Prices: The prices of our tours depend on the choice of transport and hotels. Therefore the following prices are only examples. We will be happy to make you an offer.
Catering: Our tours are generally offered with breakfast. On request we will be happy to make you an offer with full board or half board.
Hotels: You have the choice between hotels of the luxury class (if available) and those of the middle class, which differ considerably in price. All the hotels we offer, including mid-range hotels, always meet minimum standards of cleanliness and comfort (usually rooms with air conditioning and bathrooms)
Tour guide: We offer two types of tour guide: “Throughout guide” or “station guide”. A “throughout guide” picks you up at the airport in Yangon, accompanies you during the whole round trip and puts you back on the plane in Yangon, which takes you back to your home country.
A “station guide”, on the other hand, awaits you at the individual travel stations in the country, guides you around and puts you back on the plane / other means of transport to your next destination.
German speaking tour guides usually only work as “throughout guides”; if you choose a “station guide”, he/she will be English speaking.
Our prices are for accompaniment by “station guides”; if you wish accompaniment by a “throughout guide”, the costs for our standard program (10 days/9 nights), for example, increase by approx. US$ 180,- in total.
It should only be mentioned in passing that you can of course also travel without a tour guide.
Transports: The rents for cars and minibuses are very high in Myanmar. There are many reasons for this!
10 days round trip
At the airport you will be met by your guide who takes you directly to your hotel on the East bank of the Royal Lake. From here you have a magnificent view over the lake to the Shwedagon Pagoda. Yangon’s downtown is only a five to ten-minute drive away. If you arrive in the morning, you can start exploring Yangon on your own in the afternoon. Overnight: Rose Garden.
Your Yangon adventure starts today! Your guide will pick you up after breakfast and then head to the city, where it all began. Today’s metropolis of more than five million people started rather humbly as a small port on the Yangon River about than 200 years ago; it owed its fame to the Shwedagon Pagoda. The British annexed the South of Myanmar in 1852 and laid the grid pattern foundations for the modern city. Since 1962 Yangon fell into a big sleep thanks to the isolationist politics of General Ne Win and thus downtown remained largely untouched for a long time. Only recently, quite a few buildings were replaced by modern functional buildings. But the magnificent Secretariat Building still dominates the city centre and Strand Road’s impressive buildings remain untouched as well as those on Pansodan Street. Around Sule Pagoda the Town Hall and High Court still dominate the view. In some places one might think that the British have left only yesterday… Stroll through the alleyways and let the busy life pass by! Or why not enjoy the atmosphere in a tea shop? Or drift along the streets of downtown: Yangon has a lot to offer!
Drop by at the city’s lively harbor, where the passenger boats and the freight ships are docked. Or move around the fascinating street markets! Why not take a ferry ride across the river to the village of Dalla? Your stroll ends at the Bogyoke Market, the largest of the city. Here you’ll find a wide selection of local handicraft: marionettes, lacquer ware, textiles – all up for grabs! But don’t forget to pay! How about lunch above the city’s roof tops at Sakura Tower’s 20th floor after that wearisome walk? Or rather have a nap at the hotel? Or maybe continue to explore the fascinating city of Yangon? Up to you! However, around 4.30 p.m. it’s time for the highlight of the day: Shwedagon Pagoda! So much has been said and written about the almost one hundred meter high golden dome – and yet, Shwedagon exceeds all expectations! The visit will simply take you away! Then return to the hotel. Ü dto
In the morning, board the plane to Heho, the hub for Southern Shan State. Your car and the guide will be waiting for you there and bring you to Pindaya (takes around 2,5 hours). In Aungban, a narrow country road branches off from the main trunk road and runs North through a picturesque landscape, often dubbed ‘Burmese Switzerland’. Actually, it reminds us more of Tuscany than Switzerland – but be it! Situated between pagoda-studded hilltops you’ll see fields where peasants harvest, thresh or plant their crops the way it was done in Europe in the 19th century. Oxcarts saunter leisurely alongside the road (or, all too often, even block your way!) – you might feel like being time warped a hundred years back – or like being part of a fairy tale story. Finally, the car reaches Pindaya, where you can have lunch at the ‘Green Tea Restaurant’ right at Phone Taloke Lake. From there it’s only a few minutes’ drive to the famous Shwe-Umin cave. Over the centuries, pious believers have come here to find cures from all sorts of infirmities – and obviously succeeded in doing so. At least, they donated thousands of Buddha statues in all sizes that are looking down on the visitors in the dimly lit cave.
Listen to the story of the prince and the giant spider and enjoy the beautiful landscape around the lake. Or stroll around under huge banyan trees and pay a visit to the various paper manufacturers who make paper from the bark of the mulberry tree and turn them into little works of art. You’ll spend the night at the stylish Pindaya Inle-Inn in comfortable bamboo huts. For dinner you might want to sample ‘fusion food’, an interesting blend of local and Western cuisine. It can be surprisingly cold at night (Pindaya is situated 1,300 m above sea level) – but no need to worry: they even supply electric blankets for the faint-hearted…
In the morning, a three hour drive takes you to fascinating Inle Lake, which combines extraordinary scenic beauty with a pleasant climate (800 m above sea level). Your hotel is located in the small town of Nyaungshwe, about 3 miles from the lake. The town was once the capital of a Shan principality and its ruler (sawbwa), Sao Shwe Htike, was the first president of independent Myanmar. Here travelers from all over the world congregate and therefore it is not surprising to find an infrastructure that specializes in their needs: pizza, pan cakes, milk shakes – you name it, they’ve got it! But, of course, there’s also the full range of local cuisine, be it Burmese, Shan or Intha (the inhabitants of the lake). After check-in you will explore the lake: passing the famous floating gardens, you will reach Phaung Daw Oo Monastery. Here five sacred Buddha statues have been worshipped for centuries – mostly by applying gold leaf. Unfortunately, that has made them hardly recognizable as such anymore and nowadays they resemble seed potatoes – if anything – more than Buddha statues… In the evening return to your hotel, the Amazing Nyaungshwe, near the market.
In the morning, the boat will take you to one of the markets on the lakeshore, which take place in a five-day cycle. The tribesmen of the local hill peoples (Pa-O, Taungthu, Danu etc.) come down from their villages and sell their produce (mostly vegetables) on the market. There they stock up with goods that are not available in the village and start back for home. Sometimes a very long hike! Primarily the tribeswomen wear their traditional garb and truly are eye candy for the photographers… Afterwards the boat takes you up the Bilu River to Indein. Here no less than a thousand temples and stupas cluster around an ancient monastery. Many of them have disintegrated or even collapsed with the ravages of time, which gives them a strange charm. Others have been renovated and one really can’t decide it if that was a good idea or not…. Wander around the pagodas and enjoy the simple life in this contemplative village. Then have lunch. In the afternoon, you can see witness the manual skills of the Intha people, who have made the lake their home for centuries and prosper here as skillful farmers, fishermen and craftsmen. Whether they are weavers, blacksmiths or boatyards – all their products bears witness to the diligence of the Intha, the ‘sons of the lake’. A peculiarity is the ‘Cat House’ in Inpawkhon: a rich Shan businessman has taken on the task to reintroduce the Burmese cats that had vanished from their country of origin. The lotus weavers are worth a visit, too: they harvest the stems of the lotus flowers and extract a fiber which is processed to a rather exclusive – and expensive! – fabric that is used for making shawls and other small items. Then return to the hotel!
In the afternoon you’ll fly from Heho to Mandalay. That leaves ample time to visit the picturesque teak monastery Shwe Yan Byay with its oval windows. Watch the young novices learning the old texts by heart! But you better not ask if they understand what they’re reading… Next to the monastery is the temple of the same name. Built in 1888, it houses fine examples of the glass mosaic technique, which was very popular in Myanmar during the 19th century. Then you’re in for a surprise: the Ayetharyar Winery! Wine in Myanmar? Yes, there is, since two Germans, Bert and Hans, established their vineyard here in the 90s. Their ‘Ayetharyar wine’ has won praise all over the country! During a wine tasting they will tell you about the challenges of growing wine here in Shan State. Afterwards drive to Heho airport and catch your half-hour flight to Mandalay. Depending on the flight time, you may even have time for a short visit to the city after arrival. Overnight at Hotel Marvel in the heart of the city.
In the morning you will visit various edifices that bear witness to the heyday of Mandalay, which was the royal capital for only 28 years (1857-1885). The Kuthodaw pagoda prides itself of the ‘largest book in the world’: the entire Tipitaka canon, the sacred scripts of Buddhism, has been engraved in 729 marble slabs, each housed in a separate temple – hence the name … From here, it’s only a short walk to the Golden Monastery; it is the only building of the former royal palace that survived the war. Other sightseeing attractions of Mandalay include the Mahamuni Buddha, the most revered Buddhist temple in the country and the workshops of the numerous artisans and artists who make Mandalay the cultural capital of the country: gold beaters, marble sculptors, bronze founders, wood carvers and weavers – all create small masterpieces. The sunset at the famous U Bein bridge in Amarapura wraps up the day. Return to hotel and dinner. Or would you like to see a performance at the famous Mandalay Marionette Theater? A rather worthwhile experience!
Today, you will head down the Ayeyarwady River to Bagan. A day of recreation and impressions! The huge river flows slowly through the plains, on the river bank you’ll see women washing their family’s clothes while their children splash in the water. Not far away, farmers water their cattle in the river and a fisherman goes quietly about his daily work. And all along the way white pagodas greet the visitor. You’ll arrive in Bagan in the evening, your guide will be waiting for you and transfer you to the Umbra Hotel located in the heart of the Archaeological Zone of Bagan.
Bagan is a mind-boggling experience! Who can claim to have seen all the stupas and temples, the monasteries, which have remained since the city’s heyday between the 11th and 13th century A.D.? More than 2,500 – the remainder of possibly more than 7,000 – are still standing here at the bend of the great Ayeyarwady River, dreaming of the great Bagan Empire under a scorching sun. The English author W. Somerset Maugham stood in awe at temples which “loom huge, remote and mysterious, like the vague recollections of a fantastic dream”. Today, all that’s left of the ancient metropolis are a few villages. And, in fact, Bagan is a mysterious and yet serene place with friendly people, who go about their daily work here in the arid central plain of Myanmar. Their lacquer workshops in the numerous villages have earned Bagan fame all over the country. Lacquer vessels from Bagan are rightly regarded as the best of their kind. Near the temples the visitor may encounter flocks of goats, herded by young shepherds, who pursue their trade with the nonchalance that’s so typical for the Burmese people. Visit the magnificent Shwezigon Stupa, built in the late 11th century by King Anawrahta, the founder of the Bagan empire – amazingly, the spirits have their own shrine in the pagoda ground. Not far away stands Gubyaukgyi Temple, built in the 13th century which is famous for its frescoes and the penny dreadful of the self-proclaimed archaeologist Thomann from Germany who removed numerous frescoes from its walls and sold them to the Hamburg Museum.
The Sulamani temple from the late 12th century became the model for all subsequent temple buildings – not only in the Bagan period, but also for centuries to come. Bagan is one of the hottest places in Myanmar! Therefore many visitors enjoy the hotel’s large swimming pool during the hottest time of the day. Thus refreshed, you can take on the rest of this day’s program: the highlight of your sightseeing in Bagan – the huge Ananda temple! This masterpiece of King Kyanzittha was completed at the end of the 11th century. It houses for nine meter high standing Buddha statues that face the four cardinal points. In the outer corridor the visitor can watch the life story of the Enlightened One by means of high reliefs from the 11th century. But there’s more to see: right next to the temple is the Ananda brick monastery with enchanting murals which help you to gain an insight into life in Burma 250 years ago by means of Jataka’s birth stories of the Bodhisatta. Continue your sightseeing until it’s time for Bagan’s world-famous sunset: no one who ever saw the sun setting behind the backdrop of ancient temples won’t forget this for the rest of his life… Overnight dto.
If you like – and have the wherewithal – you have the chance to join a balloon trip over Bagan – highly recommended! At the break of dawn you’ll go to the launch pad near the river and have a tea while the balloons are inflated. Then climb into the nacelle and up, up, and away you go! Enjoy an unforgettable sight while the majestic aircraft glides over the plain of Bagan! After landing you are invited for a glass of champagne and then back to the hotel for breakfast. Afterwards, continue sightseeing in Bagan – there’s so much to see: the temples of Myinkaba village, the Shwehsandaw – or maybe the late period temples in Minnanthu? All yours! And don’t forget to pay a visit to one of the lacquer handicraft centres – a nice souvenir from Bagan that your loved ones at home will surely enjoy! In the afternoon airport transfer and flight to Yangon where your train to Bangkok (or wherever…) is waiting for you.
14 days round trip
(Days 1 to 9 as 10 days round trip)
In the morning pick-up from the hotel and drive East. After about four hours you will reach the base camp Kinbun Sakhan at the foot of the Golden Rock. There you’ll switch from your comfortable saloon car to a less comfortable truck, which takes you via steep route with plenty of serpentines to the parking lot near your hotel, the Mountain Top Resort (around 40 minutes). From there it is only a 10 minute walk to the sanctuary, the gold-incrusted Golden Rock (shoes off!)!! Allow yourself to be carried away by the atmosphere of this important pilgrimage site! Time permitting, you may do some short trekking tours go in the beautiful environs before you go to the rock and then enjoy the atmosphere at this important pilgrimage site.
In the morning the truck takes you down to the base camp. If you enjoy trekking (and like to get up early, too!) you can walk down the pilgrim’s path down to the base camp: 12 kms through beautiful mountain jungle! You will have the path all for yourself most of the time, as the local pilgrims prefer ‘pilgrimage by truck’! If possible, all the way up to the shrine! From the base camp your car will take you to your next destination: Hpa An, the capital of Karen State! On the way, you will visit the remains of the ancient Mon metropolis Thaton, whose former inhabitants were deported to Bagan by the victorious King Anawrahta in the 11th century. Today, Thaton is just a sleepy little town with a relaxed atmosphere. From there, head north to Hpa An. On the way you will visit the first of several caves that are so characteristic for this area. Bayinni cave is located near a small lake and you can walk quite far into the labyrinth of the stalactite cave to admire the Buddha statues there. Since it is a sanctuary, pls. take off your shoes at the entrance. Inside the cave, we recommend you to stay on the tiled paths, which are cleansed daily of the bat droppings. Afterwards, you can relax at the hot springs near the cave. In the afternoon you will reach Hpa-An, the tranquil capital of the Karen-State, located on the mighty Salween River, which surpasses even the mighty Ayeyarwady in length. In contrast to Ayeyarwady, the Salween is a torrential mountain river and irrelevant for shipping, as it can only be navigated up to 200 km from its mouth (Ayeyarwady: 1,500 km!). Moreover, it runs mainly through sparsely populated areas. Overnight at Zwekapin hotel near the city.
Today you will become acquainted with the scenic surroundings of Hpa An. The scenery is dominated by the tropical cone karst with its typical limestone spires and caves. Among the multitude of them, some stand out: at the Kaw-Ka-Thaung cave, a colorful procession of Buddha statues welcomes the visitor, and there is no shortage of Buddha statues in the cave, too. Your next destination is Saddan cave, where a path is leading no less than eight hundred meters deep into the rock. Here, too, there is no lack of Buddha statues. At the cave’s exit you can rent a boat and row through the darkness of another cave. And you can even go further, to explore a monumental gorge. Afterwards, why not stop at Ye-Dagon Pagoda for lunch? Your next destination is Kyauk-Ka-Lat-Pagoda, located in the middle of a charmful lake scenery. If you have seen the James Bond film ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ you might feel that you’re not in Myanmar, but in Thailand – such is the similarity! But this is Myanmar and as pious Buddhists, the Karen even upped the ante: on top of the rocky needle sits a pagoda – what else? And you can even climb up to it! On your way up you’ll pass little trees that cling desperately to the rock. You’re not tired yet? How about a visit to the top of 800 meter high Zwekapin Mountain? Although the ascent takes three hours, past monasteries and accompanied by curious monkeys – but the view from there is breathtaking! Then return to the hotel.
On the last day of your trip in Myanmar you’ll leave Hpa-An and head west back to Yangon. But one place remains to be seen: the old Mon capital Bago, which is located about 80 km east of the country’s largest city! Bago, formerly known as Pegu, founded in the 10th century A.D., was the most important city of the Mon people for almost 800 years. At the end of the 16th century it even was the capital of a united Myanmar kingdom, the kings’ palace can still be seen. Later it served as the capital of an independent Mon kingdom that was annihilated by the Burmese king Alaungpaya in the middle of the 18th century. The city was conquered and destroyed and it took almost hundred years for it to recover. The huge Stupa Shwemawdaw (higher than the Shwedagon in Yangon, even though it cannot match its splendour) and various other stupas bear witness to the glory days of Pegu. So does the nearly 60 meters long reclining Buddha Shwethalyaung that dates back to the 10th century. Recently it got a companion, which surpasses it in length by 30 meters: the nearby Mya Thar Lyaung. To the delight of photographers, it has not been roofed (yet!). Another interesting place in Bago is Hinthagone Hill, the city’s ‘nucleus’: according to legend, it was here that the two legendary Hintha birds rested after a long flight from India. As the rocky spot was very small, the male bird sat down first and the female had to sit on its back. Since then, Bago women have the reputation of henpecking their husbands. So, beware! With a bit of luck, you can witness a spirit dance (nat pwe) here. The magnificent Min Kyaunt Monastery has a large collection of Buddhas statues from Myanmar and other Buddhist countries. Finally, you may stop at the Kyaikpun Buddhas on the outskirts of the city before you continue to reach Yangon in time for the departure of your plane.
18 days round trip
(Days 1 to 13 as 14 days round trip)
Leave Hpa-An and head west back to Yangon.
On the way you will visit the old Mon metropolis of Bago, about 80 km from the country’s largest city. It was founded in the 10th century A.D. and was the most important city of the Mon Empire for almost 800 years.
In the middle of the 18th century it was conquered and destroyed by the Burmese, and it took almost one hundred years for the city to recover.
The huge Stupa Shwemawdaw (higher than the Shwedagon in Yangon, although it cannot compete with it in splendour) and various Stupas testify to their great time. The almost 60 metre long reclining Buddha Shwethalyaung, who recently received a companion that surpasses him by an even 30 metres, also dates from this time: the nearby Mya Thar Lyaung.
Fortunately, it is not roofed yet, so that the photographers are spared the disturbing roof.
It is also interesting to visit the hill Hinthagone, the ‘germ cell’ of the city: the two legendary Hintha birds are said to have settled here. With a little luck you can witness a ghost dance (nat pwe) there.
The magnificent Min Kyaunt Monastery has an extensive collection of Buddhas from Myanmar and its neighbouring countries. Finally, on the way to Yangon, there is the opportunity to visit the Kyaikpun Buddhas, also from Bago’s great time.
You will spend the night in the Rose Garden.
In the morning, you’ll fly to Sittwe, Arakan’s capital city. After arrival, your car takes you straight to Sittwe’s river port where your charter boat is waiting for you. Sail north up the majestic Kaladan River. This area has been opened for tourism not too long ago and for a long time it was certainly one of the most inaccessible places in all of Asia. The scenery reminds the traveller of a storybook: fishermen drifting along in their small crafts, water buffaloes grazing on the river banks and swarms of white herons and countless other birds. After a few hours, the red fireball sets behind the mountains ranges in the West while you have your sundowner – an unforgettable sight! Under an impressive starry sky – there are hardly any light sources, apart from a few kerosene lamps and candles – you’ll chug comfortably to Mrauk U, arrival in the evening. Your hotel, the comfortable Shwe Thazin Resort (24 hour aircon and bathroom with hot water!) is located in the centre of the of the old capital’s temple area.
Mrauk U was the capital of the independent kingdom Arakan for more than four hundred years. In its heyday, it was a powerful empire that controlled the eastern Bay of Bengal from Chittagong down to Cape Negrais. Its wealth attracted people from all over the world: from South East Asia and India, but Portuguese and Arabs were frequent visitors to the city, too. Even Japanese lived there – the King’s bodyguard consisted of Samurais! The rulers invested the wealth of the country in magnificent temples. Outstanding among them is surely the Shitthaung Temple, the ‘temple of the eighty thousand Buddhas’. According to legend, it houses that many statues of the Enlightened One. I’ve never counted them but there are certainly quite a lot of them! Right at the entrance stands the famous Vesali stele. It can be considered as a kind of history book of Rakhine, as it contains a list of its kings (from the Sun and Moon dynasties), which starts in 638 B.C. and ends in 597 A.D. – a history spanning more than 1,200 years. Even though then time spans should be treated with caution: the first seven kings, for example, rather suspiciously reigned for 120 years each… Be that as it may, it is undisputed that Arakan can look back on a very long history. The Tibeto-Burmese immigrants (today’s Buddhist Rakhine people are their descendants) that arrived in the late 1st millennium A.D. have always seen themselves in the tradition of the ancient kings. Therefore, they had the stele (also known as Anandacandra-stele) brought here from the ancient capital Vesali.
The Shittaung temple is remarkable in many respects and looks significantly different than the temples in the country’s heartland. A system of corridors surrounds the central sanctuary. The first corridor shows the many of the 547 existences (jatakas) of the Bodhisatta carved in sandstone as well as scenes from the life at the royal courts: at one corner, the builder presents himself in a deified form! The second corridor and the innermost corridor contain Buddhist statues. This system of corridors most probably served as a place of ordination for novices. And it contains an unsolved mystery, too, which has been a subject of speculation for a long time: while the circumambulation of the sanctum in the two outer corridors follows the usual way (i.e. clockwise) until it changes direction in the last corridor. Probably tantric influences from nearby Bengal played a role in it. Tantric influences can also be found in many Buddha statues that found their way from Bengal to Arakan: the Enlightened One dressed in royal attire! The most famous among these statues is the golden Mahamuni in Mandalay, which the Burmese abducted from Dhanyawati (which is located not far from Mrauk U) in the 18th century.
The fortress-like appearance of the temples of Mrauk U is another mystery. Among them, the look of the Dukkanthein Temple, which is adjacent to the Shitthaung, suggests to the visitor that it served defense purposes. However, there are no indications for this point of view so far. In contrast to the brick temples of Bagan, those of Mrauk U are built of sandstone; their sculptures, too, are made of this sandstone, which is available in large quantities in the area. There are hundreds of temples and stupas in Mrauk U. Many were damaged during the Second World War (Arakan was on the front line between the British and the Japanese) but most of them have been repaired. Likewise noteworthy is the Kothaung Temple (Temple of the 90,000 Buddhas) built by the son of the builder of the Shitthaung. Apparently, the foundations of this temple were not stable, so many of the corridors collapsed. Meanwhile, this temple has been renovated as well so that the visitor can walk inside the corridors again. Mrauk U has a charming rural atmosphere: small settlements, beans fields and gourd plantations are located between the temples. Bagan might have looked like that some 50 years ago… And, fortunately, the souvenir sellers have not arrived yet. Hopefully, it will stay like that for a long time!
The city of Mrauk U is located in a hilly area and the builders of the city took advantage of this: the hills inside the urban area were leveled but the outer ones remained; they were connected to each other and fortified, thus making the city impregnable. Boats were the major means of transport on the city’s extended network of canals. Even though the city is quite a long way off the coast the tide reaches all the way here. Several artificial lakes large reservoirs served as water reservoirs; they were used for the city’s defence, too: in the case of an invasion the city’s defenders would open the dams and flood the city, flushing out the invaders. When Mrauk U fell to the Burmese in 1784 – presumably through betrayal – this defense system could no prevent its fall. The city was destroyed and the remnants of the once splendid royal palace in the center of the city were razed to the ground. The small museum on the palace grounds gives an impression of its splendour that was described by the Father Sebastian Manrique, a Spaniard, who lived there for a long time. Today, Mrauk U is only a small – and not very clean! – place inhabited by friendly people, who welcome the rare strangers here. The sunset in Mrauk U is stunning: from one of the pagodas you can see the sun going down behind the hills that are crowned with Buddha statues – an unforgettable sight. In the evening, you’ll be introduced to the fiery Arakanese cuisine – the influence of nearby India is unmistakable…
Today you will visit these old capitals of Rakhine. Vesali is only a few miles from Mrauk U and it was the country’s capital from 6th to 8th century. A.D. Little remains of its old splendour: a large sandstone statue of the Buddha (supposedly from the 4th century AD) and a few foundation walls. In a shed near the monastery the visitor can take a look at some of the exhibits, which suggest that in those days Hinduism was the dominating religion here. While strolling through the village, we get to know Arakanese country life: the people here are friendly and certainly not rich, but there seems to be no real misery. A a few kilometers to the north lies Dhanyavati, another ancient capital. It was the home of the famous Mahamuni Buddha, also known as the Arakan Buddha, until the victorious Burmese carried him away to Amarapura in 1784. There he became the most revered Buddha statue country. Not far away is Selagiri Hill, located on the banks of the Kaladan River. It was the residence of the Enlightened One and his monks about 2,500 years ago, when they paid a visit to the king of Dhanyavati. The ruler was so impressed with Gautama Buddha’s sermon that he asked him for permission to cast his image in bronze. None other than the Thagyarmin, the king of devas (gods) cast it in a single night and the Buddha himself breathed life into the statue! Return to Mrauk U where you will visit the Bandoola Monastery with its curious monastery ‘museum’. Tradition requires that no believer be denied the acquisition of merit. Did not the Buddha himself die from a spoiled meat that he ate despite knowing that it would mean his death? By rejecting it, he would have denied the merit that the blacksmith Cunda gained from his donation! And just like that, the museum keeps silly donations like children’s toys, rubbish and kitsch of all kinds. Everything is accepted and exhibited in showcases. The path leading up to the monastery is adorned with amateurish drawings, which have apparently been made by children.
Afterwards you will take a walk – accompanied by snoopy children, who will be very happy if you give them sweets – through one of the small villages that are now standing on the site of the old city: sic transit gloria mundi! Your next destination is the reservoir that supplies the city’s drinking water. See the flood gates that could be opened in case of an invasion. Finally, head up to the Golden Mound, where you will enjoy another sunset over Mrauk U.
NOTE: instead of doing the above mentioned trip on day 17 you can go to one of the nearby Chin villages and – with a little luck – see the famous tattooed faces of the old ladies…
In the morning your boat takes you to Sittwe, where you arrive around noon. Compared to Mrauk U, Sittwe is a young city: it was the English, who made it the capital of their Burmese possessions after the first Anglo-Burman war. Before heading back to Yangon (or Ngapali Beach?) you’ll visit the lively market of the city (especially the fish market is rather interesting) and have a look at the city it’s colonial buildings look very much like as if the British had just left it. You’ll reach Yangon in time to catch your connecting flight to Bangkok etc. If you fly back from Mandalay, you might have to plan another night in Yangon.
NOTE: Of course, you are not compelled to follow exactly the tours mentioned here. You may compile your own tours (see our chapter ‘Modules’!). You’d rather see the Delta instead of Hpa-An? No problem! Or would you like to get to know the city of Mawlamyaing and its surroundings? Everything is possible! Tell us what you want to see and we will take you there!
10 days round trip (double room)
Extra single (X’sgl)
+ US$ 480.–
(except 1 person
Services: Accommodation with breakfast in mid-range hotels (usually with air conditioning and bathroom), transportation in local buses, minibuses (van) or cars (we usually reserve two seats per guest!), meals except breakfast, international airport tax in Yangon.
Not included: Entrance fees. We give you the freedom to choose what you want to see. Expect a total entrance fee of about US$ 45,- for the most important sights.
With the following modules our journeys can be completed
“More gold than in your Bank of England” was a popular side blow at the time of the British occupation of Myanmar. Today you look behind the gold and explore this vast complex on unknown paths, along monasteries and craft workshops. Learn how Buddhism in Myanmar is not only a philosophy of life, but also a way of life. During this half-day tour you will not only get to know the Buddhist faith, but also the spirits! Only in Myanmar does this unique combination exist, which makes it possible to erect spirit shrines on Buddhist soil. This excursion includes a traditional breakfast, a donation to monks, a visit to the fortune teller and lunch.
Probably the most beautiful excursion one can make in the surroundings of Yangon. In the morning we take the train in the comfortable ‘Upper Class’ on old tracks to the old Mon capital whose landmarks are two Hamsa birds, from which the old name Bagos derives: Hanthawaddy. Once there you will visit a monastery and the reclining Buddha. With a little luck you will experience a ghost incantation ceremony. Of course a visit to the Shwemawdaw Pagoda is a must – it is the highest in the country! The palace complex built in 1566 was destroyed only a few years after its construction; the foundation walls were only uncovered in 1990. The excursion includes a train ride, lunch and drive back to Yangon.
Myanmar has been one of the most pristine Asian countries for decades and the former capital, Yangon has a stock of old colonial buildings that can’t be found anywhere else in the region. During the military dictatorship, the country came to a virtual standstill for several decades – and that included construction activity, too – fortunately. Thus, Yangon has been spared most of the architectural eyesores that have deformed cities in neighbouring countries (like Singapore) beyond recognition. Today’s planners have recognized that old charm is ‘chic’! Old buildings are being carefully restored – even though many of them have already disappeared in the last decade. But what’s left is imposing enough! During our walk through the downtown area, we will show you the highlights of colonial architecture, such as the old secretariat, the High Court and the neighboring Telegraph Office, which are among the most impressive buildings. Truly, a walk through the past! Finally, we invite you for a drink in the legendary Strand Hotel.
Myanmar’s metropolis is captivating with its greenery, two lakes, a bustling downtown and a myriad of Myanmar’s most eye-catching institutions: markets and pagodas. This full-day tour takes you to the Sule Pagoda, which was the center of Yangon’s colonial city planning. From here we explore the Indian and Chinese quarters. The synagogue in 26th Street near Chinatown is an architectural treasure and bears witness to the religious diversity of old Yangon. Afterwards we will visit Aung San Market, the city’s main market for gold and precious stones, fabrics and wood carvings. From the market we walk to the railway station where we board our ‘Circle Line’ train. The Circle Line – as the name indicates – circles Yangon from the Central Station to Mindaladon (near the airport. We get down on the way and continue our Yangon sightseeing. Be prepared for surprises!
„Rangoon is quite an interesting place, as here East and West are competing for influence, as only in a few other capital cities in the world…‘ wrote the West German legate in Hong Kong to Wilhelm Kopf, his colleague in Yangon. Since 2009, Tobias Esche is conducting his research in the archives of the German Foreign Ministery, especially in regard to the two German states. He made some amazing discoveries which he will explain during this tour. You will see the former residences of both German ambassadors as well as the University of Foreign Languages, once the venue of bitter fights between both sides to win over the hearts and minds of the Burmese. Other monuments of the ‘Cold War‘ between the two German states are on the agenda, too. Tobias, who is the author of a guide book on Myanmar, too, will give you an expert’s insight into the historical context. Stylish transport will be provided in the form of a Volkswagen ‚Bulli‘ (T1).
Get away from the hustle and bustle of the Burmese metropolis and enjoy a tranquil river cruise into the sunset. First we go to the jetty, where all kinds of goods are being loaded and unloaded the whole day long. If there is no work, people will sing or play football. Around 5 pm we board our boat, follow the sun and sail west for about two hours. While life in the metropolis calms down a little bit, you can watch the scene from your deck chair. Snacks and the famous Mandalay Rum Sour contribute to the relaxed feeling aboard. After disembarkation, we will have dinner at the famous Taing Yin Thar restaurant that is well known to all Yangonites and is especially popular for dishes from all over Myanmar
For the residents of Yangons (as well as for the ever growing expat community) Dala is ‚the village on the other side of the river‘. It isn’t a part of the city, but on weekends it is a local recreation area. Idyllic countryside, villages and greenery represent a welcome change for the Yangonites, choking in exhaust emissions and the pollution of their mega city during the week.
You’ll board the ferry at Pansodan-jetty and a 20 minute ride takes you to Dala. Explore the village on a rickshaw before boarding a car that takes you to Twante, about 30 km from Dala. On the way you’ll stop at a vegetarian monastery and have lunch there. After that you’ll have a look at the snake pagoda near a small lake and finally you reach Twante, an important reloading site at the canal of the same name that connects Yangon with the Ayeyarwady delta. Explore the city on foot, with a rickshaw or by car before you return to Yangon.
This day trip leads you to various museums in Yangon (except Mondays) and it is all about culture. The National Museum (the garden is adorned with statues of the so-called three founder kings’ Anawrahta, Bayinnaung and Alaunghpaya) offers in-depth insights into Myanmar’s rich and chequered history, starting with the Bagan Empire (11.-13. Century A.D.), followed by the Tounggoo Empire (16.-18. Century) and finally to the last dynasty (Konbaung). The Bogyoke Aung San Museum commemorates the great folk hero General Aung San, who led the country into independence. Unfortunately, he was killed before that and the country fell into a turmoil that goes on until this very day. The U Thant House is dedicated to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. For a long time his achievements were hushed up for a long time by the military government. Only recently – but long after his death – his historical achievements have been honored and the museum opened its gates! The ‘Drug Rehabilitation Museum’, on the other hand, was built in order to improve the relations with the USA. Unfortunately, it was not really successful. However, it is interesting to see, that this problem goes much further back into history. Finally, we’ll take you to one of Yangon’s art galleries. After democratization, a pulsating art scene has developed in Yangon maybe, one of the artists is present personally and you’ll have a chance to chat with him…
“The Burmese are crazy about football because it reminds them of a battle,” wrote British colonial official James G. Scott in 1929. In fact, every taxi driver in Yangon knows the names of the German world champions by heart. The English Premier League is even more popular and most of the Burmese fans consider it to be the strongest football league in the world – which says a lot about their limited football know how. However, football is the main theme in the tearooms and pubs. We invite you to visit one or more games of Myanmar’s professional league on the weekend from the grandstand of the General Aung San Stadium in the center of Yangon. See how enthusiastic fans cheer on their respective teams or boo at their opponents. For a long time, football games were the only way for the fans to express their dislike of the military government by booing at teams that were supported by one or another general. The older ones among the fans dream of the ’60s and’ 70s, when Myanmar’s footballer won several titles in the Southeast Asian Games – today, that is only a distant dream. Or would you rather visit a Let Hwei contest, the traditional Burmese boxing match that resembles Muay Thai? Up to you!
To keep it simple, the spirits (Burmese: nat) are in charge of the everyday life while the Buddha is in charge of spiritual matters and the ‚other world‘. Today you will immerse in the world of spirits. The importance of spirits in Myanmar can hardly be overestimated. Sometimes it seems that the cult of the spirits is equally important as the Buddhist religion. Maybe even more important… The spirits command the same respect as the Buddha himself. But there’s one big difference: while the Enlightened one is entirely benevolent, the nats have a malevolent side, too. Therefore it is important not to annoy them and to keep them happy. A spirit ceremony (Burmese: nat pwe) is an important means to achieve just that. If the believers want the spirit to do something for them they book a seance with a medium (called nat kadaw = spirit‘s spouse). This will ensure that the spirit will support you in your quest for success, happiness, wealth and – of course – health! Witness the séance from the beginning to the end, starting with the preparations: the elaborate application of make-up, see them putting on their exquisite dresses and see them dance to the deafening, wild music of the orchestra. Maybe you’ll even be invited to have a dance or a whisky with the nat kadaw, asthe séance includes the copious consumption of alcohol. In the end, it’s hard to see if the nat kadaw and the helpers (mostly pretty gay boys) are in a trance or just plain drunk…
A round of golf at the venerable Myanmar Golf Club is a popular activity for many guests on their day of departure when the plane leaves for Bangkok in the evening but they have already seen all the sights. You will be taken to the golf course either after breakfast or check out, where you will receive your equipment. Play a few rounds at your leisure – it’s only a 10 minute drive by car to the airport, so you can enjoy the tranquility and tranquillity of the resort, founded in 1947, without stress.
You all know the problem: your flight arrives in the morning but you can check in only around noon! What to do? We have the solution! Yangon’s Downtown is famous for its colonial buildings. They are on the agenda and explained in detail (more or less…) during almost every city sightseeing tour. This program takes the next step: be part of it! After arrival in Yangon we go directly to Sule Pagoda, located in the heart of downtown. Here’s where it all started! Your guide gives you a short résumé of Yangon’s history and then a short walk (via Maha Bandoola Park and the former High Court building) takes you to a magnificently renovated private apartment in a colonial building. The coffee table is already set and waiting for you on third floor. Here you can savour the best chocolate cake in town and a decent cup of coffee, too. You’d rather have tea? No problem! While you enjoy your snack, the tour guide will tell you more about the problems regarding the preservation of downtown’s old buildings – and it’s costs! Afterwards drive to the hotel.
Day 1: Drive from Yangon to the Golden Rock (Base Camp), optional hike to the top or up by truck. Rock Sightseeing, overnight stay: Mountain Top Resort
Day 2: Return to Base Camp, then by bus to Thaton, short city walk, further to Bayinni Cave (sightseeing) and then further to Hpa-An, overnight stay: Zwe Kapin Resort
Day 3: Sightseeing in the surroundings of Hpa-Ans: Saddan Cave, Kawt Ka Taung Cave and Kyauk Ka Lat as well as Two Kapin Rocks, return to Hpa-An An (overnight stay)
Day 4: Boat trip to Mawlamyaing, on the way visit Shampoo Island. City tour: Old Town, Queen’s Monastery, ‘Moulmein-Pagoda’, overnight stay: Strand Hotel
Day 5: Drive to Mudon, continue to Thanbyuzayat and then Kyaikkami. Then over to Bilu Island, return to Mawlamyaing, overnight stay dto.
Day 6: Drive to Bago, city sightseeing, then back to Yangon
You leave Yangon in the morning and reach Kyaikto, the ‘gateway to the Golden Rock’ after three hours. There, a road branches off from the Yangon – Mawlamyaing highway to the north. After about half an hour drive you reach the so-called ‘basecamp’ Kinbun Sakhan.
Here you have two options: ascent on foot via the well-marked pilgrim path (highly recommended!) or you board one of the completely overcrowded trucks up to the parking lot near the Mountain Top Resort (you may also charter a truck if you don’t want to wait). For the walk up the pilgrim path you should allow at least four hours as it is 10 km over hill and dale with an altitude difference of more than a thousand meters. There are occasional sacred sites and teashops along the path and breathtaking views of the mountain jungle reward the pilgrim for his efforts. You may even take a dip in one of the waterfalls along the way. Large boulders are scattered all along the path. They are the result of ‘wool-sack weathering’, which is typical for the granite. It can be found all over the world, e. g. in Germany’s Fichtelgebirge. Even the Golden Rock itself is such a granite block and – alas! – will fall one day, despite the Buddha’s hair, which has held it in the balance for thousands of years. But until then, there is still a lot of time…
You won’t be all alone during the climb: you’ll certainly meet groups of Burmese pilgrims on their way up or down. With a little bit of luck even one of the hermits that live around the rock. But most of the time you will be alone as the overwhelming majority of pilgrims prefer to go by truck. For a small fee, you can hire a porter to carry the luggage for the walk. In general, you should only carry a light pack because you won’t stay up there long. Finally, you’ll arrive at your hotel, located just a short walk from the sanctuary. At the temple gate you’ll have to take of your shoes off and then it is only a few paces to the gold-encrusted Golden Rock. Soak up the atmosphere of this important place of pilgrimage! If you come up by truck, you may want to take an afternoon-hike in the beautiful surroundings of the Golden Rock in the afternoon and later be enchanted by the atmosphere on the rocks in the evening. It is quite rewarding to spend more time at the Golden Rock and its surroundings. A hike around the Yathe Taung (Mount Hermit) first leads you to the waterfall and then, over secluded paths and past forest monasteries, to the old car park. On your way, you’ll enjoy spectacular views over the area. Why not stop by at U Nanda’s hermitage? This holy man (he resembles Ozzy Osbourne more than a spiritual person) welcomes visitors with tea and cookies and likes to talk about the English Premier League … From there it’s less than an hour to the hotel.
In the morning the truck takes you down to the base camp (or how about another trek downhill?) where the car is already waiting for you. After driving west for two and a half hours, you will reach the old Mon capital Bago. It was founded under the name of Hanthawaddy in the 10th century A.D. and was the most important city of the Mon people for almost 800 years. The Burmese conquered and destroyed the town in the mid-18th century and it took almost a hundred years for the city to recover. The big stupa Shwemawdaw (higher than the Shwedagon in Yangon, though it cannot match the latter’s beauty) bears testimony to the city’s former glory and so do various old stupas. The almost 60-meter-long Reclining Buddha Shwethalyaung was built in the late 10. Century A.D.! Recently it has been joined by a companion that surpasses him by a whopping 30 meters: the nearby Mya Thar Lyaung! Much to the pleasure of ardent photographers, is hasn’t been covered with a roof yet! Another interesting sight is Hinthagone Hill, the ‘nucleus’ of the city: it was here, that the two legendary Hintha birds first rested after their long flight across the Bay of Bengal. With a bit of luck you will be able to witness a spirit dance (nat pwe) there. The magnificent Min Kyaunt Monastery has an extensive collection of Buddhas from Myanmar and her neighboring countries. Finally, you can visit the four Kyaikpun Buddhas (see photo) on the way to Yangon, another remind of Bago’s past glory. Then return to Yangon.
The famous sanctuary (Burm. Kyaik Htiyo) is located not far from the city of Kyaikto, the ‘Gateway to the Golden Rock’. There a road branches off from the highway Yangon – Mawlamyaing to the north. After about half an hour you reach the so called ‘Basecamp’ Kinbun Sakhan. There are two possibilities: Ascent on foot via the well recognizable pilgrim path (highly recommended!) or with a completely overcrowded truck up to the parking lot near the Mountain Top Resort (there is the possibility to charter a truck). You should allow at least four hours for the walk up to the parking lot, as it is 10 km over hill and dale, overcoming a difference in altitude of more than a thousand metres. The path is lined with teashops and sanctuaries and offers beautiful views over the mountain jungle and several waterfalls. Everywhere there are big boulders lying around, which are a result of the weathering of the wool sack, this kind of weathering typical for granite, as it is known among others from Germany (Fichtelgebirge). Also the Golden Rock itself is such a granite block and – unfortunately – one day it will fall down despite Buddha’s hair, which keeps it floating! But there is still time until then… You will surely meet some Burmese pilgrims or even one of the hermits living there, but most of the time you will be alone. The overwhelming number of pilgrims prefer the truck. For a small fee you can hire a carrier to carry your luggage. In general, you should only take ‘storm luggage’ with you, because you won’t stay up there for long. Finally you reach your hotel, which is only a few steps away from the sanctuary, the Golden Rock. At the temple gate it says ‘shoes off’ and then you will soon be standing at the shrine. Let yourself be enchanted by the atmosphere of this important pilgrimage site! Those who have come up by truck can hike in the beautiful surroundings of the Golden Rock in the afternoon and then be enchanted by the atmosphere of the rock in the evening. There is also the possibility to stay longer and see the surroundings. A day hike around the Yathe Taung (Hermit’s Mountain) takes you first to the waterfall and then along lonely paths, past forest monasteries, some of which offer spectacular views, to the old parking lot. You can also visit a holy man, U Nanda. He will be happy to talk to you about the English Premier League… From there it is just under an hour to the hotel.
The capital of Karen State, bordering Thailand, lies in the midst of a fantastic landscape of skittle karst, not unlike the famous area around Guilin in neighbouring China. Fortunately, the caves in Hpa-An are not yet as touristically ‘opened’ as those of Guilin. Buddha statues have been erected in numerous caves for centuries. The most famous is probably the almost 800 meter high two-cabin rock with its monasteries, pagodas and monkeys. The ascent is a little tiring and takes three hours, but is rewarded with a fantastic view. The Bayinni Cave can be visited on the way from the Golden Rock to Hpa-An. Other caves worth seeing (can be combined as a day trip) are Saddan Cave, Kawt Ka Taung and Kyauk Ka Lat (see photo). The latter immediately reminds the visitor of the Bond film ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, in which Christopher Lee plays the villain with the three nipples. The ‘James Bond Rock’ near Phi Phi Island in Thailand is a first-rate tourist attraction. But its Burmese counterpart adds one more thing: the needle tip is crowned with a stupa! Hpa-An can now even be reached by bus from Thailand.
From Hpa-An it is only two, three hours after Mawlamyaing, also known as Moulmein, world-famous for Kipling’s poem ‘The Road to Mandalay’. You will visit the magnificent ‘Queen’s Monastery’ and said Moulmein pagoda – although there are reasonable doubts as to whether Kipling even spoke of this pagoda. One can assume that the true ‘Moulmein Pagoda’ was near Yangon, because then the geographical indications are correct again. Also the market of the big city is absolutely worth seeing and a stroll through the old town leads you back to a long past time. In the evening the inhabitants of the city meet while strolling on the beach promenade at the Salween River. Directly under the big bridge that connects Mawlamyaing with Martaban (the longest in the country!) on the western bank of the Salween River, lies the small but famous island Gaungse Kyun (Shampoo Island). From here came the holy water with which the Burmese monarchs publicly washed their hair at the New Year festival! On the nearby island Bilu Kyun (‘man-eater island’, but don’t worry, the inhabitants are harmless) time seems to have stood still in some places…
South of Mawlamyaing
From Mawlamyaing we head south, the first stop is at the mighty Mudon Buddha, the largest in the world. The 250 metre long lying colossus can be seen from afar and is accessible from the inside: here you can walk through heaven and hell and let the legends about the Buddha be vividly shown. Sit in the ear of the giant, in which you are as big as an earwig – little fun on the edge… From there you continue to Kyaikkami, where a temple worth seeing was built out into the sea. Let your guide explain to you the 16 dreams of the King of Koshala, which are an important guide in the life of Burmese Buddhists. In Thanbyuzayat there is a small war cemetery where some of the Allied soldiers killed in the construction of the Death Railway (known from the film ‘The Bridge at Kwai’) are buried. Here in Thanbyuzayat the railway line coming from Thailand had connection to the Burmese railway network. Recently there is even a museum here, which brings the history of the death railway closer to the visitors…
The old Mon metropolis Bago, which lies about 80 km away from Yangon, was founded in the 10th century A.D. and was almost 800 years the most important city of the Mon empire. It was conquered and destroyed by the Burmese in the middle of the 18th century and it took almost one hundred years for the city to recover. The huge Stupa Shwemawdaw (higher than the Shwedagon in Yangon, although it cannot compete with it in magnificence) and various Stupas testify to their great time. The almost 60 metre long reclining Buddha Shwethalyaung, who recently received a companion that surpasses him by an even 30 metres, also dates from this time: the nearby Mya Thar Lyaung. Fortunately, it is not roofed yet, so that the photographers are spared the disturbing roof. It is also interesting to visit the hill Hinthagone, the ‘germ cell’ of the city: the two legendary Hintha birds are said to have settled here. With a little luck you can witness a ghost dance (nat pwe) there. The magnificent Min Kyaunt Monastery has an extensive collection of Buddhas from Myanmar and its neighbouring countries. Finally, on the way to Yangon, there is the opportunity to visit the Kyaikpun Buddhas, also from Bago’s great time.
Day 1: Pick up from your hotel in Mawlamyaing, drive to Thanbyuzayat (visit the Death Railway Museum) and continue to Ye. Overnight (ON) Star Light Guest House (basic)
Day 2: Drive across the mountains separating Mon State from the Tanintharyi region, then continue to Dawei, the capital of the region (5-6 hours in total). In Dawei city sightseeing (SS), including a visit to the Provincial Museum (among others showing the history of the Moken = Salon = ‘Sea Gypsy’ people). In the afternoon drive to Maungmagan Beach, dinner and sunset. Then return to Dawei, ON Hotel Dawei (good standard)
Day 3: Short morning flight to Myeik (dubbed ‘The Pearl of Tenasserim’), City SS, ON Grand Jade Hotel (good standard)
Day 4: Day trip to ‘Two Face Island ‘, with barbecue on the beach, in the evening return to Myeik, ON dto.
Day 5: Airport transfer and return flight to Yangon.
Myanmar’s southernmost province of Tanintharyi shares the northern half of the Malay Peninsula with Thailand and lies between the mountain ridge that runs through the peninsula from north to south, and the Andaman Sea. It extends from Ye (Mon State) down to Kawthaung (formerly Victoria Point) for more than 500 km, but measures only about 100 km at its widest point. Offshore, there are more than 800 islands, commonly referred to as the Mergui archipelago (Mergui being the ancient name of the city of Myeik). The largely untapped archipelago features jungle-covered islands of all sizes with beautiful beaches. Hardly any people live there and the island world is the home of the sea gypsies (salon, see photo), who, unlike their brothers and sisters in Thailand and Malaysia, have not been forced to settle down yet. The first tentative attempts to open the archipelago to tourism have been made, but it will certainly take a very long time until it has been ‘developed’ like in Thailand and Malaysia. So far you can generally enter the islands only with a permit. At least, the hotel situation in the area has already developed very positively: in the destinations mentioned above, there are now very attractive hotels. Even in the small town of Ye (still in the Mon state), which lies halfway between Mawlamyaing and Dawei, one can find adequate accommodation nowadays. The network of roads has also improved: until recently, the ferry ride along the coast from Dawei to Kawthaung via Myeik was the best way to get from north to south. Since the opening of the highway from Dawei to Kawthaung this has changed. Today the whole route can be covered by car or bus. Very soon the train line will reach Myeik. And, of course, you can fly: there are flights from Yangon via Dawei and Myeik to Kawthaung. The largest city in the province is the aforementioned Myeik, which has a long history. This is owed to its location at the mouth of the Tanintharyi River. Goods for Siam (contemporary Thailand) were transshipped here on lighters and transported to the town of the same name on the river’s upper reaches. From there, elephant trails led to Thailand. This spared the long, dangerous journey around the Malacca peninsula, where storms and pirates made the passage a very dangerous one. The British writer Maurice Collis has chronicled a dramatic period of the city’s history in his book ‘Siamese White’, which deals with the adventurous life of Englishman Samuel White, who was the harbor master in Mergui on behalf of the Siamese king the 17th century.
With approximately 350,000 inhabitants Myeik (see photo) is the largest city in the province and home to a colorful mixture of ethnic groups: Burmese, Thais, Indians, Chinese – you name it, they’ve got it! Numerous temples and pagodas bear witness to this diversity. Despite some major fires in the last century, Myeik still has a lot of historical, colonial buildings, some of them more than 100 years old! It’s fun to walk the streets of the city, to be invited for tea here or to have a snack there. Theindawgyi Pagoda is located above the harbour and offers great views. The harbor is an attraction in itself: stop by the dockyards and you will be time warped back to the 19th century when the British ruled here! A short ferry ride takes you to the offshore island of Pataw Padet where you can visit the mighty reclining Buddha Atula Shwethalyaung – one of the largest in the country. From there, a path leads up to a lookout point, which offers a great view of the city and its surroundings. The city’s premier hotel is the recently opened Grand Jade with its 156 beautifully decorated, pleasant rooms. It sports a rooftop terrace that offers mesmerizing views of the city and harbor. If you prefer it a little more straightforward, you’ll feel at home in the Eain Taw Phyu Hotel. It has 28 comfortable rooms with lots of woodcarving delighting the eye. It also has a beautiful roof terrace and even a pool of its own.
Dawei is the capital of Tanintharyi province and has about 100,000 inhabitants. Recently, the city is accessible from Thailand (Htee Kee border town), which will certainly contribute to the development of tourism here. The city itself is located on a river, but from there you can reach beautiful beaches. However, the ‘famous’ Maungmagan beach is more for domestic visitors: gray sand, grubby and uninviting. The opposite is true for Paradise Beach south of the city, which is a bit difficult to reach. Backpackers will feel at home here without air conditioning and electricity available only in the evening – but an unbeatable location! In addition, there are more beach resorts under construction, so that the area around Dawei will soon develop into a focal point for beach vacationers. The good flight connection from Yangon to Dawei certainly will contribute to that.
For us, Dawei is one of the most beautiful cities in the country! The predominantly wooden houses and villas of the city for sure are eye candy. In between one or the other colonial villa built with bricks and decorated with stucco. Unfortunately, even here the modern era tears more and more gaps into the rows of old buildings! In addition to the usual pagodas, the city has not much to offer. However, the relaxed, contemplative life here is already an attraction in itself. In the evening, sit comfortably in a beer garden and enjoy the tropical night. Most probably this tranquil atmosphere is unlikely to last very long, as the nearby Special Economic Zone will certainly boost economic life. The best hotels in the city are the Hotel Dawei (with pool!) and the Golden Guest Hotel.
Finally, Kawthaung is the third city in the province that is usually visited by foreigners. It is the starting point for most boat trips through the Mergui Archipelago. The city on the west bank of the Pak Chang River, which separates it from the Thai city of Ranong, offers no special attractions apart from the usual pagodas, except for a statue of the King Bayin Naung, who ‘greets’ the incoming guests from the neighboring country with a somber face, pulling out his sword from the scabbard. From here you can travel to Thailand and so you’ll meet many foreigners on their ‘visa run’. The city’s hotel scene has developed quite well. In addition to the dumps at the harbor (Honey Bear & Co.), the more than comfortable Victoria Cliff Hotel invites you to stay. For the smaller purses, Hotel Kawthaung is the best choice! Andaman Club Hotel is located in the bay in front of the city. Its visitors come mainly from Thailand in order to gamble away their money in the hotel’s casino. The hotel has its own immigration counter (!) and the rooms are amazingly cheap – apparently, in order to lure Thai customers addicted to gambling!
Near the city of Henzada, about 200 km from the Andaman Sea, the Ayeyarwady River starts branching out. Finally, seven mouths discharge their water – and a lot of mud etc. – into the sea. Every year, the delta expands sixty (!) meters out into the sea. Its easternmost branch is the Yangon River (where the city of the same name is located), the westernmost is the Pathein River, their two mouths being about 200 km apart. The Delta is the country’s rice bowl and one of the most densely populated regions in the country. In 2008, it was on everyone’s lips worldwide, when the cyclone Nargis swept from the Gulf of Bengal through the southern part of the delta and left a trail of devastation. More than 100,000 people and uncounted cattle fell victim to this disaster. Many villages were devastated or simply disappeared. Immediately thereafter, help started to come in from all over the country, mostly in the form of privately organized relief shipments. We are proud to have been able to make a small contribution, by rebuilding a completely destroyed village on the coast with the help of donations sent by friends and clients. Every time I visit that village, I am touched by the gratitude and kindness of the people whom we have helped to make a fresh start. (For details see: About us). Foreign aid was blocked by the government for quite some time, as very soon after ugly pictures of dead babies and rivers choking with corpses appeared in the international media. Moreover, the government was held responsible for the disaster.
Remarkably, this destination, which is so close to the largest and most important city (as well as the gateway to the country) remains virtually untouched by tourism. Admittedly, there are no old cities like Bagan or Mrauk Oo and Inle Lake is definitely more scenic and offers a greater variety of peoples, too. But the Delta offers a fascinating mix of cultural and natural landscape, huge rivers and winding waterways, which are covered by mangroves and Nipa palms. Dreamy settlements, connected by water buses, line the banks of the rivers and canals that run through the delta. Roads in the delta leave much to be desired; however, at least the important east-west connection from Yangon to Pathein is now fit for traffic all the way to Ngwesaung without having to use ferries. But otherwise, the traveler relies largely on ships that connect the cities of the Delta. A trip on a passenger ship through the Delta is definitely appealing: you won’t get that close to the ‘true’ Myanmar in other places… As can be expected, accommodation in the Delta offers no standard. Usually, the traveler will have to be content with simple hotels and guest houses.
During our relief operation (see above) we became aware of the delta’s beauty – as well as its problems – first-hand. When the situation was back to normal, we started to offer delta trips to our customers. In the riverside city of Pyapon (ca. 200,000 inhabitants) which is about 3 hours by car from Yangon, we’ll hire a local boat (no toilets!) and sail through the Delta’s waterways until we reach the fishing village of Mingala Thaungdan, which we rebuilt in 2008. There is certainly nothing particularly worth seeing here but the incomparable atmosphere is more than a compensation for it. We can arrange overnight stays in the village and everyone who stayed there was thrilled with that experience. And if you look a little closer, you will discover that the Delta is not such a cultural wasteland as it seems at first sight. In addition to the usual markets, monasteries and temples, there are many architectural gems from the colonial era, which can be explored well by rickshaw. In the month of Tazaungmon (November) a Ramayana masque play, lasting several days is held. It can look back on almost 150 years of history.
Drive to Pyapon in your own private car and enjoy Burmese village life on the way. You make stop for photos as you like. After three hours you’ll reach Pyapon, a typical, vibrant delta city on the banks of mighty Pyapon River. The bustling riverside is teeming with people and less pleasant inhabitants alike – it’s not very tidy here… But that shouldn’t put you off. Ferry passengers from all over the Delta can be seen embarking and disembarking, freighters unload their cargo and pick up new goods, while fishing boats bring their catch ashore. The lively fish market is an attraction of its own. And everywhere you’ll find teashops where you can relax and simply watch the world go by. Or maybe rent a rickshaw to see the usual pagodas, mosques and Hindu temples of this multi-ethnic town? Even a Chinese temple (see picture) can be found. Your accommodation, La Pyay (Full Moon) Guesthouse, meets at least the basic requirements: bathrooms attached and you can even sleep in air con comfort – if there is no power cut… Accomodation: La Pyay Guest House (simple)
Today you’ll visit the delta of Ayeyarwady (formerly called Irrawaddy). It is the largest river in Myanmar (about 2,200 km long, of which 1,500 km navigable) and discharges its water in a huge delta with seven estuary arms into the Andaman Sea. The river is characterized by remarkable variations in its flow conditions: in December and January, the river has its lowest level, in some places it is only a trickle then. During the rainy season, however, the river inundates large swathes of its catchment area. The delta, however, enjoys plenty of water all year round, even during the dry season. It was made arable in the second half of the 19 century under the auspices of the British. Before that, it was a wilderness in the back of beyond. The newly recovered land was distributed to farmers and due to the sediments deposited by the river the soil is very fertile there. If you really want to experience the Delta, you have to drive inside – where there are no roads and you can only get on by boat.
At Pyapon’s busy harbor a boat waits for you in the morning (no toilet on board!) and sails down the mangrove-lined Pyapon River for a while and then turns west into a tributary. Passing small villages you’ll sail south and during the journey you will get an idea of what life is like here in the delta. Only a few roads can be found there, in fact, everything is done by boat. Water buses and water taxis take people from one place to another, there are hospitals, schools, rice mills and, of course, pagodas. In some places even a church, because quite a number of Christian Karen people live in this remote area. Rice fields seem to be everywhere but sometimes you’ll see patches of undeveloped land and jungle. The closer we get to our destination, the narrower the watercourses become and the more the nipa palms along the shore close in to the boat. These palm trees are very useful to the inhabitants of the delta: almost all of the houses are covered with the fronds of these palms. In addition, a good wine can be distilled from the fruit stalks. After about three hours, depending on the tide) we reach the village of Mya Sein Kan.
Now it’s time to say good bye to your boat for the next few hours and continue on foot. After twenty minutes, you’ll finally reach your destination: Mingala Thaung Dan! It is a small fishing village on the sea with about 500 residents. When cyclone ‘Nargis’ struck on 3. May 2008, the whole village was devoured by a huge tidal wave. The villagers saw what was coming upon them and ran for their life towards the neighbouring village of Mya Sein Kan. But more than a hundred of them didn’t make it: the wave caught up with them and they were never seen again. All the huts in the village were destroyed and those who made it considered themselves lucky to be alive! They made their way to Pyapon, where we met them in a camp near that city. Thanks to abundant donations, we were able to offer them to rebuild their village. This met with great enthusiasm, as you can imagine (see chapter ‘About us’). Most of the families in the village are fishermen, while a few peasants live among them. There is a newly built elementary school with many students. We especially take pleasure in the fact that many children have been born since the disaster – Mingala Thaungdan is alive! A stroll through the village gives you an unadulterated impression of what Myanmar looks like in the countryside. You’ll stay about four hours in the village and then sail back to Pyapon, where you’ll have dinner and spend the night. If you feel like it, you may – if you happen to be there at the right time – visit the Ramayana…
Accommodation: La Pyay Guest House
Return to Yangon, arrive there around noon
Since the beginning of the 2017 season, the temples and Stupas Bagan must NOT be MOUNTED MORE! Instead, the famous sunset takes place on hills – which, however, do not offer such a good view by far! The best alternative is the observation tower near the Aureum Hotel (admission required!). From there you have an overwhelming view of the old metropolis in the light of the evening sun.
In the morning: At the beginning of the tour your guide will take you to the Shwegugyi Temple, which is located right next to the old royal palace that has been excavated again. From here we get an overview before we start. Among the temples of Bagan some stand out: on the one hand there is the Stupa Shwezigon, the first large building of Bagan – here the king Anawrahta integrated the ghost cult into the Theravada Buddhism and still today the ghosts in Myanmar enjoy largest admiration.
Also worth a visit is the nearby Gubyaukgyi temple in the village of Wetkyi-In. The wall paintings from the 13th century are remarkably well preserved. The Sulamani Temple is the model for all temples of the so-called late phase, i.e. built between 1180 and 1287, the year in which Mongolian invaders put an end to the splendour.
The Dhammayangyi Temple, built by the patricide Narathu, still holds its secret today: why was the inner ambulatory bricked up? Perhaps the bats know the answer… Then lunch at a local restaurant.
In the afternoon: Now you see above all temples of the early phase, i.e. those, which developed between 1060 and 1120 A.D.. The highlight of a visit to Bagan is certainly the visit to the Ananda Temple: this building, completed by King Kyanzittha at the end of the 11th century A.D., contains four large Buddha statues dedicated to the Buddhas of our world age: Kakusandha, Konagamana, Kassapa and of course Gautama, the historical Buddha. On reliefs in the ambulatory of the temple his life story comes alive. The nearby temple monastery contains wonderful murals that give us an insight into life in the Burmese Empire in the 18th century. The people depicted in the Jataka Stories seem to live – so meticulously everything is painted. In the afternoon we go to the village Myinkaba, where several impressive buildings from the Mon phase stand: the Manuha Temple with its Buddhas that seem to be incarcerated and the Nanphaya Temple, one of the few temples with a sandstone façade. This construction method was very soon abandoned in favour of the stucco facades. We stroll through the small village, whose inhabitants earn their living with the production of lacquerware. During this day you will also have the opportunity to visit a lacquer factory where these small works of art are produced. At the end of this stroll there are two other temples worth seeing: the Gubyaukgyi, not to be confused with its namesake, whom we saw in the morning, and the Myazedi. The Gubyaukgyi has probably the best preserved wall paintings of the early phase and captivates beside it by its well preserved stucco decoration at the outer walls. The main attraction of the Myazedi is the Rajakumar inscription, one of the earliest testimonies of Burmese writing, also called the ‘Rosetta Stone of Myanmar’, because with this inscription it was possible to decipher the mysterious Pyu writing. There a horse-drawn carriage is already waiting for you to take you to sunset (depending on the accessibility of the pagodas): no one will ever forget the picture he is presented with – pagodas as far as the eye can see, behind them the majestic Ayeyarwady and in good weather the view reaches as far as the Chin Hills in the west…
Note: It goes without saying that your guide is not strictly bound to this program! If you have your own wishes, the program can be changed at will.
￼Mt. Popa, often also called ‘Burmese Olympus’, is the residence of the spirits according to Burmese belief. The name is derived from the Pali word puppa, which means flower. And indeed, it is a boon to the eye to see its fresh greenery and flowers after the long drive through the dusty plains of Upper Burma. The car leaves Bagan in the morning and after approximately half an hour one sees numerous small huts at the roadside that attract attention with big advertising signs. What is there to see? The owners of the huts are palm farmers who sell their products. Palm farmers? What are these? The Palmyra palm (borassus flabellifer) is without doubt the most important economic tree in the whole country. An old Tamil song (tala vilasam) attributes more than eight hundred types of use to it! Here we see four of them: the sweet fresh juice tapped directly from the palm, the fermented juice (Toddy, ‘the poor man’s beer’), the distilled juice (Arrak, which contains a good 60% alcohol) and finally caramels made from the boiled juice. It is the only food Burmese monks are allowed to eat after the sun has peaked. The farmer likes to climb up for a photo and let you try… Some farmers also grow legumes whose oil is squeezed out with true Stone Age technology: an ox always trots in a circle and moves the huge pestle of the oil mill…
We continue our journey and reach Mt. Popa – what a difference! After having seen only Palmyra palms and succulents for a long time, Mt. Popa is a feast for the eyes: lush green trees, flowers and fruits wherever the eye looks… It seems that the 1500 meter high resting volcano draws all the water from the air that is present in the area. Admire the colourful world of spirits gathered in the shrine at the foot of a basalt cone. In the centre the Popa Maedaw with her two sons, the brothers ‘Low Gold’, her husband and her brother-in-law. As is proper for spirits, they have all died a cruel, unnatural death and therefore they still haunt afterwards. More than fifty spirits are gathered here. With a little luck you can also meet hermits (Yathe) and ghost dancers (Natkadaw) nearby. This basalt cone, called Taungkalat, is the seat of the spirits, not the volcano itself. Those who like can climb it over 787 partly quite steep steps, but should beware of the monkeys, which are a real plague there. Never buy the monkey food offered by the flying traders! Because then you might not only get rid of the money, but also your camera or glasses!
After the ghost rock it’s time for a little refreshment. The nearby Mt. Popa Resort, which is located in the middle of the Mt. Popa National Park, is a good place to do this. From there you have a fantastic view of the Taungkalat with a snack or a drink. Then we continue to Kyaukpadaung, an important traffic junction at the foot of the volcano. On the lively market of the city you probably won’t meet any tourists – in contrast to the completely overcrowded market of the nearby Bagan town Nyaung Oo… Then return to Bagan.
Mt. Popa, often also called ‘Burmese Olympus’, is the residence of the spirits according to Burmese belief. The name is derived from the Pali word puppa, which means flower. And indeed, it is a boon to the eye to see its fresh greenery and flowers after the long drive through the dusty plains of Upper Burma. Sale is a small town south of Bagan with a remarkable collection of beautiful old wooden monasteries. There are also several temples from the Bagan period.
￼The car leaves Bagan in the morning and after approximately half an hour one sees numerous small huts at the roadside that attract attention with big advertising signs. What is there to see? The owners of the huts are palm farmers who sell their products. Palm farmers? What are these? The Palmyra palm (borassus flabellifer) is without doubt the most important economic tree in the whole country. An old Tamil song attributes more than eight hundred types of use to it! Here we see four of them: the sweet fresh juice tapped directly from the palm, the fermented juice (Toddy, ‘the poor man’s beer’), the distilled juice (Arrak, which contains a good 60% alcohol) and finally caramels made from the boiled juice. It is the only food Burmese monks are allowed to eat after the sun has peaked. The farmer likes to climb up for a photo and let you try… Some farmers also grow legumes whose oil is squeezed out with true Stone Age technology: an ox always trots in a circle and moves the huge pestle of the oil mill…
We continue our journey and reach Mt. Popa – what a difference! After having seen only Palmyra palms and succulents for a long time, Mt. Popa is a feast for the eyes: lush green trees, flowers and fruits wherever the eye looks… It seems that the 1500 meter high resting volcano draws all the water from the air that is present in the area. Admire the colourful world of spirits gathered in the shrine at the foot of a basalt cone. In the centre the Popa Maedaw with her two sons, the brothers ‘Low Gold’, her husband and her brother-in-law. As is proper for spirits, they have all died a cruel, unnatural death and therefore they still haunt afterwards. More than fifty spirits are gathered here. With a little luck you can also meet hermits (Yathe) and ghost dancers (Natkadaw) nearby. This basalt cone, called Taungkalat, is the seat of the spirits, not the volcano itself. Those who like can climb it over 787 partly quite steep steps, but should beware of the monkeys, which are a real plague there. Never buy the monkey food offered by the flying traders! Because then you might not only get rid of the money, but also your camera or glasses!
After the ghost rock it’s time for a little refreshment. The nearby Mt. Popa Resort, which is located in the middle of the Mt. Popa National Park, is a good place to do this. From there you have a fantastic view of the Taungkalat with a snack or a drink. Then we continue to Kyaukpadaung, an important traffic junction at the foot of the volcano. You probably won’t meet any tourists at the lively market of the city – in contrast to the completely overcrowded market of the nearby town of Nyaung Oo… The journey continues to Sale, on whose outskirts a large fertilizer factory ‘greets’ the traveller – a ‘gift’ of Japan. In the 19th century Sale was an important trading centre on the Ayeyarwady River. In true Burmese Buddhist selflessness, the rich merchants of the city donated numerous monasteries, which were lavishly decorated with ￼Holzschnitzereien Unfortunately, most of the monasteries today are in a deplorable condition but the most famous of them, the Yoke Sone Kyaung (Figure Monastery) has been converted into a museum and here the best pieces were collected and exhibited. Especially noteworthy are the manuscripts of U Ponnya, undoubtedly the most famous son of the city. He played an important role as advisor and poet at the royal court. He was also apparently a very charming man, who was very popular with the ladies – despite a stiff arm. This finally became his downfall: he was murdered in 1867, probably by a jealous rival… Via the oil town of Chauk he returns to Bagan, which you reach in the late afternoon…
The route from Bagan to Pyay (Prome) is rarely used by tourists. The buses from Yangon all take the highway via Naypyidaw to Bagan. It is a very nice trip, passing old monasteries and dreamy cities, always along the big river.
Day 1: The road leads southwards from Bagan to Chauk, shortly before the city we cross the border of the Mandalay region to the Magway region. Chauk is the country’s most important petroleum town next to Yenangyaung further south. Chauk’s oil fields are among the longest used in the world. Between the dominating hills there is a forest of oil rigs, which connects a labyrinth of oil pipelines with the oil tanks that disfigure the area. We cross the Ayeyarwady on the big bridge and reach the west bank, where there are also oil rigs.
From the bridge we head south and after a little more than an hour we reach the town of Salin on Lake Wethtigan, where the Shwe Ma Daw Temple rises above the water on the east side. Not far away is the main attraction of the place, the Myaw Hle Sin Kyaung Monastery with its beautiful wood carvings on the balustrades, which have Jatakas (stories from the various existences of the Buddha Gautma) as their theme. The monastery was built on 250 piles and houses a Buddha collection, which the friendly abbot likes to show. In the proximity still some romantically overgrown temple ruins and Stupas.
Next stop is the large temple complex Kyaung Taw Ya (see photo), an important pilgrimage site near the Ayeyarwady, which lies in a fertile rice region. The proximity of the Ayeyarwady allows the irrigation of the fields on the western shore. Here, as in other places, wealthy people have invested their wealth selflessly in monasteries and temples. Although the village has no monasteries with beautiful wood carvings, the complex still has its charm – after all, the enlightened Buddha himself once lived here in a sandalwood monastery when he visited Shwesettaw Pagoda, where he left his footprint.
The small detour from the main street is well worth it, especially in the rainy season when numerous pilgrims flock here. From there it is only a few minutes to Legaing, where the Yoke Sone Kyaung Monastery lives up to its name. The woodcarvings are absolutely worth seeing and well preserved. Also in Sagu, a bigger place, which is about 10 km south of Legaing, one should stop absolutely.
The Maha Withurama monastery dates back to the 20’s but its original woodcarvings are in a remarkably good condition. Also the monasteries Hman Khin Yoke Sone Kyaung and Thet-Daw-Monastery with its beautiful collection of Buddhas are worth a visit. We continue to Minbu, where a mud volcano bubbles away. There we cross the Ayeyarwady and drive on the west bank up to Sale, where we spend the night in a new guesthouse.
Day 2: The next day we visit Salay and its surroundings. Salay itself was obviously an important city in the late Bagan period. No less than 52 monuments from that time, similar in style to those of Minnanthu (near Bagan), testify to this. Also in the colonial time, the city seems to have been prosperous, as one can see by means of various stately houses in the style of the time. Here, too, wealthy citizens founded several monasteries, which unfortunately are no longer in a special condition. Therefore, the Archaeological Department decided to collect the best pieces from the monasteries in Yoke Sone Kyaung (see photo), which was transformed into a museum. The former monastery is famous for the beautiful woodcarvings on the balustrade, which depict the legend of May Oo, who was killed by one of the Taungbyone Nats out of disdained love. The museum also contains a number of Buddha statues and other interesting artifacts, including original Sale U Ponnyas manuscripts, the city’s most famous son. On the other side of the street there are also several monasteries, some of which are no longer inhabited. A curiosity is an approx. 3 m high lacquer Buddha, into which one can even crawl!
Then we head south to Yenangyaung (see photo early 20th century), the country’s most famous oil town, which offers a very similar picture to Chauk. Here stood the cradle of the global corporation British Petroleum (BP), which saw the light of day as Burmah Oil Company. Today the once rich oil wells are largely exhausted: Myanmar cannot even cover half of its (modest) own needs from its own production anymore… However, we do not stay there, but drive west through a dry river bed to Ober-Hsale, a quaint village that has already seen better days, as one can see on the basis of the 41 temples from the late Bagan period. Many of them have already decayed but some still have beautiful murals in the style of that time. Apparently it was an important Buddhist site at that time.
From here it is not far to Magway, the modest capital of the region, whose most famous son is the country’s liberator, General Aung San, born in Natmauk not far away. Here we cross the Ayeyarwady and drive west to the foot of the Arakan Mountains (Rakhine Yoma). There the Man River steps from the mountains into the plain of the Ayeyarwady and exactly there lies the famous place of pilgrimage Shwesettaw, which means nothing else than ‘Golden Footprint’. Here once the Enlightened One is said to have left two footprints (see photo), which have been the object of highest worship for a long time. The pilgrims come from all over the country to earn merit here. Not far from Shwesettaw there are some villages of the Chin people. After earning enough merit for half a life here, head to Magway, where you will stay in a decent hotel.
Day 3: The road to Pyay first leads east to Taungdwingyi. Shortly before the city are the remains of the old Pyu metropolis Beikthano (city of Vishnu), which was founded already 200 B.C. and was the first in a number of city states of the Pyu people. Around 100 A.D. the city was abandoned. Although it belongs to the world cultural heritage of the UNESCO, there is not much to see here except a few foundations. Around noon we reach Pyay, the last metropolis of the Pyu. There is much more to see here than in Beikthano! We look at the remains of the city Shri Kshetra (Burm.: Tharekittaya), which perished in the 9th century A.D., after it had been the center of power of the Pyu for 600 years. Troops of the Nanchao Empire, located in the present-day Chinese province of Yünnan, conquered it and deported part of the population to Yünnan. Some of their inhabitants managed to escape to the Bagan area, where they founded a new city that later became the metropolis of the First Burmese Empire. Compared to the walled city of Bagan, Shri Kshetra was relatively large in area, the oval complex has a diameter of 5 km. The reason for this was probably that the city should be able to feed itself in the event of siege. Certainly a good idea, but the disadvantage of this concept is that the city wall becomes very long in this way and considerably more men were needed to defend it than, for example, in Bagan, whose walled area is only 1.5 square kilometers…
Even if you come from the city of Pyay, outside the city wall lies the great Stupa Payagyi from the 6th-7th century. A.D. Sri Kshetra had an old tradition of twelve city gates, of which only nine have been excavated so far. Only the palace and four religious monuments are located on the site of the city itself. Right in its centre is the palace, of which only a few remains have remained. Right next to it is the small but worth seeing museum, where some finds from the great time of Sri Kshetra are kept.
The Stupa Baw Baw Gyi (see photo), which towers over everything with its 50 m, is located south of the city wall as well as other important temples. Allegedly it contained a relic, a frontal bone of the Buddha, which was taken there by King Anawrahta and later buried in the newly built Shwezigon Stupa of his residence in Bagan. The Lay Myethna Temple (probably 7th-9th century A.D. s. adjacent photo) with its four entrances reminds in many details of its namesakes of the same name, but considerably younger in Bagan. After the visit we return to Pyay, where we stay overnight at the Mingalar Garden Hotel.
The next day individual onward journey to Yangon, Toungoo (via Bago Yoma) or to Taunggok (Arakan).
Mandalay – the magic of this word has inspired the imagination of people in the West since the city was founded. Kipling’s poem of the same name (which, by the way, was never there!) made it famous all over the world and even a luxury hotel in Las Vegas now bears its name. The reality was much more profane: those foreigners, especially of course British, who have been there, draw a somewhat flattering picture. Neither George Orwell nor Somerset Maugham (to name only the two most famous) report positively about Mandalay: Heat, dust storms and hostile natives acidified their lives and accordingly their reports are.
Mandalay with its 1.5 million inhabitants is the second largest city of the country and the metropolis of the Central Plain. The relatively young city was founded in 1857 by King Mindon under the name ‘Yadanarbon’ (mountain of gems). However, the name could not assert itself, instead it was called Mandalay (auspicious plain). It was the last capital of the Burmese kings who ruled here from 1857 to 1885. On 29. November 1886, the last king, Thibaw, together with his family and his closest entourage, was put on a ship in Mandalay and taken to Yangon for exile. In Ratnagiri, a town on the west coast of India, he spent the rest of his life, which ended on 15. December 1916. He is also buried there. His wife Supayalati returned to Burma and lived in Yangon until her death. Her tomb is near the Shwedagon Pagoda (see our tour: A walk through Yangon’s recent history).
After the incorporation of the Burmese kingdom into the British colonial empire, the proud capital of the kings became an outpost of the Empire. The citadel was renamed Fort Dufferin and the city dawned until the Japanese invasion in 1942. An important battle between the Japanese defenders and the English attackers took place here in 1945, during which the Royal Palace, the masterpiece of Burmese woodcarving, went up in flames. After independence, the port city of Yangon was chosen as the capital and Mandalay could not regain its old status. When Myanmar was given a new capital in 2005, it was not Mandalay, but Naypyidaw, who received the honour. What remained, however, was the city’s reputation as the center of Burma’s culture, and even today, its residents traditionally look down with quiet compassion on the upstarts in Yangon and elsewhere. About a hundred years after losing its capital role, the sleepy city began to change: many Chinese immigrated and turned the Downtown Mandalays into a bad copy of a medium-sized Chinese provincial city. The traditional houses disappeared from the city center and their inhabitants migrated to the periphery after selling their houses to the immigrants at proud prices. This was the start of an upswing that continues to this day. In the meantime, the city has risen to become an important trading centre due to its proximity to the Chinese border, in which about 1.5 million people live today – Mandalay is prospering and this is evident in all areas!
We bring you close to the old capital. Follow us on exploring the city and its surroundings! Admire the testimonies of the royal period around Mandalay Hill and the rebuilt palace. Watch the craftsmen at work and witness the worship of the Mahamuni Buddha, the most sacred Buddha statue in the country. There are quite a few who say that the true charm of the city lies in its surroundings: the ancient royal cities of Inwa and Amarapura are just outside the gates of the city, the hills of Sagaing on the western bank of the river and the huge pagoda of Mingun a few miles upstream.
We offer the following tours:
- Arrival: Visit to Sagaing and lunch – in the morning
- The highlights of Mandalay – afternoons
- How Mandalay became – the history of the city – all-day
- On the motorbike: Mandalay Motorbike in the evening – in the evening
- Sporty: out of Mandalay by bike – in the morning
- In the mountains: caves and trekking – full day
- Above the city: Hot air balloon flight over Mandalay – early in the morning
- By water: Boat trip to the north and south – all day
- On foot: The secret of Sagaings – all day long
- By boat to Mingun – half day
- Cycle tour Mandalay, Amarapura, Sagaing, Mingun – 2 days/1 night
- The Mandalay Monasteries – half-day
- Carriage ride and botanical garden in Maymyo – all day
- Dinner & Mandalay Marionettes – in the evening
- August: Taungbyone Nat Festival – for days!
Day 1: Drive to Monywa, on the way stops in Inwa, Sagaing and at the temples near Monywa (Thanboddhaye, Bodhi Tataung), overnight stay: Win Unity Resort
Day 2: Visit to the caves of Hpo Win Daung and Shwe Ba Taung, overnight stay dto.
Day 3: Return to Mandalay; arrival around noon, end of the tour.
NOT included: meals except breakfast, tips, drinks
Instead of going back to Mandalay, you can also continue from Monywa to Bagan. Journey time approx. three hours. Two of them go on the west bank of the river by car to Pakkoku (pure driving time) and another one by boat from there to Bagan. On the way it is worth stopping in Pakhan Gyi, which houses some buildings from the Bagan period, and in Pakkoku, which is an important religious centre with the corresponding number of monasteries. The route goes on the west bank of the Chindwin to Pakkoku, where the boat waits for Bagan. From there another hour to Bagan.
Day 1: Drive to Monywa, on the way stops in Inwa, Sagaing and at the temples near Monywa (Thanboddhaye, Bodhi Tataung), overnight stay: Win Unity Resort
Day 2: Visit to the caves of Hpo Win Daung and Shwe Ba Taung; overnight stay dto.
Day 3: Drive to Pakkoku, continue by boat, arrival in Bagan in the afternoon.
Another possibility is a boat trip from Monywa up the Chindwin (schedule and prices on request).
Monywa is without a doubt the ‘Queen of the Chindwintal’. The most ‘Burmese’ city in the country and the largest city in the Sagaing region offers many sights and serves as a starting point for trips on the Chindwin, the second longest river in Myanmar – or as an end point… Many travellers who want to travel from Mandalay to Bagan like to make the small detour via Monywa. From Mandalay it takes three hours to get there. Those who have not yet seen Sagaing and Inwa or even Amarapura during the Mandalay program can visit these places on the way to Monywa. In this case, a full day should be scheduled for the trip.
Coming from Mandalay there are some impressive buildings, first of all the Thanboddhaye temple (see photo). It was finished shortly after the end of the 2nd World War and offers an overwhelming impression: some compare it with the buildings of Gaudi in Barcelona, others again with Disneyland – form your own opinion! Perhaps even more impressive are the gigantic Buddha statues of Bodhi Tataung (a thousand Bodhi trees): a 90 meter long lying Buddha and behind it an 80 meter high (some even speak of 114 meters) standing Buddha (see photo), as well as his lying conspecific accessible from the inside: in the ‘built-in’ museum you get to know the colorful world of the Burmese folk faith… However, the ‘interior construction’ of the standing Buddha is probably still not finished.
The city of Monywa itself offers a relaxed atmosphere and invites you to stroll over the markets or along the banks of the Chindwin. The Win Unity Hotel is quite comfortable and also satisfies higher demands. The bungalows are grouped around a swimming pool at the edge of a lake.
￼Hpo Win Daung Caves
The biggest attraction of the city, however, is on the other side of the river. You cross the Chindwin River, on the west bank of which lies the largest Buddhist cave complex in Southeast Asia. About a thousand caves have been dug into the soft sandstone here for centuries. Some of them have been gnawed at by the ravages of time, others are quite well preserved. Particularly interesting are the murals, which were mostly painted during the Nyaung-Gyan period (approx. 1500 to 1750) (see detail photo). Of course the local art cannot be compared to Bagan but it is definitely worth seeing. Nearby is the cave of Shwe Ba Taung, which is much younger than that of Hpo Win Daung, as even a layman can easily recognize…
When we talk about Shan State in Myanmar, we actually mean three different regions: the Southern Shan State with the capital Taunggyi, the Northern Shan State with the capital Lashio and the Northeastern Shan State with the capital Kyaing Tong (Keng Tung).
As the name suggests, it is home to the Shan, who make up almost 40% of its population. It is clear from this that there are many minorities, among which the ethnic Burmese are one of the most numerous. The mixture of peoples in Shan State is legendary and the Shan themselves are not limited to their ‘own’ state: there are Shan in many areas of northern Myanmar, such as Kachin State. The Shan are closely related to the Thais in the neighbouring country and also share the language with them. They call themselves ‘Tai Yai’, which means ‘Great Thai’. Today’s Shan State is just the rest of a once much larger area subordinated to the kings of Burma. At times even the west of neighboring Laos was ruled by the Burmese. In the north of neighbouring Siam (Thailand), Burmese rule lasted almost 250 years and its traces are visible everywhere. The old Burmese kingdom cannot be imagined as a nation state. It was rather organized like the old Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The king ruled the heartland, however, the tributary princes – among them natural also several other minorities such as Karen, Shan and others – enjoyed considerable freedom. However, they had to make military successes for the king. The Burmese king had a large harem and a large part of the ‘occupation’ consisted of women and girls belonging to minorities. This led to a relationship between the royal house and the princes. For example, the last king, Thibaw, was the son of a Shan princess. Nevertheless, there were tensions between the king and the princes.
When the British had conquered the country, they left the conditions as they were and so the lords of the 33 principalities of today’s Shan State enjoyed a large measure of independence. Apart from defence and external affairs, the ‘Celestial Lords’, the Saophas (Burm. Sawbwas), could rule and switch as they pleased. A British resident on the ground said for this that they did not beat about the bush. When Burma’s independence was on the doorstep, the UK was not quite clear on how to deal with the Shan states. At times it was said that only ‘Burma Proper’ should become independent, while the areas ‘Outer Burma’ should remain under British control. The initiative of General Aung Sans, who negotiated with the princes the Panglong Agreement, in which the princes joined the newly formed Union of Burma, ended such speculation. The agreement, by the way, assured the princes that they could revoke their agreement after a period of ten years, but history has gone by that. The military coup of 1962 marked the end of the privileges of the princes, who were thus following the same path that the Indian Maharajas had to follow later. Feudal princes simply no longer fit into modern times, even though life as princes was quite pleasant, as Inge Sargent (see below) reported.
The Shan State has a number of interesting destinations to offer, among which Lake Inle and its surroundings are the most important in the Southern Shan State. But also the other two Shan states have a lot to offer: unusual trekking tours to exotic tribes, especially in the north-eastern Shan state and the railway trip from Lashio to Pyin Oo Lwin, the highlight of which is the crossing of the breathtaking Gokteik railway viaduct.
Pindaya und Ayethayar
This excursion is just right for those who want to approach Inle Lake slowly and carefully. After landing at Heho airport in the morning, we will first go to Pindaya. In this place you visit the famous stalactite cave Shwe Umin. Here pious believers have been searching (and hopefully finding!) healing from all sorts of remains for centuries. As a thank you for the healing, many people erected a Buddha statue. Today there are about 10,000 statues looking down on the visitor in the mysterious semi-darkness of the cave. Afterwards there is the opportunity to look over the shoulder of the papermakers of the little town. The end product is further processed for various purposes (e.g. parasols). Afterwards we go to Ayethayar, a dreamy place not far from the Inle lake, where you visit the famous winery. Lunch will be served here in beautiful surroundings, and of course a wine tasting is a must, while you learn more about the Myanmar wine-growing business that has its roots here. Afterwards drive to the hotel.
If desired, overnight stays in Pindaya and/or Ayethayar are possible without problems. Especially visitors of the balloon festival in nearby Taunggyi are advised to stay overnight in Ayethayar.
Day hike in Pindaya
Today you will get to know the surroundings of Pindaya. The village is situated on the picturesque Lake Phone-Taloke and is a centre of the Danu people who speak a strange dialect of Burmese. Allegedly, Burmese soldiers were stationed in the area a long time ago and married local girls. So the legend goes… On your walk through the villages you will meet Danu and members of other ethnic groups, such as Pa-O or Taungthu. In addition to rice and wheat, they also grow vegetables such as cabbage and so on. At certain times of the year the whole area glows in yellow: this is the time when the Niger millet blooms (also called ‘Japanese sesame’ by mistake). In the evening you reach your hotel again.
Cycle tour from the airport to Indein
One of the most popular ways to get from the airport to the lake is by bike, as the route is mostly downhill, and the temperatures in the Shan Highlands are more reminiscent of a Central European summer than of the Southeast Asian tropics. After landing at the airport you will be welcomed and taken to your bikes (also possible from Kalaw). The luggage is sent ahead and you simply cycle from approx. 1180 metres of altitude down to Inle Lake at approx. 880 metres of altitude. During the three-hour bike tour you will pass fields, villages and schools until you arrive in Indein, where you will visit the famous Stupas. Afterwards drive across the lake to the hotel.
Trekking from Kalaw to Indein
2 days / 1 night
The probably most famous trekking tour of Myanmar takes you in two days along fields and forests from Kalaw to Inle Lake. On the first day you leave Kalaw in the morning and meet your guide at the starting point. Today, a 6 hour (total) walk through green mountains and fertile valleys awaits you, while your Kalaw guide will draw your attention to the special features of the trail and tell you many anecdotes. Highlights during the trek are of course the encounters with the members of different tribes, who have settled here so numerously in the surroundings of the Inle lake. The Palaung, with their colourful costumes, are best known as tea farmers throughout Myanmar, while the Pa-O stand out for their colourful headgear, reminiscent of turbans. A simple lunch will be prepared along the way and in the late afternoon you will finally arrive at your accommodation for the night to come. This is located in a simple cottage in one of the villages on the way (common bedroom possible). After breakfast was served the next morning, you start the second stage – mostly downhill. After about 6 hours you will reach the lake. Drive to the hotel where your luggage is already waiting.
Waterworld: A day with Intha
Today you will explore the lake and get to know its inhabitants, the Intha (the ‘sons of the lake’), who are known for their floating gardens and monopod rowers. The most important Buddhist building is the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda with its five Buddha figures, which are hardly recognizable as such. A special feature is the Cat House: here a rich Burmese has built a house in the traditional style and established a breeding station for the extremely rare Burmese cats. Watch the elegant animals play and enjoy the view from the house terrace over the lake. With a bit of luck you can visit one of the traditional lakeside markets that take place every five days. At lunchtime, you will be taken to a remote part of the lake, where lunch has been prepared for you in a settlement in a private house. Enjoy the specialties of the full range of Shan cuisine in private surroundings and exquisite presentation. In the afternoon, you have the opportunity to travel to Indein, on a tributary of Lake Inle. Alternatively, there is the opportunity to admire the skills of the Intha on the lake: silk weaving, cigar manufacturing, small boatyards where the sleek boats that hunt across the lake are built, blacksmiths – everything is worth a visit. Return to the hotel across the lake at sunset around 5 pm.
The Indein-Stupas and lunch in the private boat
In the morning we cross the lake to a hidden tributary, which leads to Indein, a complex of about 1000 temples and stupas, the origins of which are not completely clear. Some are already largely dilapidated, others freshly renovated – and you don’t know what better to find… Stroll through the vast complex, made possible by donations from countless devout Buddhists, and actually reminiscent of a mini- Angkor wat. After a tour that reveals a new surprise around every corner, you return to the lake, where a restaurant boat is waiting for you. In the middle of the lake, lunch is served under the shady roof, while the waiters take care of your well-being. Return to the hotel.
A day with the elephants in Kalaw
Before industrialization came to Myanmar on a large scale, it was the elephants who pulled the logs ashore from the ships at the port, or who supported the loggers in their hard work in the dense jungle. Kipling wrote: “We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak. Elephants a-pilin’ teak In the sludgy, squdgy creek,”. These times have been over for several years, but the grey giants still exist in large numbers throughout the country. What to do? A project to protect these veteran jungle giants was launched just a few years ago not far from Kalaw. It is one of the most successful elephant camps – not only in Myanmar, but throughout Southeast Asia – in which the principle of sustainability is at the top!
Train journey through Burmese Switzerland to Kalaw
In the morning
One of the most beautiful train rides you can make in Myanmar is from Shwenyaung to Kalaw. In the morning it takes about 30 minutes by car from Nyaungshwe to Shwenyaung, where the train from Yaksauk arrives at about 8 a.m. at the railway station, and soon continues its journey. After about four hours drive and stops in the towns of Aungban and Heho (longer stops, as a transshipment point for goods of all kinds) you reach the colonial station of Kalaw. On the way, however, there are unique impressions of the country and its people; especially on the train, there is the opportunity to get in touch with the people, while the heavy locomotive pulls the wagons of the Ordinary- and Upper Class through the mountains. After arriving in Kalaw at around 12 noon, you will have lunch at the Seven Sisters, a restaurant you must have visited. The rest of the day is free.
Overnight stay on the vineyard
2 days / 1 night
“Did you know that Myanmar is a wine-growing country?” is the slogan of the Ayethayar winegrowers. The two Germans, who became self-employed there in 1997, now produce excellent wine, and the restaurant has won several awards. But that is by no means all: in addition to wine tasting and lunch with a view of the vineyard, this excursion offers an excursion through the vines along with an expert guide and an overnight stay in the hotel’s own 4-star bungalow directly on the slope. No matter how late you get to bed in the evening, there is no more uplifting moment than the early morning, when the rising sun illuminates the vineyard in all its facets and you sit in the front row on the huge terrace. The winery can be easily reached from the airport or from Inle Lake. After breakfast the next morning check-out and either drive to Inle Lake or to the airport.
Northern Shan State is best reached from Mandalay. From there the old Burma Road leads to China. Before the Japanese occupation of Burma in 1942 it was the most important supply route for the Chinese dictator Chiang Kai Chek. His troops had been forced into the interior of the country by the Japanese, so that his government no longer had any ports through which the vital supplies could pass. It then ran along the Burma Road and one important reason for the Japanese invasion of Burma was certainly to interrupt this supply route (see map).
After the 2nd World War it lost a lot of importance – until it suddenly became interesting again in the course of China’s opening to the world. One has to keep in mind that the populous west of China (the provinces Yünnan, Szechuan, Guizhou and the region Chongqing) is not further away from the Burmese coast than the Pacific ports of the country. Especially since the Burma Road saves the long sea route through the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea. The old Burma Road was widened, modernized and numerous bridges were built.
If you take the road towards Muse (Chinese border), you will see in many places a double pipeline running alongside the road. It is used to transport vital oil imports from the Persian Gulf and Burmese natural gas from the fields off the coast of Arakan. Parallel to this, a railway line is under construction.
Pyin Oo Lwin
It is the most famous city there, but administratively it still belongs to the Mandalay region. Formerly known as Maymyo, it was the most important hill station during the colonial period. Here, in the pleasantly cool mountain air, it was well bearable when the temperatures in the plain rose to over 40 degrees… Thus a ‘small England’ arose in the tropics: houses in the Mock-Tudor style, churches, cemeteries. Very British, so to say… The most famous hotel at that time was certainly the famous Candacraig, once a Chummery (accommodation for bachelors, jokingly also called ‘bull monastery’), which today as Thiri Myaing (currently closed) looks forward to its new destination as a luxury boutique hotel. George Orwell must have felt at home here after escaping the hated dusty, hot Mandalay – at least for a short time. The British have long since gone, but the longing to escape the heat of the plain remained. And so today you can meet many – often thickly masked by the unusual cold – local recreation seekers from all parts of the country. Especially at night it can get very cold there.
But also the soldiers of the colonial power have left their traces. Many Gurkhas, Sikhs and Muslim soldiers settled here after their service and live together peacefully. Also numerous Christians live up here. A very popular means of transport in Pyin Oo Lwin are horse-drawn carriages (gharries), which enhance the flair of the old days. So that the heat-stricken Englishmen came faster into the summer freshness, a railway was built from Mandalay up here. The journey from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin with its many hairpin bends is an experience.
￼In the morning your car will pick you up at the hotel. First destination is the Purcell Tower, built in 1934 in the centre of the city. Stroll through the streets and the lively bazaar and take a look at the places of prayer of the different denominations: in Sri Krishna and in Sri Ganesh Temple the Hindus pray, the Muslims gather for prayer in their mosque and the Chinese are drawn to the Tian Rong Temple with its 6-storey observation tower. The numerous Christians pray in three different churches (the largest of which is the Church of Immaculate Conception). There is also a Gurdwara of the Sikhs. And since we are in Myanmar, there are of course also numerous pagodas…
Afterwards you board one of the already mentioned horse-drawn carriages and make a trip through the ‘Open Air Museum’, the outskirts of the city, past the villas and hotels from the colonial period: the famous Candacraig Hotel (see photo) is of course first, but also the Croxton and the Craddock Court are very worth seeing.
￼In the afternoon the botanical garden (National Kandawgyi Garden, see photo) is on the program. It was laid out in World War I under English leadership by Turkish prisoners of war, covers almost 100 hectares and is home to over 600 tree and plant species. You will certainly not be bored there! First get an overview from Nan Myint Tower and then you’re ready to walk through beautiful flower beds, admire the black swans and mandarin ducks on the lake in the centre of the complex. Then walk through the different biotopes of the tropical rainforest. Especially impressive is the bamboo forest with its 75 species, including the giant dendrocalamus gigenteus, the largest of its kind, which can grow up to 35 m high. But also the swamp habitat and the aviary are worth a visit. The orchid house attracts above all lovers of these tropical treasures.
A walk through the butterfly museum completes your visit. Afterwards you really deserve a refreshment in the Kandawgyi-Cafe. Then back to the hotel.
Day program: A trip to the Gokteik Viaduct
The huge Gokteik railway viaduct (built in 1900 by an American company) spans a 100 m deep gorge between Naungcho and Kyaukme and was considered a technical masterpiece at the time. Unfortunately, the warranty expired 20 years ago – but that shouldn’t be a problem for you. The viaduct is almost 800 m long and the ride at walking pace over the building is an experience of a special kind that should not be missed. Down in the valley you can see the cars climbing up the serpentines like toys, while you look down from a lofty height. The American writer Paul Theroux has impressively described the journey in his book ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’! The train goes up to Lashio. From there you don’t go that far: in Kyaukme, the first station after the viaduct, the car is waiting for you and then it goes back to Pyin Oo Lwin.
Etwa 25 km before the city lies the Buddhist cave complex Peik Chin Myaung. Walk 600 m into the cave and experience a colourful wonder world of Burmese folklore. Crocodiles peek out of water holes, huge snakes look at the visitor threateningly – but don’t worry: they are not real! Of course, there is also no shortage of pagodas and especially interested people can follow the life of the enlightened one here.
A short detour to the Pwe Kauk Waterfalls will take you right into the middle of life. The Burmese love to have a picnic here… In the evening they reach Pyin Oo Lwin again and can enjoy the unique atmosphere of this Hill Station. Or would you rather spend an afternoon on the golf course?
On to Hsipaw and Lashio
After a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Pyin Oo Lwin you reach Hsipaw, once the capital of one of the Shan Principalities, which enjoyed extensive independence during the colonial period. Only defence affairs and foreign policy were in the hands of the British colonial rulers, otherwise the princes were able to rule as they liked. A British resident made sure that they didn’t beat about the bush. Hsipaw is the starting point for trekking tours and a vivid backpacker scene has established itself in the town. The house (Haw), where the last ruler (Sawbwa) of Hsipaw lived, is – besides the beautiful surroundings – the biggest sight of the town. Here lived the famous Shan princess Inge Sargent as wife of the Sawbwa of Hsipaw, her book ‘Twilight over Burma – My life as a Shan princess’ is brought along by many visitors of the town. Apparently it has lived quite well up there as a member of the nobility… A popular side trip from Hsipaw leads to Namshan, a large settlement of the Palaung, which live mainly from tea cultivation.
After two hours drive in northeastern direction, one finally reaches the city Lashio that is already strongly influenced by Chinese. This is usually the last stop for travellers from the Far West. The Mahayana Buddhist temple of the city is the largest of its kind in the whole country. Lashio flourishes through trade with China, but otherwise has nothing spectacular to offer – apart from the typical Shan State atmosphere with the mountain tribes on the markets, a few hot springs and the inevitable pagodas. From Lashio it is another five hours by car to the Chinese border in Muse, but the route is often closed. The return journey by train through the mountain jungle along the Dohtawady River, which flows into the Ayeyarwady at Inwa, is particularly attractive.
Programs: Pyin Oo Lwin as a day trip from Mandalay – see Mandalay Excursions
Tagesausflug: Ein Ausflug zum Gokteik-Viadukt
Excursion: Pyin Oo Lwin – Gokteik viaduct – Hsipaw – Lashio – Pyin Oo Lwin (4 days / 3 nights)
Day 1: Drive to Hsipaw, sightseeing, short trekking tour in the afternoon, overnight stay: Hsipaw Lodge
Day 2: Trekking in the surroundings of Hsipaw, overnight stay dto.
Day 3: Drive to Lashio, sightseeing, overnight stay: Golden Hill Hotel
Day 4: full day train ride to Pyin Oo Lwin over the Gokteik viaduct
The Northeastern Shan State is certainly one of the least visited regions of the country. Together with the border regions of Laos and Thailand, it forms the famous Golden Triangle, once the largest opium growing area in the world. Nowadays, the production of amphetamines is the main focus…
The area has only been opened for tourism since 1993 and large parts cannot be visited. One of the reasons for the very manageable number of foreign tourists may be that the area can only be reached by air from the heartland of Myanmar. The overland route from Taunggyi (Southern Shan State) to Kyaing Tong (Keng Tung) has long been closed to tourists. The reason for this is the ongoing fighting between the Burmese army and rebels in the area in between.
The north-eastern Shan State is accessible from Thailand by land (border crossing Mae Sai/Tachileik). However, the onward journey to the west can only be made by air. However, a trip there is definitely worth it, because here many things have been preserved that have disappeared in the heartland for a long time.
The Northeastern Shan State is characterised by great ethnic diversity. As it is relatively close to Laos, the influence of the small neighbouring country is strongly noticeable here, e.g. in the temple architecture. The largest population group is the Khün, who have inhabited the plains of the country since the 13th century. They are closely related to the Shan. There are also various ethnic groups, of which the Wa, Shan, Akha, Palaung and Lahu are the largest. The Wa even have their own ‘Autonomous Area’ bordering China. Their ‘capital’ Möngla can confidently be called the Las Vegas of Myanmar, which is mainly frequented by Chinese tourists. If you are interested in wrestling between crocodiles and humans, transvestite shows, karaoke bars and casinos or even the drug museum (built by a wanted drug dealer), you are in good hands here. But culture is not neglected either: there is even an art exhibition (see photo).
Kyaing Tong (Keng Tung) is the largest city and capital of the Northeastern Shan State. It was the seat of the native prince (Sawbwa). The balance of power in the area fluctuated: times when the princes were independent of Kyaing Tong were replaced by times when the area was subject to the empire of Chiang Mai or the Burmese king. During the British colonial period, the Sawbwa of Kyaing Tong enjoyed extensive autonomy. In the Second World War the area was annexed by Thailand but was quickly returned to the British after the Japanese defeat. In the center of the city lies a lake, the Naung Tong, according to legend the remnant of a huge inland sea that once covered the area. The temples of Kyaing Tong are called Wat – as in Thailand. Wat Jong Kham and Wat Pha That Jam Mon are the highlights among them. Absolutely worth seeing with their roofs reaching down to the ground. The accommodation possibilities in Kyaing Tong are unfortunately not very good but the visitor is compensated by many interesting encounters and impressions. Excursions into the surrounding area are possible, but it is not possible to stay overnight in the villages, but you have to return to Kyaing Tong in the evening. The exception is Möng La, the ‘capital’ of the autonomous region of the Wa, where there are quite acceptable hotels. However, a permit is required to visit the zone. And of course you can also stay overnight in the border town Tachileik.
From Kyaing Tong you can make beautiful day trips to the tribes. One covers the surroundings of the city. There you can visit the villages of Lisu, Akha, Eng (Ann) and Palaung.
A little further on are the villages of the Loi Wa tribe, Wan Nyat and Wan Seng.
First you drive 65 km on the road to Möng La and then you have to get off. From here you can reach the village of Wan Nyat on foot in one hour. It has a beautiful 16th century monastery and some of its inhabitants still live in longhouses.
Another hour through extensive tea plantations to the somewhat larger village of Wan Seng, whose 700-year-old monastery surpasses that of Wan Nyat. Also here there are some longhouses and inhabitants in traditional costume.
Another worthwhile destination is Loi Mwe (Nebelberg), the miniature version of a British Hill Station, so to speak. The residence of Colonel Rubel (see photo) and other villas are well worth seeing.
If you drive from Kyaing Tong to Tachileik to Thailand, you should stop there if you are travelling by rental car. The border city to Thailand does not offer any sightseeings, but the entry and exit are quite uncomplicated here.
However, the city has a very busy airport from which you can quickly get to the heartland (or to Kyaing Tong).
Our offer for the northeastern Shan State
Day 1: Arrival from Yangon or Heho, arrival in the afternoon. Transfer to Golden Star Hotel, the best in town. Stroll around the lake, overnight stay.
Day 2: In the morning we first go to the market where the local tribes meet. By car we head north. Near the Akha village Wan Pin we get out and visit the village. Talk to the people (with the help of the guide) and learn more about their life at the crossroads of animism and Christianity. From there the hike goes to the village Wan Mai, a settlement of the Eng, who are still animists and have probably preserved their culture best among the tribes. Their places of worship are particularly fascinating. We continue to Pin Tauk, a village of the Lahu Na. The Shan village of Yan Kong is famous for its pottery workshops. The village Wan Pauk of the silver palace is the next destination and we finish the day at the hot springs where we revive our tired limbs. Afterwards return to Kyaing Tong.
Day 3: By car, take the main road for 65 km towards the northeast before turning into a dirt mountain road. Not much later we have to get off, because from here we continue on Schusters Rappen. After one hour we reach the beautiful village of Wan Nyat (see above) and continue – past tea plantations – to Wan Seng, where the Loi Wa live. Afterwards hike back to Wan Nyat and then to the car. Return to Kyaing Tong, which is reached in the late afternoon.
Day 4: So far we have hardly seen anything of the city itself. Since the flight leaves in the afternoon, we now have enough time to see the beautiful monasteries in Laotian style. Here the life is even more contemplative than in other monasteries of Myanmar. As is well known the Laotians are considered among the (all together not work-seeking) peoples of the region as the most relaxed, which hear allegedly the rice grow! In the afternoon transfer to the airport and flight to Heho or Yangon.
Excursions to Möng La or to the Thai border (via Loimwe) on request.
Kachin State, located in the very north of the country, is one of the less visited regions of the country. The reason for this is on the one hand its remoteness and on the other hand the fact that it is again and again the scene of unrest and military conflicts between the government army and various rebel groups.
The capital Myitkyina is close to the origin of the Ayeyarwady (Myitson), which is formed by the confluence of the Maykha and Malikha rivers. A nice day trip, which should be possible even in times of crisis.
The planned construction of a dam nearby has caused a lot of excitement throughout the country (see photo) – it is currently on ice. Like so many places in Myanmar, Myitkyina has no exciting sights to offer. In January every year, however, the town awakes from its Sleeping Beauty sleep: then the Manao takes place here, the animistic New Year celebration of the – actually Christianized – Kachin tribes, to which people from all corners of the country come. Then you can admire beautiful traditional costumes and there is a lot of partying and above all, the mugging – the Kachin are considered to be particularly drinking-resistant. They disintegrate into several tribes that have very little to do with each other and speak different languages. The Jingpho are by far the largest group.
If the restrictions should be lifted, the Kachin-State offers fascinating destinations like the Hukawng Valley, in which there is still a larger tiger population. A trip on the upper reaches of the Ayeyarwady from Myitkyina to Bhamo, the northernmost place on the river that can be reached by large ships, is also very attractive. From Bhamo many river journeys go south, whereby the trip through the three bottlenecks is really adventurous. The monastery island Shwegu with its more than one thousand old stupas is another highlight of the rarely visited Kachin State.
Ask us about permits!
In the very north of the state, at the foothills of the Himalayas, Putao, the northernmost city in the country, is usually only accessible by air – if you have obtained a permit.
From here you can already see the glaciated peaks (see photo), which are almost 6,000 m high! Even if these remain in inaccessible distance, you can still make beautiful hikes in a fascinating nature at the foot of the Himalayas, which are only interspersed with settlements from time to time (especially in the vicinity of the city). Many people do not live up here.
The remote location and the few, expensive hotels up here ensure that the number of visitors is limited.
One of the most beautiful places in Kachin State is Indawgyi Lake, the largest in the country. On its shore there are picturesque settlements, you can make beautiful tours on the lake and see the rich bird life here. In addition to nature, the Shwe-Myae-Zu pagoda is an attraction – especially when the great pagoda festival is celebrated here in February/March, which is attended by pilgrims from all over the country.
Unfortunately, the area is often the scene of military conflicts, so you should check the security situation before visiting. The infamous jade mines of Hpakant are usually not accessible. The journey to Hopong is difficult and is either by car from Myitkyina or by train from Mandalay to Hopong and from there by car. The train continues to Myitkyina and takes 24 hours. There are no hotels at the lake, only two very simple guest houses and it can’t hurt to bring provisions, because the choice on the spot is very limited.
Our offer: Special trip to the Kachin New Year celebration
Day 1: Flight from Mandalay/Yangon to Myitkyina, transfer to your hotel, the centrally located ‘Hotel Madira’. In the afternoon city tour. A stroll along the shore of the Ayeyarwady, which is quite wide here, has its charms. Beside the usual Buddhist temples (the Sutaung Pyae Pagoda, also called ‘wish fulfillment pagoda’) there are Hindu temples, mosques, Chinese temples and of course several churches – the Kachin are predominantly Christians. Overnight stay: Hotel Madira.
￼Day 2: Today is entirely dedicated to the Manao Festival (see photo), which takes place in a large open space near the city centre, decorated with huge totem poles. Mingle with the Kachin (many of them in traditional costume) and watch them dance and sing – and the colliery: the Kachin are considered hard drinkers! If it gets too boring or too loud for you, treat yourself to a cup of coffee at the ‘Kiss Me’, where you can get a good cup of coffee. Afterwards you will be back in the turmoil. Overnight stay dto.
Day 3: Excursion to Myitsone, the confluence of the Maykha and Malikha rivers, from whose confluence the Ayeyarwady is formed: a very special place and if you take a little boat trip here, you won’t soon forget it again. Afterwards return to Myitkyina and further visit of the Manao festival. Overnight stay dto.
Day 4: Airport transfer and return flight to Yangon/Mandalay.
ATTENTION: because of the unrest in Kachin State the Manao was cancelled in the last years. Be sure to ask if it will take place at all before you make any plans! Ask us!
If you are interested in other destinations in Kachin State (such as Lake Indawgyi or Putao), we will be happy to make you an offer. However, large parts of the state are currently closed due to the unrest.
The Union’s smallest (almost 12,000 km²) state, known as the ‘Karenni States’ during the British colonial period, borders Thailand to the east and the Shan State to the north. In the west and in the south it is surrounded by the Karen state. The area has only recently been opened to tourism. Its location offers a lot of potential: it is from the tourist centre to reach the Inle Lake in a few hours (see below). If, which is not unlikely, the border to Thailand and the Mae Hongson province is opened one day – hopefully not too far away -, previously unimagined possibilities will open up.
The very sparsely populated state lies on the Shan Plateau, which is a thousand metres high on average, and is crossed from north to south by the Salween River, the longest river in the country. However, the river has no significance as a shipping route (only navigable in the lower reaches). The limestone dominating the Shan Plateau has recently turned the state into a paradise for speleologists. But also quite ‘ordinary’ tourists come here to their right.
The Kayah State is only sparsely populated, not even 300,000 inhabitants are lost on its territory. The capital Loikaw is also the largest city and is located in the only larger plain of the otherwise mountainous state. The population consists of Buddhists and Christians in about equal parts, in addition there are some animists and other minorities. It is strongly mixed, a real Kayah people does not exist, because under this name a good dozen ethnic groups are summarized. The best-known of them is the Padaung tribe (Kayan), whose ‘giraffe women’ have made it famous worldwide. In neighbouring Thailand you can see them in freak shows but here in Kayah State you see them in their homeland and find out that they are normal and very friendly people. Maybe the regular consumption of rice wine, which even the children already consume, contributes to this. Most Kayan have been converted to the Christian faith, but there are also many animists, as you can see from their cult places, which can be seen in many places. In his book ‘From the land of the green ghosts – A Burmese Odyssee’ the Burmese author Pascal Khoo Thwe, who belongs to the Kayan tribe, vividly describes life in a Kayan village.
The history of the Kayah state is quite confused. Not much is known about the time before the 19th century. It is certain that there were various principalities ruled by territorial rulers called Sawbwas. In the course of the progressive colonisation of Myanmar, which was completed in 1885, four Karenni states were recognised as independent by both Great Britain and King Mindon in Mandalay in 1875, with assurances that these states were neither part of the Conbaung dynasty nor part of the British colony. The Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia during World War II gave Thailand the opportunity to regain the territories lost to England and France in 1893-1909. An important step in 1943 was the annexation of the western states of Kyaingtong (Kengtung) and Möng Pan, formerly part of Chiang Mai, which are now located in Myanmar’s eastern and southern Shan states. Thailand withdrew from Kyaingtong and Möng Pan as early as 1945, but remained in Kantawardi as an occupying power until 1946. Just like the Shan State, the Kayah State, as it was officially called from 1951, was also granted the right to secession ten years after independence.
How to get there
Myanmar National Airways flies daily from Yangon to Loikaw and back.
From Kalaw, Shan State, you can travel by taxi in 4 hours at a cost of 120 to 150,000 MMK.
Coaches from Yangon drive via Naypyitaw, Pinlaung, Phekon to Loikaw in 12 hours.
The journey via the Inle Lake is particularly attractive. From Nyaungshwe the longboats take about 5 hours to Phekon and from there it is another hour to Loikaw. Price for the boat trip approx. 120 000 Kyat (do not forget sun protection and earplugs).
A journey from the south over the Karen state is not possible at present. There is, however, the possibility to get there by rental car from Taunggu or Naypyitawdin.
Our offer Kayah State
Day 1: Arrival by plane from Yangon, hotel transfer, afternoon sightseeing in Loikaw (Taung Kwe Paya etc.), overnight stay: Loikaw Lodge by The Lake
Day 2: Excursion to the Kayan villages (see above),overnight stay dto.
Day 3: Excursion to the Seven Step Lakes and the cave,overnight stay dto.
Day 4: Airport transfer and flight to Yangon
Loikaw is the capital of Kayah State and lies on the Pilu River, which comes from Inle Lake. The township of the same name is home to a total of 128,000 people, about half of whom live in the city itself. In view of the fact that there were only 4 huts here around 1870, this is quite a lot…! The biggest sight of the city is Taung Kwe Paya, the ‘Temple of the Divided Mountain’, whose various stupas and temples are picturesquely distributed on two limestone rocks that are connected by bridges. From up there you have a beautiful view over the plain of the Pilu River. The full moon festivals in October and November are very busy here and fireworks are also lit. But beware: young lovers should avoid the rocks, because there is a danger that the relationship will be as divided as the rocks;-)). Ascent on foot or by elevator (!).
As expected, the city is not exactly rich in sights, but the Catholic Cathedral (especially on Sunday!) and the palace (now a museum) of the last Shan prince of Loikaw, who bequeathed it to the Buddhist clergy, are definitely worth a visit. If you are interested in the various tribes of the area and their culture, you should visit the Cultural Museum. And as always in Myanmar, a visit to the market is very interesting, to which the tribesmen, who come here from the surroundings, give colourful spots.
Excursions from Loikaw
While one can visit the city Loikaw by oneself comfortably on foot, one definitely needs a car for a tour into the surroundings of the city, as the individual destinations are quite far apart and also in different cardinal points. Due to the mountainous terrain, cycling tours are not recommended, unless you load your bike onto the car and drive to Seven Step Lake, where you can do some nice bike tours. You should have at least two days to visit all the places mentioned below. Especially the excursions in the surroundings of the city, a visit of the caves and the Padaung villages, maybe in the future even with an overnight stay in the village, can easily take several days.
The restaurant scene in Loikaw is naturally manageable. A little north of the centre is the Royal Shwe Yati Restaurant, which is well visited in the evening and has a beautiful terrace with a good view over the river. There is even an English menu! No. 91 Lan-ma-gyi. Mobile: 09-428001896.
One minute’s walk from the Nawaday Motel is the Golden Lion Restaurant, also on the riverbank. Due to its central location, this restaurant is also visited by the few western employees of various aid organisations. From the terrace you can see a karaoke disco called River Entertainment on the other bank. Nandar Road. Tel: 083-21431.
About 20 meters from the Nawaday Motel is the KKS Coffee Shop, a facility that is visited by the city’s many young people not so much for coffee, but because it seems to offer the city’s fastest Internet connection.
The extensive Kayah Sales Manual of the International Trade Center can be downloaded from the Internet.
￼This cave is located about 10 kilometres east of Loikaw and can be reached by a staircase. The first meters are covered on wooden bridges donated by local residents. The cave and the surrounding area of several square kilometres were declared a nature reserve in 2014. Since there are ghosts in the cave – at least the locals believe so – one has to take off one’s shoes before entering it in order to pay respect to the latter.
The cave reaches more than 2 km into the mountain and there are hollowed tree trunks in it, which, according to the monk of the nearby monastery, once served as coffins for a long lost – apparently very large – human race.
For an exploration to the last corner you should bring at least one hour of time and some climbing skills with you. A lighting system will soon be installed, but it is advisable to bring a lamp.
The only main road to the south is the one to Demoso (Dimawso). In the whole township live about 79 000 people, in the city only about 5 000. To the east there are two interesting places to visit. One is the so-called Umbrella Lake (Htee Pwint Kant). This is a small basin in which one can observe a natural phenomenon. An object reminiscent of an open umbrella appears from time to time on the water surface and soon disappears again.
This phenomenon has not yet been explained. Legend has it that this pond was once dug by a white buffalo who saved his friend, a crocodile, from dying of dehydration during a great drought.
Further east, at the foot of a chain of hills, there are seven small lakes from north to south, known here as Seven Step Lake. The lakes are not far from each other but for a complete exploration you should spare a few hours. A lake to lake bike tour with excursions to the surrounding villages can be arranged at Loikaw Lodge. But you should take your bike with you on a pick-up, because Loikaw is quite far away. At the first lake there is a hill with animistic pile dwellings and a stupa on the top. The hill is easy to climb and from the top you have a magnificent view of the surrounding area. Between the third and fourth lakes there is a small monastery with a pagoda on a hill. If you look around, you will see another hill, but the ascent is quite difficult. Therefore, one should hire a guide in the nearby monastery who will clear the way. The ascent is very difficult and sure-footed shoes are a must. But if you make it, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of six of the seven lakes. Arriving at the seventh lake, one can stop in a shack that serves as a restaurant and tea room, and in case of particularly hot weather, one can also swim in the lake.
A visit to the Kayan villages of Panpet east of Demoso is undoubtedly the highlight of a visit to Kayah State. When leaving Loikaw you should stop at the animistic places of worship in the village Dor Sor Bee. Especially at the Kayan New Year festival in April, the bear – or other animals that are sacrificed there – is on its way at the places of worship. Panpet refers to a group of Kayan villages called by the Shan Padaung, which they do not like to hear. Unlike in Thailand, here you have the opportunity to get to know the real life of this tribe, even if you already meet locals offering primitive, handmade souvenirs. The individual settlements can be reached by car on bad roads. But it is more exciting to leave this somewhere and then continue on foot, which can take a whole day. Especially if one follows the many invitations to rice wine… The hike leads through an impressive landscape, past terraced fields and small villages. Once in the village, the thirsty hiker is offered the ‘national drink’ of the Kayan: a slightly alcoholic drink fermented from rice. The people here are very open-minded and the women have surprisingly many children. There are said to be about one hundred thousand Kayan by now.
Day 1: Our visit to Arakan first takes us by plane from Yangon to Sittwe, the capital of Arakan. From the airport we go directly to the port of the city, where your charter boat is already waiting for you. You drive up the majestic Kaladan River to the north. This area has recently been opened to tourism and has long been one of the most remote places in Asia. We see scenes like from a picture book: fishermen in small boats, herds of water buffalos, swarms of herons and countless other birds. After a while it slowly gets dark and the sun sets like a fireball behind the mountains – an unforgettable sight! Under an impressive starry sky – here there are no light sources on land, apart from a few kerosene lamps and candles – we chug comfortably to Mrauk U, which we reach in the evening. Our simple but by local standards very comfortable Shwe Thazin Resort (24 hours aircon and bath with hot water!) is located in the middle of the temple area of the old capital. Overnight stay: Shwe Thazin Resort.
Day 2: Today you will visit Mrauk U, which was the capital of the independent kingdom of Arakan for more than four hundred years. In its heyday, it was a powerful empire that attracted people from all over the world: Portuguese, Arabs and Japanese – the king’s bodyguard consisted of samurai! The rulers invested the wealth of the country in magnificent temples. The Shitthaung Temple, the ‘Temple of the Eighty Thousand Buddhas’, certainly stood out among them. So many statues of the Enlightened One are said to be here. I have never counted them, but there are certainly very, very many. Right at the entrance of the temple stands the famous Vesali Stele. On it you can read the history of the country by means of a list of its kings (from the sun and moon dynasty), which begins in the year 638 B.C. and ends in 597 A.D. – a more than 1.200-year history, although of course much has to be enjoyed with caution with these data: e.g. the first seven kings each ruled for 120 years… But anyway, Arakan indeed looks back on a very long history. The tibeto-burmese immigrants in the late 1st millennium A.D. always saw themselves in the tradition of the old kings. Therefore they let the history chronicle also called Anandacandra-Stele bring from the old capital Vesali to their main temple in the nearby Mrauk U. The Shittaung Temple is remarkable in many ways and is very different from the temples in the heartland. A system of corridors surrounds the central sanctuary. The first corridor (see photo) shows the 547 existences of the Bodhisatta carved in sandstone and scenes from courtly life: at one corner the builder presents himself in deified form! The second corridor and the innermost corridor are home to Buddha statues. This system of corridors probably served to consecrate novices. It holds a mystery about which many speculations have been made: while the transformation of the sanctum in the two outer corridors proceeds in the usual way (i.e. clockwise), the direction changes in the last corridor. Possibly tantric influences from nearby Bengal played a role here. The same applies to many Buddha statues: the Buddha in the royal ornate probably also found his way to Burma from Arakan: the most famous of them is the golden Mahamuni in Mandalay, whom the Burmese kidnapped in the 18th century from nearby Dhanyawadi.
Another mystery of the temples of Mrauk U is their fortress-like character. Especially the Dukkanthein Temple adjacent to the Shitthaung gives the viewer the illusion that it also served defensive purposes, but there is no evidence for this. In contrast to the brick temples of Bagan, those of Mrauk U are made of sandstone; the sculptures are also made of this material, which is available in large quantities in the area. There are hundreds of temples and stupas in Mrauk U. Many were damaged in World War II during fighting operations (Arakan was a front area), but in the meantime they have been largely rebuilt.
Also remarkable is the Kothaung Temple (temple of 90,000 Buddhas), built by the son of the builder of Shitthaung (see photo above). Obviously the foundations of this temple were not stable, so that many of the corridors were buried. In the meantime, this temple has also been largely renovated so that visitors can move around the corridors. Especially enchanting in Mrauk U is the rural ambience: small settlements, bean fields and bottle pumpkin plantations lie between the temples. Bagan may have looked like this 50 years ago… And you won’t meet the otherwise ubiquitous souvenir sellers here either! Hopefully it will stay that way for a long time!
The city Mrauk U itself lies in a hilly area and the builders of the city took advantage of this by levelling the hills in the city area to a large extent, but using the outer ones for defensive purposes. Traffic within the city was largely channelled, with the influence of ebb and flow reaching as far as here. Several large reservoirs were also used to supply water for defensive purposes: in an emergency, the city’s defenders opened the dams and flooded the city. When it fell to the Burmese in 1784, probably by treason, this defensive system could not avert its fall. The town was destroyed and the remains of the once magnificent royal palace in its centre were razed to the ground. The small museum on the palace grounds gives only a slight idea of the splendour described by the Spanish Father Sebastian Manrique. Today, of all its splendour, only a small, not very clean city with very friendly inhabitants has remained, who warmly welcome the few strangers here. In the evening a special experience awaits us: from one of the hills in the city area we see the sun setting behind the hills crowned with huge Buddha statues – an unforgettable sight. In the evening we make acquaintance with the fiery Arakanese kitchen – the influence of India is not to be ignored here… Overnight stay: Shwe Thazin Resort.
Day 3: Today a trip takes you to nearby Vesali, which was the capital of Arakan from the 6th to the 8th century A.D.. Only little of the old splendour has survived: a large sandstone statue of the Buddha (allegedly from the 4th century A.D.) and a few foundations. In an open pavilion the visitor can have a look at some finds, which make clear that Hinduism dominated there at that time. During a stroll through the village we get to know the Arakanese country life: the people here are friendly and certainly not rich, but there is no misery. After a few kilometres we reach Dhanyavati, another old capital. Here stood the famous Mahamuni Buddha, also known as Arakan Buddha, until the victorious Burmese kidnapped him in 1784 to Amarapura, where he became the most revered Buddha statue in the whole country. Today the Arakanese have to be content with one copy (see photo). Not far away is the Selagiri Hill on the Kaladan River. The enlightened man is said to have resided here with his monks about 2,500 years ago when he visited the king of Dhanyavati. The ruler was so impressed by Gautama’s sermon that he asked him to cast his image in bronze. None other than the god king Thagyarmin created it in one night and the Buddha breathed life into the statue! Hence the great veneration! Afterwards return to Mrauk U, where you will visit the Bandoola Monastery with its curious monastery museum. Tradition dictates that no believer should be denied the right to earn money. Did not the Buddha himself die of a corrupt meat dish that he did not want to reject in order not to deprive the blacksmith Cunda of his merit? And that’s exactly how it is with – in our eyes – silly donations like children’s toys, tinnef and kitsch of every kind. Everything is accepted and displayed in showcases. The way up to the monastery is decorated with amateur drawings, which obviously come from children’s hands.
Afterwards you walk – accompanied by curious children who are very happy about sweets – through one of the small villages that today stand on the site of the old metropolis – sic transit gloria mundi! Their next destination is the reservoir, which guarantees the drinking water supply of the city and whose banks could be pierced in case of defense, so that the invaders were drowned like rats. Unfortunately, in 1784 it did not work as planned and the town fell to the Burmese. Finally we climb up to the Golden Mound, from where you can enjoy the sunset over Mrauk U. Ü Shwe Thazin Resort
(Instead of the excursion to Vesali / Dhanyavati you can also make a tour to the villages of Chin and Thet near Mrauk Us)
In the morning we go by ship to Sittwe, which we reach in the late morning. Compared to Mrauk U it is a young city: only the English made it the capital of their Burmese possessions in the 19th century. Before we sit down in the early afternoon again on the plane to Yangon (or to Ngapali!), we visit still the lively market of the city (above all the fish market is very interesting) and look at ourselves the colonial-temporal city, which looks still to a large extent in such a way as then, when the Englishmen left it forever. The high share of the Indians (Bengali) catches the eye: Sittwe is probably the most Indian city of Myanmar!
They reach Yangon in the afternoon and have connection to the evening machines to Bangkok etc. If you fly back from Mandalay, you have to plan another night in Yangon. If you’re planning a beach holiday, it’s great to combine it with a trip to Arakan!
Program: trip Arakan
Day 1: Flight from Yangon to Sittwe, there transfer to the harbour and boat trip to Mrauk U, arrival in the evening, overnight stay: Shwe Thazin Resort, Mrauk U.
Day 2: Sightseeings in Mrauk U, overnight stay dto.
Day 3: Excursion to Vesali and Dhanyavati or optional excursion to the Chin villages.
Day 4: Boat trip to Sittwe, sightseeing and flight to Yangon.
In the very west of Myanmar lies the Chin State. The almost 500,000 inhabitants are lost on an area of 36,000 km², which results in a population density of 14 inhabitants per square kilometre. The ‘cities’ are better villages and the roads are bad, so communication between the population groups is limited. Similar to the Kachin, the name Chin refers to a whole series of tribes, which are spatially strongly separated from each other and also live in the neighbouring countries India and Bangladesh. So a Chin from Falam (in the north of the Chinese state) can’t understand his compatriot from Paletwa (in the very south) and therefore the two have to converse in Burmese. No wonder, as no less than forty different languages are spoken in this state. The Chin state is little developed touristically, most travelers drive from Bagan to Mt. Victoria (Natmataung), where there are overnight accommodations in Kanpetlet and Mindat (Sky Palace, completely new). The ascent to Natmataung (3,100 m) is not particularly difficult. Especially the more adventurous can drive from here over the Arakan Mountains to Ann. From there it is not far to Mrauk U, the old town in Rakhine State. A permit is required for the trip and it will be expensive fun! But surely a rewarding trip, as I was told by customers for whom we organized the trip. In Chin State we have to dress warm, because in the mountains it can get damn cold, especially at night. This is certainly one of the reasons why Chin like to keep warm with alcoholic drinks and enjoy a corresponding reputation in Myanmar. Perhaps this has also led to them being known as good singers – wine, (tattooed, see below) women and singing belong together here as well as elsewhere. A special feature of the Chin music is the nose flute, with which the gentlemen charm the ladies…
The Chin are largely Christianized, although signs of animism (graves, cult sites, etc.) can still be seen in many places, e.g. during the migration to Natmataung. Just like the Kayan (Padaung) in the east of the country, the Chin women are of particular interest to photographers. Their tattooed faces have made it into the glossy magazines of the world. Our friend, the German photographer Jens Uwe Parkitny, made a very nice and interesting book ‘Marked for life’ about the dying tradition of face tattooing. The face tattooing of Chinese women differs from place to place, in addition to spider web-like designs there are also dot or crescent shaped designs. Whoever is interested should definitely buy Parkitny’s book and hurry: tradition is slowly dying out, mainly women of advanced age can be admired. From the Mrauk U mentioned above, excursions can be organized to the surrounding area, leading to some Chin villages. However, ‘success’ is not guaranteed – not everyone meets the women and is then disappointed.
Our tour offer: Chin State from Bagan
Day 1: Bagan – Kanpetlet
You leave Bagan heading south and cross the Ayeyarwady at Chauk. Via Saw you enter the Chin Hills. The contrast between the dry river plain and the Chin Hills is as breathtaking as on Mt. Popa – only it’s even stronger here. Suddenly you find yourself in a landscape very similar to the low mountain ranges of Germany. On the way visit some villages. Arrival in Kanpetlet in the evening.
Overnight stay: Sky Palace, catering plan: L/D
Day 2: Kanpetlet
Trekking in the surroundings of Kanpetlet to various Chin villages, which you will meet during their activities in the fields or in the village.
Overnight stay dto. Catering plan: B/L/D
Day 3: Kanpetlet – Mindat
Drive through Mt. Victoria National Park. The highest mountain of the Chinese state today is usually no longer called by its colonial name, but Natmataung (Burmese) or Khaw-nu-thone (local Chin language) – both mean ‘mother of spirits’. In good weather the summit can even be seen from Bagan… After a short drive you get out and climb the summit in about three hours (easy hike). On the way you will see many Y-shaped totem poles standing – proof that the old animistic religion still has its followers. Also the flat stone tables, which contain the ashes of the ancestors, fall under this category. The Chin State lies on the border between the Himalayan fauna and the Southeast Asian one and exhibits an impressive bird world: not for nothing is the rhinoceros bird the heraldic animal of the state. Other animals are also still numerous, but hunting is considered by Chin men to be proof of real guys, so that the populations are endangered today.
Overnight stay: Sky Palace, Mindat catering plan: B/L/D
Day 4: Mindat
Mindat, situated at an altitude of 1,480 m, is already a stately ‘city’ by Chin standards. A stroll through the small town with the local market is certainly an experience. There is even a small ‘museum’, which informs the interested about the culture of Chin. Although the majority of the population in Chin State is Christian, there is a Buddhist monastery and a Chinese temple. Let the monks tell you how they live in the ‘Diaspora’ here…
Overnight stay: Sky Palace, Mindat, Standard Room Catering Plan: B/L/D
Day 5: Mindat – Pakokku – Bagan
From Mindat we return to Bagan today. On the way you arrive in the quite large river port city Pakkoku, which has many interesting monasteries. Here there are numerous small businesses such as cigar factories and weaving mills, where the famous checkered Pakkoku blankets are made, which are quite inexpensive to buy. On the way to Bagan you will see several villages whose inhabitants have specialized in the production of certain goods such as soy paste. Arrival in the evening.
Overnight stay: none
Given a coastline of more than 2,000 km, it is not surprising that there are also some sections with beautiful beaches. For us, they are among the most beautiful in Southeast Asia. Why? Here there is still no mass tourism and skyscrapers on the beach, as they are the rule rather than the exception especially in neighbouring Thailand. And a ‘walking street’ with bars and prostitutes like in Pattaya you won’t find either, as well as the ‘use’ by jet skiers, motorboats, kite surfing and other rather disturbing activities. Instead, heavenly tranquillity, beautiful bungalows and endless beaches where you can stroll wonderfully without being bothered by the above activities. Instead, you can watch fishermen at work. In the evening you can enjoy fresh seafood prepared for you in a small restaurant. Here is a selection of the most beautiful beaches:
Ngapali is the oldest and most established beach in the country. Already in colonial times the British came here to the Gulf of Bengal to relax on the long beach of Ngapali. Since the way there is very long and arduous, there has been an airport there for a long time that can be reached from Yangon in 45 minutes. At two large bays, several hotels have established themselves there, among them some of the most beautiful in the country.
Ngwesaung lies on the Bay of Bengal, exactly on the latitude of Yangon – but about 200 km further west. Therefore the journey from Yangon to Bengal via a good road takes about five hours. On the almost endless beach of Ngwesaung, several hotels have been established and – in contrast to Ngapali – there are many that can be afforded with a smaller budget. A little to the north is the seaside resort of Chaungtha, which is mainly frequented by locals. Those who want to experience original Burmese ‘beachlife’ will certainly get their money’s worth here.
Those who like it very lonely will surely find what they are looking for in Kanthaya or Maw Shwe Chai. The standard there is however in no way comparable with the Ngapali or Ngwesaung in the 170 km north of it and also the journey is laborious. So to speak a ‘secret tip’, as one looks in vain for it in other countries. In the same category belongs the ‘Paradise Beach’, which can be reached in one hour from Dawei. Here, a simple bungalow complex with little comfort in a dreamlike landscape awaits the bathing guest. Electricity only in the evening and also otherwise one must do without many amenities of the civilisation. The same thing happened 50 years ago at the Hippie Beach in Goa.
In the very south is the only hotel complex in the Mergui archipelago with more than eight hundred islands: the Myanmar Andaman Resort! Admittedly the journey is a bit complicated: first by plane from Yangon to Kawthoung, then another two hours by ship to the island Kyain Kwa (Fork Island, formerly McLeod Insland). But it is worth it: because there a dreamlike plant waits for the better-heeled traveller.
Tanintharyi, the southernmost province in the country, is very popular for beach holidays! The more than eight hundred islands of the Mergui archipelago are still awaiting development – which hopefully will be more cautious than those in neighbouring Thailand… So far there is only the Myanmar Andaman Resort in the luxury area, which can be reached from Kawthaung. But there is a lot going on in the Dawei area. The Paradise Beach Hotel is still completely in hippie style, but there are several hotels under construction, which will surely satisfy higher demands. Very popular are the boat trips of several days through the Mergui archipelago, which are offered by several organizers that partly operate from Myanmar, partly from Thailand. There is a whole range of boats available for different requirements, from unbuilt fishing boats to luxurious sailing yachts. All yours – at a price…
(Prices and services on request)
We do not offer the beaches of Kanthaya or Maw Shwe Chai, please organize them yourself.
Is the old-established place deer among the beaches of Myanmar. Since the overland route is hardly an option (14 hours drive from Yangon, for example!), several airlines have included Thandwe Airport (SNW), which is only a few minutes away from the beaches, in their flight schedule. Flights to SNW depart from Yangon, Bagan, Heho and Mandalay – they are not always direct flights, so check with them beforehand. You can also get to Ngapali from Sittwe: the plane from there to Yangon sometimes stops in SNW. From SNW you can only get to Yangon and Sittwe, the other destinations are ‘one-way streets’!
Most of the beach resorts are located at the bay of Ngapali, recently several hotels have opened on the way from the airport to the main beach, which unfortunately have only exceptional sandy beaches (e.g. Amazing Ngapali, our favourite hotel). The remote Amara Resort is even north of the airport. In general, the hotels in Ngapali Beach are more expensive than those on other beaches of the country (see below), budget accommodations are rare here. Those who want to avoid the expensive hotel restaurants can eat in small, local restaurants nearby. The prices are cheap and – as expected – seafood is the first item on the menu. The surroundings of Ngapali – apart from the paradisiacal beach – do not offer much. If you are bored, you can go to Thandwe. There is nothing left of the legendary Dvaravati. So you only have to enjoy the small town life like George Orwell, who did some time as a policeman. Also bicycle tours in the surroundings provide for variety. There is even an elephant camp nearby. Otherwise there is nothing left to do but relax! Some of the beach resorts in Ngapali leave nothing to be desired, here absolute luxury is enjoyed – which has its price.
(Prices and services on request)
NGWESAUNG is the No. 2 among the beaches of Myanmar and cannot look back on such a long history as Ngapali. The resort has no airport and so its guests have to take a 5 hour drive through the Yangon Delta if they want to get there. After all, there are some charming motives of the delta life during the drive, so that one does not get bored. The journey can also be made by ship from Yangon to Pathein, from there by taxi. In contrast to Ngapali, the budget traveller will also find something suitable here and so in Ngwesaung there is a more colourful beach life than in Ngapalientstanden – in the ‘hip’ pubs and restaurants meet the offspring of Myanmar’s Hautevolee… Unfortunately, also its disadvantages were not absent: so it can happen on holidays occasionally that young Burmese with their mopeds race on the beach. But these are absolute exceptions, usually it is pleasantly quiet and one can take very long walks on the beach. Some islands off the coast invite you to snorkel. If you like, you can even have your own fireworks on the beach.
CHAUNGTHA is just right for people who like to work. This place attracts especially Burmese tourists and the prices are cheaper than in Ngwesaung. However, the Burmese beach life takes some getting used to for western tourists.
(Prices and services on request)
Bhutan is a small country (700,000 inhabitants), but it has caused a sensation by the term Gross National Happiness (BNG) invented by the Bhutans. The BNG has something for itself, I think. Gross Domestic Product per capita and similar factors are of limited use to societies like Bhutan. Then it would be that the richer you are, the happier you are. The experience of life speaks against that, as does my… The HDI index, which also includes factors such as life expectancy, education, medical care, etc., goes a step further in the right direction but is not the last word of wisdom (Germany 4th, Bhutan 132nd, Myanmar 145th). This BNG index includes 33 indicators and it came out that 41% of Bhutans are happy… But there are also 10% unfortunates. For whatever reason! The ecological ‘footprint’ also plays an important role: a German emits almost 50 times more CO2 than a Burmese. And to name the extremes: I can’t imagine that a Chinese really feels comfortable in the highly polluted cities. At least I wouldn’t do it. India is also not of bad parents and even Kathmandu is heavily burdened! Bhutan, on the other hand, is not only CO2-neutral, but negative. That means that its forests absorb more CO2 than the country produces…. But back to the indices: the Happy Planet Index has a different composition again, Costa Rica is in first place, Bhutan in 17th place and D’land in 46th place. As you know, you shouldn’t believe any statistics that you didn’t falsify yourself… At least it was striking how clean it was in Bhutan and how heavily the slopes of the mountains were still forested, although a lot of firewood was cut. Well, with a population density of 21 people per square kilometre, Bhutan naturally has it easier than e.g. neighbouring Nepal, where it is already 7 times as much, not to mention India, where 350 inhabitants have to share one square kilometre. In the northern states like Bihar or Bengal more than 1.000 inhabitants crowd on one km². Just like in Bangladesh…
Fortunately on the flight from Kathmandu to Paro Mt Everest and Lhotse were visible. Paro is said to be one of the ten most difficult (dangerous?) airports in the world, the landing approach is a bit adventurous. But it worked without any problems. Generally the weather was good, we only had a short drizzle in Punakha. Often the sun was shining or it was cloudy.
In the price of 250 $ p.p. per day practically everything is included: Hotel, transports with a good Four Wheel Drive with driver, yes, even the food. The drinks are extra but the prices are moderate. The currency of the country is the NGULTRUM, whose exchange rate depends on that of the Indian Rupee. In the country you can also pay with Indian Rupees. The food is a bit monotonous, mostly Indian. The hotels were very different, in Thimphu (capital) we stayed in the Wangchuk Hotel: that was the most modest and in the night the barking of many dogs disturbed our night rest. Otherwise o.k.! In Wang Di (near Punakha) we had a great hotel, the Kichu Resort, located directly at a waterfall. The Tiger Nest Resort in Paro was the hotel highlight, we had a very nice room there (with terrace, view to the Tiger Nest monastery) and slept wonderfully…
We (i.e. Ei Ei and Axel Bruns) were picked up at the airport by our driver (also our guide, very nice young man, who spoke English well), who was dressed in the customary male costume, a kind of tartan skirt with knee socks. Apparently the Bhutanese women appreciate the sight of naked male knees and what lies above them…
We drove directly to the capital Thimphu, which is only 90 minutes away from Paro (Altitude approx. 2.400 m). The trip went through a great mountain landscape that reminded me a little of Switzerland. But much less populated. In the evening we were invited by our friends, very nice. In Thimphu there was a football match that evening, where, as my friend said, probably half the population of the city was present (believable with only 100.000 inhabitants). Anyway, the noise they made sounded like it…
On the first day we have looked at Thimphu (Altitude about 2.500 m): first of all the so-called Memorial Stupa which the old queen built for her son who died quite early. So relatively new, but full of god figures! Already interesting. Then we drove to a huge Buddha statue, which was donated by a rich Singaporean. A big ceremony was taking place there. Everything somewhat soulless, as the rich Chinese like it… Then to the Simtokha Dzong, erected in 1629, and thus one of the oldest in the country. These Dzongs are, if I understood correctly, a combination of monastery and castle. Here, especially Chenresi (the Tibetan form of Avalokiteshvara) and the Taras (goddesses) are worshipped. Very exotic murals…
A visit to the impressive Dzong of Thimphu rounded off the day. There we saw dancing monks practicing for one of the many festivals.
The next day we drive over the Dochu-La-Pass (3.125 m above sea level) to Punakha (journey time approx. three hours, 1.200 m above sea level, thus already in the tropical zone of the country). The pass was always covered in fog during our two crossings (with one stop), very mystical.
First we drove to Chimi Lakhang, a monastery where the ‘holy fool’, Mr. Drukpa Kunley, is worshipped. Apparently a real philanderer, whose motto was: ‘My meditation is girls and wine’ – you can leave it like this.
In the nearby village, huge quantities of carved penises (sometimes in frightening size) are sold to commemorate him. In Punakha we visited the Dzong, probably the most important one of the country in which also the kings are crowned. Unfortunately, photographing inside the temples is forbidden almost everywhere. What a pity.
Danach hinauf nach Wang Di über eine abenteuerliche Straße, vorbei an wunderschönen Reiseterrassen, die sich z. T. mehrere hundert Meter am Hang des Flusses hochzogen… Und dann Übernachtung im schönen Kichu Resort in traumhafter Lage.
The next day return trip to Paro, also there again the Dzong looked at, very nice. The highlight of our stay in Bhutan was the ascent to the Tigernest Monastery, 600 m above the Paro Valley. We covered the first part of the route on mules, then on foot. Quite exhausting for untrained people like me and Ei Ei, but well feasible. On the way breathtaking views!
Finally we arrived at the monastery (Taktsang Monastery), which sticks to a steep rock face. There we saw a very nice ceremony of Lamas reciting and making music. Impressive experience, I must say.
The way back was very exhausting, our knees really hurt, but this is probably because we never hike otherwise… By the way, Bhutan is also an interesting trekking destination. But for such a tour you need more time – and more money…