theme. Full color."

[Amazon Link]

Continued Reading...

For a comprehensive list of popular books on Myanmar, please visit the Good Reads website.

 

 

Departure Notes

Please note: a comprehensive, printed pre-tour packet on Myanmar will be mailed upon confirmation of your trip. The pre-tour materials cover far more than the brief listing of key topics here and contain a wealth of advice and essential information to make your trip as enjoyable as possible. Please read them carefully before your arrival.

P R E  D E P A R T U R E
All visitors to Southeast Asia must be in possession of a valid passport, with at least six months unexpired validity from the date of your departure from the area. A visa or visa on arrival (VOA) must be obtained before entering Myanmar (obtained through Indochina Travel. Visas for Cambodia and Laos are issued upon arrival with no prior permission required. Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore require no visa for U.S. or U.K. travelers. Although Indochina Travel may facilitate the securing of visas, it is ultimately the responsibility of each individual traveler to ensure that they are in possession of any necessary and valid visa and/or documentation and Indochina Travel assumes no responsibility for the consequences of any failure to comply.

When traveling in a developing country, preparation is our hedge against unexpected but common issues that may arise during a trip. Enclosed in your pre-tour packet is a Tour Guide booklet, which provides useful information about Myanmar and your tour, please read the enclosed documentation carefully to prepare for your trip. Despite careful prep era ti on and planning, please be prepared for events which may change our plans.

L U G G A G E
Regional and domestic airlines restrict luggage to one piece with a weight of no more than 20 Kilograms (44 pounds) per person. Your passport, travel documents, jewelry, money, camera, fragile items and any medication should be hand-carried and not checked in. On domestic flights, each passenger is allowed one piece of hand luggage. When planning your packing, please bear in mind on your trip may be constantly on the go, staying in a new hotel at least every other day and you'll want to pack lightly for mobility and convenience as well as have a day pack for your van. Checked luggage is required by the local authorities to be at the airport two hours prior to your flight departure. If we are arranging check-in for you, then we need to arrange collection of all bags before your departure in order to complete all check in formalities for you. Please remember to retain your travel documents and any hand baggage.

T R A N S P O R T
Some road conditions in Indochina remain quite poor and traveling by car, bus, and bike can be bumpy. Most available cars and coaches are quite old and therefore not in perfect condition, however rest assured we will always do our utmost to arrange cars or buses of the best possible local quality available for your transfers and tours.

H E A L T H  &  I M M U N I Z A T I O N S
While no immunizations are formally required, malaria prophylaxis is often recommended for travel in remote areas. As health requirements change without notice, please check with Centers for Disease Control, physician or public health service for current required or recommended inoculations. Drink only bottled or boiled water and food should not be purchased from sidewalk vendors. Insect repellent should be brought, especially up-country and in wooded areas. Recent news articles have mentioned a general increase in Dengue fever risk in SE. Asian countries. All travelers are required to have medical-evacuation insurance. Hospitals in Indochina are inadequate for advanced medical care, although a few private clinics may provide emergency care, in the event of serious illness or injury, medical evacuation to Bangkok or Singapore will be recommended.

 E M E R G E N C Y
Indochina Travel is proud to be the only tour company to provide International SOS Emergency evacuation insurance. Since 1998 we have experience using their emergency clinics and have used their private jet emergency evacuation services a few times. Although guides and local managers are trained in the procedures of working with SOS in the event of an emergency, travelers may also contact International SOS independently and use our contract number MEMBERSHIP #: 12148-B. Click to view [International SOS Alarm Centers and Clinics in Asia]

M O N E Y  M A T T E R S
Credit Cards and Traveler’s Checks are not widely accepted in Myanmar. In addition, there are no ATMS. Please plan to bring enough U.S. dollars, in mint-condition hundred dollar bills to cover the length of your travel. Indochina Travel can issue cash advances to oyu n your credit card if you fall short. Myanmar currency is known as the kyat (pronounced 'chaat') which exchanges at around 850 to one USD. Newer issue, mint-condition dollars may be changed into kyat at the market rate at the airport or your hotel. However, most hotels, airports, and a high-end restaurants will charge in USD. Almost all other expenses in Myanmar may be paid in kyats, though dollars may be accepted as well. Note: American Express is not widely accepted in Indochina nor much of Asia). On tour your expenses will be limited to visa on arrival fees (US$25), some meals, souvenirs, airline departure fees, and gratuities (about $20-50 in total per day for your guide, about half that for your drivers).

C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
Your mobile phone will not work in Myanmar. An inexpensive, international handset may be rented upon arrival at the Yangon airport. Current rental rates from this vendor as of September, 2011 are $4/day for phone and $2/day for domestic SIM card, in additional to pre-paid cards from US$12 to $50 for international. Coverage is quite good along the "classic" route (not in very remote areas). Internet is widely available at hotels with limited bandwidth, but is unreliable in remote areas. Please plan accordingly.

E L E C T R I C A L
Electricity in Indochina is 220-230V. Electric power sockets come in varieties, including round two-prong with dual US style outlets (at most luxury hotels). Your Kindle, camera, laptop or other device should automatically adjust to 220v, but check your adapter fine print. Sporadic power outages are common.

W H A T  T O  W E A R
Light clothing is adequate for Indochina and most low-land tourist areas. High elevations around Luang Prabang may reach near freezing at night during the 'winter' season but is usually pleasant during the day. Travelers should bring appropriate cold weather clothing during the winter. Revealing clothing is not welcome in this conservative and largely Buddhist region. When visiting religious shrines and temples, modest dress is required and easily removable footwear is recommended since such sacred grounds must be visited only in bare feet (no socks). A sarong is handy for covering up before entering religious sites (not required for Angkor). Bring a hat and sunglasses, and umbrella for rainy season.

W H A T  T O  E X P E C T
This is not a grand tour of Europe, but hopefully why you have come — for an authentic, deep cultural experience in countries closed off to the world for decades. You will be very safe, always looked after, can expect wonderful service, and a comfortable and a typically pleasant if not exceptional trip. However, Indochina remains a primitive, undeveloped country with the inconveniences are random issues that arise with travel in such places.

F R E Q U E N T L Y  A S K E D  Q U E S T I O N S
Is Myanmar safe for travel?
Very much so! You will find the people among the gentlest and warm you have ever met. Past political and ethnic strife has never affected travelers and infrequently the places we visit.

What is the weather like?
Daytime temperatures can reach the high 70s between September through December. In January through April, temperatures steadily climb and at lower elevations we can expect 80 to 90s F. Higher elevations like Luang Prabang, located at nearly 1,000 feet, and Inle Lake at over 3,000 feet, is temperate and cooler this time of year. We recommend long underwear, fleece and jeans for the cool time of year.

G I V I N G
No doubt you will be moved by the wonderful people you meet along the way. many who live in poverty. It may be hard not to feel compelled to give something, but think about doing so will change the dynamic of your people encounters and those who follow you. If you do feel compelled to give, we recommend pens, simple to carry with you, useful and beyond the budget of most families. We never encourage giving money, candy or the like. For giving before or after your trip, we recommend these charities.

C O N T A C T  U S!
With 20 years experience in Indochina, we know our stuff! Please contact us with any questions you may have, either in our San Francisco reservations office at (415) 731-4377 or our headquarters in Hanoi at 011 (84-4) 3562-6665.