By Karin Hellaby
DAY 1: UK
We’re on our way to Myanmar, via Bangkok, for a fascinating Stitchtopia two week craft tour. Many of the group met as strangers but already feel as they know each other.
DAY 2: YANGON
We have arrived in Yangon, Myanmar, a bit tired and jet lagged. We were met at the airport by Lin Lin, our Burmese guide for the next two weeks. He took us to The Padonmar, famous for traditional Myanmar food. Even Barak Obama has eaten here! After some food, we had a relaxing hour by the pool.
Since I was a child, Burma has always seemed a magical place to visit and what we saw last night has made it even more extraordinary! We arrived at the Shwedagon Pagoda and temples in late afternoon and stayed until night fell. My photos will never do it justice and I took over 50! As the light changed to dusk I had to retake photos as the glow of the 40 tons of gold was breathtaking. The first temple pagoda was built 5,000 years before Christ was born and now there are so many amazing structures including over 700 Buddhas. As well as the huge amounts of gold there are rubies, diamonds and other stones in the top of the stupas at the top of the pagodas. All just wonderous!
DAY 3: YANGON
Today, we crossed the river Yangon to another world! Leaving the city behind, we entered a green environment of villages, rice fields, lakes and happy smiley people. The children in particular were excited to see us riding on bicycle rickshaws and held out their hands for high fives as we rode past. We stopped at various places for our guide to explain life here. In advance he had told us that we would see simple poor life and nothing would be sanitised. Villagers had not seen many tourists and liked having photos taken. I wonder when it will all change?
In one of the village houses we watched rice paper being made. Three in the family worked on these making one and a half fillers per 100 rice papers. The papers are used to make spring rolls.
We also visited the Pann Nann Ein foundation where disabled people work producing crafts and get an income from this. They showed us how they made cards using stencils and fabric and of course we recognised the cutting mats. Several in the group joined in to make their own cards whilst others watched the progress of screen printing, treadle machine sewing and other crafts.
DAY 4: BAGAN
We flew into Bagan this morning and here we are surrounded by pagodas! I think over 2,000 at the last count. We were taken to the Ananda Phaya pagoda which contained four enormous Buddhas facing north, south, east and west. A lacquer workshop was not on our itinerary but our guide found us one of the best in the area and we had a most interesting lecture on the processes involved with some retail therapy to follow.
Our home for two nights! Outside the hotel we can glimpse pagodas and stupas. Beautiful flowers and trees, so relaxing here in Bagan, Myanmar. We rested for a couple of hours after lunch before taking a boat up the Irrawaddy River and then walking through a forest to an unusual pagoda which had tunnels running from it to Bagan. It was used by a local king centuries ago to escape from the Moguls.
Have I mentioned that we get taken to a different local restaurant for lunch and dinner? Good clean food and often interesting environments. Last night it was General Aung Sangs old house for dinner. He was assinated in 1947.
DAY 5: BAGAN
This morning we visited a cooperative of Myanmar women artisans. A 30 minute visit extended to 90 minutes as we shopped and shopped!
Our guide, Lin Lin explains how to tie a Burmese Longhi.
It is not often you meet a 92 year old spinning cotton and then smoking a cigar!
DAYS 6 & 7: MANDALAY
Mandalay….. this place name has always sounded romantic, mysterious, fictional and a destination I never thought I would reach. Yet here I am!
After a quick 20 minute flight from Bagan we were whisked off to The Saunders weaving school. Founded in 2014, its aim is to educate skilful weavers and technicians. We watched students at their looms and admired their skill. I enjoyed the museum room which showed the dyes that are used to colour the cotton.
We are so busy experiencing the most amazing sights in Myanmar- take a look at the photos as we toured the worlds largest book, visited famous Buddhas, watched gold leaf being made, saw some incredible wood carvings, and shopped! The grand finale was a boat ride on the lake by the famous U Bein Bridge to see a glorious sunset whilst eating snacks and drinking Mojitos.
DAY 8: SAGAING
We are enjoying the two day Festival of Light here in Myanmar. It is the equivalent of Christmas and happens at full moon in November.
We drove an hour from Mandalay, crossing the Irrawaddy river to the Sagaing Hill. There we piled into a truck to drive up to the U Min Thone Sae Pagoda. The next hour was spent in a convent where we made a food offering to the nuns. Then off to a pottery. Everywhere we went families were celebrating and it was such fun to watch.
We had a couple of hours freetime in the afternoon and half the group chose to have spa treatments. What a treat in the best spa I have seen!
In the evening, after yet another delicious dinner in a local restaurant, we watched a performance by drama students who were studying traditional dance.
DAY 9: INLE LAKE
We have had fabulous hotels throughout our stay in Myanmar but this one in Lake Inle is just amazing. Thank you Stitchtopia this is one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in! Pristine Lotus Spa has boat shaped rooms overlooking the lake. We arrived here after a 30 minute local speed boat ride from the nearest town, four to a boat, sitting in “armchairs”. What a way to arrive!
DAY 10: INLE LAKE
Another amazing day! The four boats came to collect us at 9am and then we set off to visit various villages built on stilts. The first had a wooden monastery. Then onto a silversmith, a paper maker and umbrella maker, and finally we got to see how lotus flower stems produce strong silk-like threads for weaving. In each place, including the monastery, we shopped until we dropped. After all, we have to support the skilled local economy! From each venue to the next we went by boat and we often passed the fishermen, watching with awe as they manoeuvred the air with their foot whilst using both hands to fish. The villages reminded me very much of Venice, but much more interesting!
This evening, at The Pristine Spa hotel we had our first western meal in 9 days. It was delicious, but we felt heavy afterwards. So tonight we asked for Asian food and got a Sham feast! We are staying in North Sham near the China and Laos border, so this menu reflected the local cuisine – delicious!
DAY 11: INLE LAKE
This morning we had a wonderful shopping time at a local market, we went there by our usual boat transport. There are so many wonderful things to buy here from textiles to spices to jewellery! A feast for the eyes!
We arrived at a tomato warehouse in style on cycle rickshaws to the smell of fresh tomatoes. There must have been hundreds of thousands, mainly green, ripening to red. Afterwards, we had lunch- a delicious potato cake decorated with tomato sauce, a tomato soup and chicken stuffed toms, and later for dinner, delicious tomato salads. As we have been boating around Lake Inle we have seen hedgerows of tomato plants literally floating in the water. They ripple with the movement of the water, a strange site. I love leading these Arena Travel tours to far flung destinations as we see and do so much. Not just textiles but also getting to know local culture and industry. My group think this itinerary has been awesome.
DAY 12: INLE LAKE
Day 12 and we had a one hour boat ride to the floating pagoda to see the five Buddhas. Every year they get taken around the 300 villages around the lake over an 18 day period. The barge that is used has a huge golden duck at the prow. They’ve had so much gold leaf stuck on them that they did not resemble other Buddhas we have seen. It amazes us that there are glass boxes everywhere full of donated money. I wonder how long they would last in our society. Lin lin our guide, suggested we had 90 mins to shop the markets around the pagoda. We are training him well! Even he came back with a bag of fabric.
Our next stop was a family business making cigars and then a boat building business. Between each destination we travel by boat – such fun! At lunchtime we admired the bamboo table mats and they just happened to be made a couple of houses away. So we piled back in the boats to visit the maker and shopped again. It is impossible to pop around to a neighbour in this watery environment without getting into a boat.
DAY 13: YANGON
Goodbye Inle Lake! We have loved this fascinating environment. As we flew back to Yangon after the most wonderful four days in Lake Inle, we were intrigued that our guide, Lin Lin, was carrying an extra large bag. He then proceeded to show us all the fabrics he had bought whilst we were all shopping the markets! Our textile group has inspired him and he has a good eye!
DAY 14: UK
After nearly two weeks of the most amazing travels around Myanmar, it was time for the textile tour group to travel back to the UK. Everybody has been astounded by what we have seen from a huge variety of crafts to gorgeous unique scenery, fabulous hotels & food and a wonderful guide. This has been a trip of a lifetime! Thank you Arena Travel for a well planned tour, our guests have loved it!
We’re always thinking ahead to future trips and would love to know if Karin’s wonderful photos and videos of Myanmar have inspired you to take a textile adventure to this fascinating country. Please click below to register your interest for a future Stitchtopia holiday to Myanmar and you’ll be one of the first to receive the tour details: