Maurice and I have recently returned from three weeks in Myanmar which included most of the itinerary of our Thread Your Way Through Burma tour that departs in November. I was heavily involved in putting the Stitchtopia tour together which led to an urge to see the country for myself. Forgive our ramblings but we thought you might like to know how we got on. Who knows it might whet your appetite to book and go in November!
We stayed in most of the hotels on the November itinerary and discovered a country with a wealth of diverse textiles and crafts. Our local agent became quite excited about some of the textile interest we found. As a result, we have made a number of enhancements to the tour providing even more opportunity to meet local crafters in this fascinating country where tourism is in its infancy. That means unspoilt, authentic experiences through seeing people genuinely going about their daily lives. Lin Lin our guide showed so much interest in getting your tour right that we have asked him to accompany you throughout.
The Rose Garden Hotel was fully booked when we were there but we visited the hotel and saw the rooms. Suffice to say, we were jealous as this is a superior hotel to where we stayed!
Formerly the capital Rangoon, Yangon is a bustling city with some sadly dilapidated colonial buildings but home to the Shwedagon pagoda, the most important religious site for the Burmese. Our tour will be there to watch the sun go down and the dusk light highlight the gold of the pagoda complex. It was as promised a very special experience.
We were taken to the Pann Nann Ein workshop, to meet the founders of this local foundation helping disabled people earn a living though screen printing and turning old longyis into useful items such as purses, notebooks etc. Running for about three years, we were their first visitors and the participants were thrilled to see us show interest. Neither our agent nor Lin Lin were aware of a similar foundation hence we have added this to the itinerary.
We stayed in the first class Myanmar Treasure Resort where the November group will stay which is one of the best hotels in Bagan. This area has the highest concentration of pagodas in the country, all shapes and sizes with a very interesting history. Due to a last minute cancellation, we flew over the area in a hot air balloon, a first for us and quite wonderful. If you are tempted, let us know as they get fully booked months in advance.
Myanmar SEEDS is another addition to the tour. They provide supplementary education and improve school retention. Unfortunately, it was closed for holiday whilst we were there but it is a recommended visit.
The tour will cruise the Irrawaddy ending shortly after the sun goes down. A truly relaxing and colourful sight.
The city of arts and crafts!
The Mandalay Hill Resort is one of two 4* hotels in the city. It has a spa with wide ranging services – although the so called relaxed Myanmar massage was a little too manipulative for me! There is a large pool, several restaurants and the hotel is close to a number of monuments. A rest day was included in Bagan but we have moved it to Mandalay as there are a wider range of facilities at the hotel and it is easier to wander for those that wish to.
Having seen gold leaf applied to Buddha’s in temples previously, we were intrigued to see how it is made and yes it is 22carat gold! There is such a wealth of craft to see it is impossible to fit it all in and don’t forget we weren’t constantly stopping to buy fabric. Among the highlights are wood carving, bronze moulding and lacquer work. Then there are the textiles, silk weaving, indigo dyeing and fine tapestry. If Karin Hellaby was with us she would have got us stitching.
We found The Saunders Weaving Institute whilst wandering around and made an appointment to meet the Principal. This technical school was founded by a British army officer to teach skills to those that are not academic. We had a full guided tour, meeting students and showing them photos of the projects and quilts you produce. We are delighted to add a visit to the school that will include a workshop with the students and a chance to shop in their lovely gift shop.
I would go back to Inle Lake tomorrow, I just loved everything about it. The various tribespeople in their costumes, the markets, floating tomato gardens (yes really!), the famous leg steering fishermen and most of all travelling everywhere on the lake by longboat.
Save space in the suitcase because you could fill it purely with items available here. The range of textiles is vast with each tribe having their own style, cotton for everyday wear, moving to cotton-silk mix and pure silk or Lotus thread for those that can afford it for special occasions.
We visited a silk weaving workshop with hand looms and complex silk weaving. We saw lotus thread being extracted and visited their shop which had a wide choice of fabric styles and prices. The management were amazed at the work you do and look forward to meeting you to exchange ideas. Don’t forget to bring photos of your favourite quilts!
Our hotel was the first class Pristine Lotus Resort, built on the lake shore each of the floating duplexes has a balcony that is like the bow of a ship floating on the lake. We liked it so much that we have moved the group here for the November tour.
Now I don’t want to sound churlish but for dinner on your last night you get to visit Le Planteur in Yangon, the highest ranked restaurant in Yangon. We could not get in there as it was full over the Christmas period but will try not to hold it against you!
Your visit to Bogyoke or Scott market has been moved to the last afternoon. There is a large number of stalls that sell local tribal fabrics, haberdashery and crafts plus imported fabrics. Knowing how you ladies like to shop, we thought it best to keep this visit to the end as you will see most of the wares in the course of your tour and cheaper. However, if there is any room left in suitcases no doubt it will be filled here.
YOUR ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO BURMA
Myanmar has really only been open to tourism in recent years following decades of military rule. It is a third world country and certainly not fully democratic but improving all the time. The people we got to know believe that tourism is bringing inward investment and United Nations financial support. Importantly this pressurises the government to accelerate change. In the larger towns and cities, we saw a real mix of Burmese, Hindus and Muslims living and working together. That is not to doubt the significant Rohingya issue but we saw no hint of unrest. On the contrary, we met interesting locals, ambitious for their children to have opportunity and very open about their history.
Burmese practice conservative Buddhism which means that any area inside a pagoda is revered, shoes and socks must be removed. On some visits this can result in being in bare feet for up to two hours. Some temples will involve steps. There are lots of places to sit and rest but walking barefoot cannot be avoided.
The vast majority of practitioners will enter a monastery or nunnery at some stage in their life, though this may only be for a few days or weeks. If you are lucky you will witness a Novitiate procession of children prior to going into a monastery. They are usually about eight and it is an important rite of passage, very colourful and auspicious irrespective of financial status. The children generally only stay a couple of days.
Burmese Buddhists are allowed to drink alcohol and eat meat and fish. They are forbidden to kill animals hence butchers are predominantly Muslim.
FOOD & DRINK
Breakfast, lunch and dinner is included in the price and will be taken in approved restaurants or hotels. Local people eat food cooked in unrefined palm oil which we cannot digest and can cause fatty livers. Hence only eat where recommended by your guide.
Please note about a need to be able to walk barefoot in temples.
The activities around Inle Lake can only be accessed by longboat. Help will always be on hand to get on or off but you need to be sufficiently sure footed to step down/up about 15 inches. Once on board there are comfortable chairs with arms.
Please be honest with yourself as to whether you have sufficient mobility to take this tour both for your own sake and the enjoyment of your fellow guests.
Finally, we had an absolutely marvellous time and would highly recommend a visit to Myanmar before it changes too much. Should you like any further information or just to chat about the tour please phone the office and I will return your call at a mutually convenient time.
Declan & Maurice
Arena Travel Directors
See the full revised itineray for our Adventure in Myanmar here