A sneak peek inside the Kempinski Yangon


The Keminski Yangon as seen from the entrance to Bank Street


With over 120 years of experience, Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group needs no introduction.


In what is arguably one of their most ambitious projects yet, the Kempinski plans to transform Rangoon’s colonial-era, former Police Commissioner’s Office into a 219 room five-star hotel with no expense spared. Think the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, Raffles Singapore and Peninsula Hong Kong and you’ll quickly get an idea of the style and standard of hotel we’re talking.


With the soft opening slated for July this year, the property is still a long way off completion, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to step inside to take a closer look.


Below you’ll find a selection of images, all taken on a recent hard hat inspection, which we hope will help to give you a better idea of what’s in store. One thing’s for sure, it’ll be interesting to look back at these when the build’s complete as we’re sure it will look very different.


The Kempinski’s grand main entrance, complete with stone carved murals and three-metre tall brass doors.


The Kempinski is working hard to retain and showcase as many original features as possible.


Looking back at the brass doors from the top of the staircase leading to the welcome lobby – there’s even talks of a vintage barber shop opening in this area.


Painters prime the walls and ceilings of Kempinski Yangon’s entrance lobby – it will look a lot brighter than this when finished.


The sun shines through into the Brasserie’s atrium. We get the impression the Kempinski intend for this to become the number one high tea set venue in town.


The interior of The Brasserie dining area; the design feels similar in style to the The Authors’ Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.


Exposed steel beams manufactured by Dorman Long, a British company originally based in Middlesborough.


We’re grateful that Kempinski got here in time – if it wasn’t for their acquisition of this building, it’s likely we would have need to say goodbye to the wealth of original period features for good.


A taste of things to come – a mock up version of the Deluxe Room with a king sized bed. This particular room opened up onto a private balcony with a view of the famed Strand Road.


What is soon to become the number one swimming pool (with a view) in the whole of Myanmar.


The view from Kempinski Yangon’s eventual roof top bar (looking left towards the Port Authority building).


The view from Kempinski Yangon’s eventual roof top bar (looking right towards Chinatown).


Heritage combined with state of the art technology – these Carrier-branded air-conditioning system achieves superior cooling efficiency with minimal moving parts.


Although the soft opening has been tentatively confirmed for July, the grand opening of the Kempinski Yangon is unlikely to happen until the end of the year. Only then will we be able to appreciate this architectural delight in its full glory.


Keen to be one of the first guests to stay here? Contact info@tourmandalay.travel now for more details.


“Burmese Photographers” exhibition


Austrian photographer and photo collector Lukas Birk and the Goethe-Institut Myanmar have set up an amazing and FREE OF CHARGE exhibition space inside the Secretariat / Minister’s Building.


The following description was taken from the official event listing on Facebook – please click here to be redirected.


The first photographs in Myanmar were taken more than 150 years ago. Whereas the many pictures from the early colonial times, taken mainly by foreign photographers, are well documented and preserved, the first local Myanmar photographers remain widely unknown. Since around 1910 a small scene of Burmese photographers emerged, soon superseding the “colonial gaze” of the foreigners on Burma and developing their own perspective and photographic interpretation of Myanmar’s lived reality.


Lukas Birk’s extensive research traces exactly this emergence of an autonomous Burmese imagery. Having searched hidden archives of antique dealers and photo studios, the Austrian curator and photographer has collected more than 10.000 photographs – a mixture of studio photographs, amateur and private photos, as well as press and advertising materials.


In addition to the exhibition, where a large selection of these photographs will be on display, Lukas Birk’s research has resulted in a comprehensive book, which will be published by the Goethe-Institut Myanmar in Burmese for the opening of the exhibition, later followed by an English publication.


The exhibition in the East Wing of the Secretariatalso represents  the first step in an initiative of the newly founded artist collective Pyinsa Rasa and the Anawmar Art Group to create a six-month arts and culture program in the historic building. The aim of this project is the establishment of a permanent cultural space in the Secretariat for the future benefit of the city.


Running until Sunday 11th March, there’s still plenty of opportunity to build this into your touring. We’d highly recommend!


To give you a taster of what’s in store, we’ve uploaded a few images (taken on the first day of the event) below.



Shwedagon, the winking wonder





Explore what Rudyard Kipling described as, “A golden mystery that upheaved itself on the horizon – a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun”. The 99-metre tall Shwedagon Pagoda is the country’s most famous landmark; one that looks extra impressive in the early hours of the morning or at sunset.



 Easy going


Early morning, afternoon or evening



  • Explore Myanmar’s most sacred Buddhist monument.
  • Brush shoulders with locals as the go about paying their respects.
  • Learn about the pagodas fascinating history throughout the years.
  • Admire thousands of pieces of Buddhist artwork.
  • Locate your birthday corner and take an obligatory photograph.



(Click to read)

Transfer from your hotel (or a place of your choosing) to Shwedagon Pagoda’s east entrance. Here’s where you’ll also find the popular Bahan market and a large concentration of stalls selling Buddhist-related souvenirs and ceremonial items. As such, this area tends to attract a large number of visitors ranging from Yangon residents carrying out their daily shop, to devout Buddhists who may have travelled thousands of miles just to pay their respects.


The 99-metre tall pagoda is the country’s most famous landmark; one that looks extra impressive in the early hours of the morning or at sunset. Believed to be have operated as a place of worship in this spot for somewhere in the region of 2,500 years, it’s no wonder many regard it as one of the most important and sacred Buddhist sites in the world. The current hti (a golden umbrella that adorns the top of pagodas) is decorated with approximately 85,000 jewels, with the centrepiece being a 76-carat diamond. Enshired inside the pagoda itself is said to be the relics of the four previous Buddhas of the present kalpa (aeon).


Once you’ve climbed the steep staircase (or taken the elevator) up to the top platform, it won’t take long until you’re staring up in awe at the sheer size and architectural brilliance of this majestic monument. After catching your breath, walk clockwise (as is customary) around the pagoda exploring the numerous walkways, smaller shrines and plethora ancient Buddhist artefacts. Although it’s not marked, you will also walk past the spot where Daw Aung San Suu Kyi carried out her first ever public speech in 1988.


History and opulence aside, for us the highlight of any trip here is the chance to brush shoulders naturally with the locals as they go about paying their respects. There’s also plenty of opportunity to strike up conversation with practicing monks, many of whom will be delighted to tell you more about Buddhism, the pagoda and life in general.


Once you have finished taking it all in, you will be transferred back to your hotel (or a place of your choosing) by car.




  • Transportation to/from hotel in an air-conditioned vehicle
  • Entrance fees
  • English speaking tour guide (for other languages, please enquire)
  • Drinking water and hand towel


  • Any meals
  • Accommodation



  • You will be expected to remove your shoes. Entering without doing so is strictly prohibited.
  • Avoid showing too much skin – if your attire is deemed inappropriate you will be turned away.
  • A supplementary fee may apply on certain days – Tour Mandalay will inform you of this beforehand.



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Once upon a night in Yangon





You haven’t experienced downtown Yangon until you’ve done so in the evening. Start with a cold beer (or non-alcoholic beverage) at Lan Thit Jetty, before taking a rickshaw to the popular 19th Street. Packed with plastic chairs, tables and BBQ stalls, this is one of the best places to brush shoulders with locals whilst at the same time satisfying your hunger. To finish the night in style, take a taxi across downtown to bob your head to some live music at Yangon’s first ever jazz bar.



 Easy going





  • Temporarily escape the heat with a cold beer and light river breeze at Lan Thit Jetty.
  • Travel from A to B using a mixture of local transport.
  • Soak in the local atmosphere whilst enjoying some BBQ food on 19th Street.
  • Bob your head to the beat at Yangon’s first jazz bar.



(Click to read)

At 17:00, meet with your guide and transfer to Lan Thit Jetty, an area buzzing with local life and made all the more pleasurable thanks to an ever-present breeze from Yangon River. Surprisingly very few tourists make it to this area, so don’t be put off if you start to receive curious stares as you gulp down your first glass of beer (or non-alcoholic beverage).


After a short search for a rickshaw driver, you’ll then be pedalled a short distance to the Kheng Hock Keong Chinese temple. Originally built in 1863, this is the oldest and largest temple of its kind in the country. We feel this looks especially picturesque in the evening when it’s softly illuminated by hundreds of traditional paper lanterns.


We’ll then walk slowly up 18th Street, the road to the left of Kheng Hock Keong, to admire the tightly packed rows of colonial shuttered houses and shop fronts. This serves as a gentle introduction to what’s in store at 19th Street, a narrow alley that springs to life in the evening with brightly coloured plastic tables, chairs and BBQ vendors. Stop here to enjoy another cold beverage and your fill of grilled meat, seafood and vegetable dishes. Depending on the strength of your stomach, it’s probably best to pass up on the tempting selection of dipping sauces.


Leave the crowds behind and take another popular form of local transport, the taxi. Travelling via the busy Maha Bandula Road, we’ll pass Sule Pagoda and the imposing Secretariat Building en route before arriving at Yangon’s first ever jazz bar. Technically this become a blues bar on Fridays and Saturdays, but genre aside, this is one of the best places for listening to live music in the city.


Transfer back to your hotel (or a place of your choosing) in an air-conditioned vehicle – this will be available until 23:00, after which it will be necessary to use public transport.



  • Transportation to/from hotel in an air-conditioned vehicle
  • Rickshaw ride
  • Taxi journey
  • English speaking tour guide (for other languages, please enquire)
  • Drinking water and hand towel


  • BBQ food (to avoid waste, we’d advise purchasing this locally)
  • Drinks (to ensure the arrangements are cost effective, we’d advise purchasing these locally)



  • From experience, dipping sauces served with BBQ dishes on 19th Street are best avoided.
  • Jazz and Time, the jazz bar recommended, becomes a blues bar on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • A supplementary fee may apply on certain days – Tour Mandalay will inform you of this beforehand.
  • The guide, driver and vehicle are available until 23:00, after which it will be necessary to use public transport independently and at your own expense.



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Life on the tracks





To ride Yangon’s circular city train network is to take a ride through history. The 46 kilometre 38 station loop connects Yangon’s rural suburbs with the city’s urban heart. Originally built in the colonial times by the British, the charmingly decrepit line has been ferrying passengers in and out of Yangon for over 60 years. More than 85,000 people depend on this network as a form of commute every day, making it the secondary mode of public transportation in Yangon after the bus. With many possible permutations, the journey will be adapted to your schedule, but one thing always remains a constant, and that’s the chance to ride side by side with Yangon’s suburban residents as they go about their daily errands.



 Easy going


Half day



  • Experience Yangon at a slower pace, escaping the noisy and frequently congested roads.
  • Get the opportunity to interact with the friendly commuters.
  • Witness what life’s like outside of Yangon’s city core.
  • Photographing genuine local moments.



(Click to read)

Transfer from your hotel (or a place of your choosing) to Yangon Central Railway Station. The current station was built in 1954, designed by a Burmese architect Sithu U Tin, who was also the same person responsible for the of construction Yangon City Hall and the Independence Monument in Maha Bandula Park. With many residents still relying on this 100-year old plus rail network to get from A to B, a step inside is one of the best ways to get a true sense of what life is really like for people beyond Shwedagon and the city’s crumbling colonial facades.


Board the next available train and start your slow and clunky journey around the city’s surprisingly green suburbs. From children playing chinlone (a traditional sport played with a small wicker ball) to monks enthusiastically conversing on station benches, it’s possible to witness an abundance of local life, culture and suburban contrast. It’s all rather hypnotic. That is until one of the local snack sellers loudly announces what goodies he, or she, has in stock whilst continuing to energetically parade up and down the narrow aisles. With many market sellers also using this as an affordable way of transporting produce, don’t be surprised if you’re then asked to make some room for a big bag of vegetables. Granted, it may not sound idyllic, but this is one way of ensuring you experience a real slice of local life.


Depending on the time and the direction you take, it may be possible to alight at one of the railway markets. There are a few options with one of our favourites being Mingalardon-zay. Whether it’s a pair of polished army boots, or a sweet snack made from sugar cane, you’ll find no shortage of quirky souvenirs here. If it’s possible to take one of the trains heading to a market such as Mingalardon-zay, the guide will arrange for the driver to pick you up from there. This gives you plenty of time to explore before heading back to your hotel in the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle.



  • Transportation to/from hotel in an air-conditioned vehicle
  • Train ticket
  • English speaking tour guide (for other languages, please enquire)
  • Drinking water and hand towel


  • Any meals



  • To stand a better chance of interacting with locals, we’d recommend wearing a longyi (a sarong worn by both men and women) for this excursion.
  • If possible we’d recommend riding on the older non-air-conditioned carriages, but the government is in the process of phasing these out. They are still possible to board, but the timing’s not always convenient.
  • The market will only be possible if time and routing permits.



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The Responsible Seven

Itinerary overview

Just under two weeks in duration, The Responsible Seven itinerary aims to show off and support some of Myanmar’s best responsible tourism projects, social enterprises, training restaurants and talented local entrepreneurs. We also hope it will help bring awareness to environmental issues such as the drought, deforestation and pollution caused by uncontrolled development around Inle Lake, the continued use of elephants for logging, and the fatal impact electric fishing practise is having on Myanmar’s endangered Irrawaddy dolphin population.



Day 1 - Yangon (iDiscover / Shwedagon / Shwe Sa Bwe)


Shortly after checking through immigration you’ll be met by a representative of Tour Mandalay and escorted directly to your hotel.


If arriving on an early morning flight we would recommend making use of the iDiscover’s self-guided walking app (available for both Anroid and Apple). Out of the four featured itineraries, we feel the Secretariat & beyond itinerary provides one of the best overviews. Starting at the majestic Secretariat building, you’ll wind your way through the heart of downtown, passing by myriad vine covered crumbling colonial facades, bustling local eateries, art galleries and lively streets. A benefit of using this app is that, other that using a taxi to get there, exploring won’t require the use of a car and iDiscover make a concerted effort to feature small and independently run businesses.


A giant puppet performance (arranged by the Institut Français de Birmanie) outside Yangon City Hall in 2016


Reconvene with your guide later this afternoon to explore what Rudyard Kipling described as, “A golden mystery that upheaved itself on the horizon – a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun”. The 99-metre tall Swedagon Padoga is the country’s most famous landmark; one that we believe looks extra impressive at sunset. The current hti (a golden umbrella that adorns the top of pagodas) is decorated with approximately 85,000 jewels, with the centerpiece being a 76-carat diamond. History and opulence aside, the highlight for most is brushing shoulders with the people as they go about paying their respects to Shwedagon itself, and the 150 smaller pagodas and shrines than surround.



A dinner reservation will be made at Shwe Sa Bwe this evening (PLEASE NOTE: This meal is not included). Founded by Francois Stoupan in early 2013, Shwe Sa Bwe is a hotel and restaurant training center which aims to provide training to financially disadvantaged Myanmar youth looking to pursue a career in the country’s hospitality industry.


Day 2 - Yangon (Rangoon Teahouse / Hla Day / colonial walking tour / LinkAge / Yangon Circle Line)


Skip breakfast at the hotel this morning and enjoy an obligatory bowl of freshly cooked mohinga (fish broth soup with rice vermicelli) at Rangoon Teahouse (PLEASE NOTE: This meal is not included). This will also be a great opportunity to try some laphet yay (Myanmar tea), traditionally served with sweet condensed milk.


Just above Rangoon Teahouse you’ll find Hla Day, a social enterprise that works with Myanmar artisans, disadvantaged groups and small local businesses to design, develop and sell quality handmade products with a contemporary twist.


Being located on Pansodan Road, Yangon’s grandest city stretch, you will be perfectly situated to explore some of the city’s downtown core on foot. Just a stone’s throw away you will find Maha Bandula Park, the Yangon Region Court, Yangon City Hall and Sule Pagoda. Interestingly, this was made the center of Yangon by Lt. Alexander Fraser of the Bengal Engineers, who was the person responsible for creating the present street layout of Yangon shortly after the British occupation in 1852. After looping the park, we will then walk past the Yangon Stock Exchange building, through Bank Street and onto the once extremely prosperous Strand Road. The highlight here is the 1901-built Strand Hotel, described by John Murray (a famous British author) as “the finest hostelry East of Suez”.


Inside the recently renovated Strand Hotel


We will then walk one and a half blocks north to the LinkAge restaurant and art gallery, a vocational training restaurant where street and marginalised youth are taught essential hospitality skills (PLEASE NOTE: This meal is not included).


To get a true sense of Yangon life, we will next take a short journey on the Yangon Circle Line. Built by the British over 100 years ago, this is still the cheapest and most time efficient way of connecting with Yangon’s outer suburbs. Time permitting, alight at a local market before driving back to the hotel by car.


Day 3 - Yangon to Loikaw (Kayah sausage / Loikaw Weaving and Vocational Training Centre / animist shrine / BBQ / traditional music / ox-drawn cart ride)


Transfer to the Yangon domestic airport this morning for a direct flight to Loikaw, the capital of Kayah State.


Shortly after being greeted by our ITC (International Trade Centre) recognised local partner, you will be transferred to the home of a local artisan to learn about the production of Kayah sausage. Cooking enthusiasts may wish to try their hand at making their own.


Next stop is the Loikaw Weaving and Vocational Training Centre. Start by exploring the centre’s luscious organic garden; here you will learn about the origin of the natural colours used in Kayah clothing, the dyeing process and traditional weaving techniques.


We will then travel by car to Hta Nee La Leh, a small animist village located approximately 45 minutes away. A local representative will greet us on arrival to provide a short overview of the village, its people, history and customs. Having surely worked up an appetite, a barbeque lunch will be prepared and served inside a resident’s home nearby.


One of Hta Nee La Leh village’s most distinct features is its Kayhtoebo, a traditional animist hunting shrine. Spread over an area a little bit larger than a football pitch, this is an extremely sacred area of land typically used to carry out animal sacrifice. This is the perfect place to learn more about traditional Kayah religious beliefs, festivals and fortune telling techniques.


Following this, pay a visit to a musician’s house to listen to some live traditional music, followed by a stop at another house to learn about traditional dress.


To end the day in style, hop on board an ox-drawn cart to the scenic Seven Lakes. Surrounded by mountains and tropical jungle, the lake provides the perfect setting from which to put your feet up and take in the sunset.


Drive back to Loikaw and check-in to your hotel.


Day 4 - Loikaw (Demawsoe market or Haw Nan Monastery / Pan Pet / jungle picnic / Thiri Mingalar Taungkwe Zedi or Mya Kalat Pagoda)


Start the morning with a visit to Demawsoe market (NOTE: this is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays only). This will take approximately 30 minutes by car and is a great way to experience the region’s rich ethnic diversity firsthand, as well as learning about the impressive variety of locally sourced cooking ingredients and rice wine on sale.


In the case your travelling date does not coincide with this, a visit to the 105-year old Haw Nan Monastery will be offered as an alternative. Built by the former Chief of Kayah (Saw Bwa Saw Ptar Du Sat Khun Li) around the time of the First World War, taking a look around inside is well worthwhile. It may also be possible to converse with one of the resident monks, but that will depend entirely on how busy their morning schedule is.


From Demawsoe (or Haw Nan Monastery), drive over one hour to the settlement of Pan Pet (technically a village made up of five smaller hamlets). Predominantly inhabited by members of the Padaung, a visit here provides a fascinating insight into the life and culture of this world famous tribe. With the aim of learning more than just why the women of this tribe regularly decorate their necks with brass coils, permission will be arranged to enter the home of a resident in Salong Kana (one of the five hamlets of Pan Pet).


We will then move on to the hamlet of Penmasong, before embarking upon a moderately challenging uphill trek to the Rang Ku. En route various edible plants can be found, with some being used for medicinal purposes. The guide will be sure to explain this, whilst sharing some of the typical myths and stories often recited by the community’s jungle leader. Midway a locally made packed lunch will be provided.


Continue trekking until the summit is reached, with the reward being a rarely photographed view of Pan Pet and its natural surrounds. Continue downhill to Rang Ku, where you will be able to further interact with members of the Padaung community.


Return back to your hotel in Loikaw via Thiri Mingalar Taungkwe Zedi or Mya Kalat Pagoda. Both are ideal spots to watch sunset.


Day 5 - Loikaw to Kalaw via Pindaya (overland journey / Plan Bee / Shan paper workshop / Flat Mango Village / overnight at colonial hill station)


With a 200km long car journey ahead, an early start is required. The road to Pindaya winds gently through beautiful Shan countryside, passing by pagodas and markets that few tourists ever make it to. Although there is not much to see in the town itself, the route also passes through Pinlaung (Panlong), which is where General Aung San (on behalf of the interim Burmese government) along with members of the Shan, Kachin and Chin ethnic groups, first signed the 1947 Panlong Agreement. From here it will take approximately 2.5 hours until the car reaches Pindaya.


Our first stop in Pindaya is Plan Bee, a bee-keeping project that empowers and improves the livelihoods, nutrition and food security for thousands of vulnerable people, with particular focus on women and landless households in Myanmar.


Although the opening times are unpredictable, Plan Bee Visitor Centre, which can be found on the picturesque banks of Pone Taloke Lake in Pindaya, provides equipment and expertise to beekeepers, whilst at the same time serving as an education centre for both locals and tourists.


The centre also stocks a massive selection of locally produced honey, beeswax candles and balm. Any profit made from the sale of these products then goes directly to the beekeepers in question. It is also possible to purchase hot beverages and a honey tasting set, which can all be enjoyed from the lake view café at the back of the building.


For lunch, we would recommend eating at the popular Green Tea restaurant, located on the west side of the lake (PLEASE NOTE: This meal is not included).


After lunch, we will visit a family-run workshop that specialises in making Shan paper and traditional parasols. Stemming from the fibre of a mulberry tree, a well-known plant in the mountains of this region, this paper is unique to the region and a popular medium for art and craft enthusiasts the world over. Unfortunately it will not be possible to take part in the production first-hand (mainly due to the long time it takes to complete), but the staff will be more than happy to provide a quick overview, whilst referring to any practical examples they have available. You can rest assured knowing that any souvenir purchase here is going straight into the pockets of the family that run it.


Our final destination today is the nearby village of Tha Yet Pya, or Flat Mango Village. A stop here is a great way to learn about the customs of the village’s Danu inhabitants and the industries they depend on to make a living. Cheroot making and weaving are particularly popular.


Transfer to Kalaw, once a colonial hill station, where you will spend the night.


Day 6 - Kalaw to Inle Lake (Green Hill Valley elephant camp / overland journey / Red Mountain vineyard / Sunflowers weaving studio)


Elephant camps are on the increase in Myanmar, especially now that the government has temporarily halted logging in the country’s most severely deforested regions. Without being able to guarantee the welfare of the elephants at these camps, or the health and safety of the tourists that visit them, Tour Mandalay are reluctant to recommend all but one camp in Myanmar.


Founded in 2011, Green Hill Valley is a camp that focuses primarily on providing care to elephants that are no longer fit to work. Rather than pulling in tourists solely for the purpose of riding, it instead seeks to educate people (from home and abroad) about the threats this endangered mammal faces, whilst at the same time protecting the natural environment they inhabit.


To mix the program up a little, we would suggest hiking to the camp with one of Green Hill Valley’s dedicated trekking guides. Descending through tropical jungle, this mostly downhill trek will take approximately two hours to complete. Shortly after arriving at the camp, we will join the elephants in a shallow river nearby and give them a good scrub down with the mahouts. Once bath time has finished, accompany the elephants back to their bamboo shelters to lend a hand with feeding (NOTE: bathing and feeding will only be possible if the elephants feel like it, they will not be forced).


Just before saying goodbye to the elephants, you will also get the opportunity to plant a tree as part of Green Hill Valley’s reforestation program. The is not only to assist with the regeneration of the elephant’s habitat, but also to educate the visitors about the importance of reforestation and risks posed by deforestation.


Lunch will be served at the camp’s restaurant.


Leaving Kalaw behind, we will now drive 2.5 hours east to Inle Lake, a large fresh water lake famous for its floating gardens and one-legged Intha rowers. Visitors are often surprised to learn that the region’s also home to two vineyards (Red Mountain and Aythaya), and we feel that no trip here is complete without a visit to at least one. Seeing as we will pass by en route, and it boasts the most impressive view, on this occasion it makes sense to stop at Red Mountain.


After sampling some of the vineyard’s finest, finish the day with a quick visit to Sunflowers Organic Dye Weaving Studio. Starting her first business back in 2004, Ma Phyu Ei Thein specialises in creating a range of “Myanmar made” woven products made from lotus, silk and cotton. These items are then coloured using dyes from fruit, roots, flowers and other organic substances.


Transfer to your hotel to spend the remainder of the day at leisure.


Day 7 - Inle Lake (cycling / hiking)


There is no denying Inle Lake’s beauty, but with increasing tourism numbers has come increased and uncontrolled motorboat usage. With the aim of trying to limit this, today’s activities will consist of cycling and hiking around the lake’s circumference. The route and order will vary depending on the location of your hotel, and the pace and distance adapted depending on the group’s level of fitness. Ultimately, the aim is the same however and that is to reduce noise pollution and avoid adding to the further build up of boats around key tourist areas.


Later this afternoon return to your hotel for some well-earned rest.


Day 8 - Inle Lake to Bagan (Shwezigon / Sanon / MBoutik / Ananda / lacquerware workshop)


Leaving the rolling green countryside behind, fly to Bagan, Myanmar’s capital of culture and home to thousands of ancient pagodas and temples. Considered one of the richest archaeological sites in Asia, the area is testament to the power and pious nature of Myanmar’s past rulers.


Although it will not be impossible to visit every temple during your time here, start by exploring some of the most iconic. Our first recommendation would be the golden Shwezigon, a pagoda that has been damaged by earthquakes several times over the centuries, but still stands whilst retaining some of its original features. An unexpected highlight of any visit here, especially for photographers, is walking the long sunlit corridor that leads up to it. Occasionally you will find a local market being held here, with plenty of traditional and locally sourced produce on display.


Before moving on, stop for some lunch at the recently opened Sanon (PLEASE NOTE: This meal is not included). Launched by Myanmar Youth Development Institute with the help of FRIENDS International, Sanon is part of the successful TREE (Training Restaurants for Employment and Entrepreneurship) Alliance restaurant group. Tour Mandalay would highly recommend eating the Burmese crunchy bean and ginger salad and chicken burger with papaya pickles and harissa mayonnaise.


From Sanon, travel to Old Bagan stopping off at MBoutik en route. Not only is this where you will find the best selection of quality souvenirs in Bagan, but shopping here indirectly supports the economic and social development of vulnerable communities in the Magwe Region (the dry zone of central Myanmar).


Another must see architectural wonder, and one of Bagan’s grandest in terms of size and design, is the 920-year-old Ananda temple. Build using a fusion of Mon and Indian inspired techniques, the temple houses four standing Buddha images, each seemingly keeping an eternal watch over the north, south, east and west entrances.


If time permits, we will next pay a visit to the workshop of one of Bagan’s most renowned lacquerware masters, U Maung Maung (easily identifiable thanks to his magnificent bushy moustache). Lacquerware has been produced in Bagan since the 11th century and still plays an important part in daily life, art and religious practice to this very day. Perhaps what is most interesting is that the production process has remained unchanged for centuries, giving a sense of authenticity and an assurance that the products on display are truly authentic. Please note that there is no assurance U Maung Maung will be available, but a member of his family will be.


Finish the day watching the sunset over Bagan’s temple-strewn plain.


Day 9 - Bagan (e-bike)


Today we would recommend exploring Bagan unaccompanied, but with the help of an e-bike. This is a great way for you to appreciate first-hand the size and archeological diversity of Myanmar’s sun-scorched ancient capital. No cars will be used either, thus helping to minimise your carbon footprint.


Day 10 - Bagan - Mandalay (local market / Golden Palace Monastery / rickshaw ride / Kuthodaw Pagoda / U Bein Bridge)


Transfer to Nyaung U (Bagan) airport in time for one of the first flights to Mandalay. Having being heavily bombed by the Japanese in 1942, and later again by the allied forces in 1945, little remains of old Mandalay, but that’s certainly not to say it should be written off. It has risen from the ashes to become a young, lively and vibrant city, famous for its culture, education and arts.


Start your exploration of the city with a trip to one of Mandalay’s bustling local markets, a great way to naturally cross paths with the city’s local residents as they go about their daily food shop. From here we’ll then hop into a rickshaw to the Golden Palace Monastery, passing by the palace walls and moat en route.


The Golden Palace Monastery, or Shwenandaw as it’s also known, was built in 1878 by the last monarch of Myanmar, King Thibaw. Previously it served as the apartment of King Mindon (King Thibaw’s father), but due to Thibaw believing the building was haunted by his father’s spirit, he had it moved and converted into a monastery. Thanks to this decision, the building survived the heavy bombing and is the only building of the original Royal Palace that still stands today. Although the colour from the gold gilding has mostly faded, the intricate teak carvings and glass mosaics provide an immediate reminder of how grand this monastery, and the original Royal Palace, once would have been.


From here we’ll then take a short drive to Kuthodaw Pagoda, home to the world’s largest book. Built by King Mindon (as you’ve correctly assumed, an important figure in Myanmar’s history), the main stupa is surrounded by 729 stone slabs, inscribed on both sides with a page of text from the Tipitaka (the entire Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism). Sadly, the complex you see today is just a shadow of its former self, no thanks to British soldiers stripping it of its most valuable materials shortly after the annexation of Mandalay in 1885. From top to bottom, the pagoda stood bare for just over a decade.


From Kuthodaw Pagoda, drive 30 minutes out of town to Amarapura, the penultimate royal capital of Myanmar from 1842 – 1859 (it was also the capital 1783 – 1821). The main attraction here is the 1.2 kilometre long U Bein Bridge, believed to be the longest teak wood bridge in the world. Popular with international and domestic tourists alike, it tends to get crowded here in the afternoon, but that doesn’t take away from the historical importance and the fact it’s authentically local in style. If timed for sunset, some phenomenal views of the bridge can be observed from a quiet bank on the adjacent side.


Transfer to your hotel in time for dinner.


Day 11 - Mandalay (Harrison Institute's cooperative fishing village experience)


The critically endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin, although not indigenous to Myanmar, is a beautiful mammal easily identifiable thanks to its blunt forehand and nose. Records apparently date back to ancient Chinese scriptures from 800AD when they were referred to as “river pigs”. At that time, it is thought this rare aquatic mammal inhabited the water as far west as India and as far east and south as Papa New Guinea. Sadly however, numbers have now reduced so drastically that they can now only be found in three of the world’s rivers: the Irrawaddy in Myanmar; the Mekong in Cambodia and Laos; and the Mahakham in Indonesia. It is likely that a population of less than 60 remain in the Irrawaddy, and 80-100 in each of the Mekong and Mahakham rivers.


With increased reports of dolphins being washed up as a result of pollution and electric fishing, there is clearly more that needs to be done to raise awareness and protect the population of this near-extinct species. NGOs such as the Harrison Institute are doing a great job of this, but in order for them to be truly successful, it is crucial that they receive support from international visitors. By supporting the communities that fish cooperatively with the dolphins, it will be sure to attract attention from both inside and outside of the Myanmar, thus helping to strengthen their voices and help educate other communities nearby.


The journey from Mandalay to Hsithe will take approximately 2.5 hours by car so an early start is unavoidable. Along the way you’ll pass plenty of local scenery, with the distant marble mountain providing a welcome back drop.


On arrival into Singu (the closest accessible village by road), board the waiting boat and travel downstream to the village of Hsithe. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for dolphins.


After mooring up at Hsithe, head straight for some shade in the village’s recently constructed Destination Centre. Here you’ll find a brief overview of what the Harrison Institute and its partners are trying to achieve, details of the village, and numerous photographs of the birds that inhabit the area. The centre is also stocked with a small range of quality souvenir items, all of which are designed and produced by the villagers themselves.


After enjoying some light refreshments and snacks, we will then meet with a cooperative fisherman to learn how to prepare and cast the fishing net. After watching a live demonstration, those keen to do so will get the chance to attempt two or three trial throws in the centre’s garden. We will then take the boat across the river to test out our newly acquired skills in shallow water. Seeing as the technique takes a long time to master, it is likely the experience will provide many laughs and great photo opportunities for all involved.


Return to the centre to cool off and enjoy a home cooked lunch prepared by the villagers. After finishing, continue to explore Hsithe village with the help of a resident. This offers a wonderful opportunity to observe the rich cultural practice of the local communities; learn about agriculture (peanut and rice farming); enjoy a first-hand insight into home-based industry (the production of cigars, jam, fishing nets, peanut oil and tailored garments); learn about typical village architecture (houses, barns and monasteries); experience monastic life and naturally converse with a charming elderly monk (assuming he is available to meet of course).


We will then return to the boat via the Visitor Centre, which will be the last chance to purchase any local handicrafts. Items include carved dolphins, dolphin summoning sticks (fisherman tap these on the side of their boats to communicate), recycled bag, mini fishing nets and local produce such as mango jam, honey, cheroots and spices. (PLEASE NOTE: Any money spent on souvenirs goes directly to the village making this a great opportunity to stock-up on quality souvenirs whilst giving back at the same time).


The boat will then return upstream to Singu, where your car will be waiting to escort you back to Mandalay. This will also be the last chance to spot any dolphins, so fingers crossed some will be around to provide a memorable send-off.


(PLEASE NOTE: There is no guarantee you will see dolphins on this tour, but your involvement will help with conservation efforts and provide much needed monetary support to the fisherman that cooperatively fish with them).


Day 12 - Mandalay (fly home)


Transfer to the airport in time for your international flight departure.

An image of Lord Buddha at Ta Moke Shwe Gu Gyi

Ten facts about Buddhism in Myanmar


Su Myat Naing, Tour Mandalay’s Product Executive provides us with ten fascinating facts about Buddhism in Myanmar. In no particular order of importance, here we go.


1) Almsgiving (food donation) to monks in the early morning


Putao morning market

Almsgiving in Putao’s morning market


Almsgiving, or ‘Soon’ in Myanmar language, is practiced throughout the country every day of the year. The sight of this is surely one of the most charming and romantic associations with religion in Myanmar. In the early morning before sunrise, monks line up along the streets and walk slowly to receive food donations from local people. This is called an alms round. Local Buddhists practitioners spoon the rice into the alms bowl and offer a range of food, including curries and desserts to monks. They will then crouch down, with their hands placed together in a prayer like gesture, in order to receive a blessing from the monk. Due to the monks are walking barefoot, it is also important that the person giving the alms also removes their shoes.


2) Novitiation ceremony


Novice monk ava

A novice monk studying at Bagaya Monastery, Ava


The Novitiation ceremony is another unique characteristic of Buddhism in Myanmar. The ceremony is usually celebrated during school holidays, but most often in the summer months of March and April (just before the Thingyan water festival). For pious Myanmar parents, it is deemed an important religious duty to let their son go forth and embrace the legacy of Lord Buddha. They will then join the Sangha for a short period of time to learn about important Buddhist teachings. Another requirement is that the son’s head is shaved, which is carried out as a sacrifice of vanity.


The first day of a Novitiation ceremony sees participants parade around their local pagoda dressed up as princes. Parents usually take lead from the front whilst carrying important ceremonial items such as an alms bowl, fan and a specially made box containing the robe. Other relatives walk by the novice monk’s side, shading them with a golden umbrella. It’s also common for the monk-to-be to be followed by a line female family members, who each carry decorative items in honour of the occasion. Upon completion of the procession, the family will then pay a quick visit to a Nat (sacred spirit) shrine for homage, before seeking permission from an abbot at a monastery to become a novice. It is also at this point when the individual shaves his head.


3) Religious courtesy in Myanmar


Conversing with monks

Enjoying conversation with monks in a monastery outside of Bagan


Images of Lord Buddha, along with practising monks and nuns are highly respected in Myanmar society. It is important that any visitor, regardless of personal belief, is respectful towards any aspect of life associated with Buddhism in Myanmar. Under no circumstance should you touch a monk or nun, along with his or her robes. When seated, you should not stretch out your legs and your feet should not point in the direction of any Buddhist imagery. Tattoos of Buddha, even if they were drawn out of respect, are likely to offend local people so please keep them covered up and do not display in public. Taking off shoes and socks at a religious site is a must, as is wearing appropriate clothing. Showing too much skin may see you turned away, so try to cover up as much as possible. Our advise would be to pack and wear a longyi (a sarong often worn by Myanmar locals); not only will this ensure your legs are covered, but it will be sure to put a big smile on the faces of local passersby.


4) Horoscopes and birthday corners


Birthday corner at Shwedagon

Paying respect to the Tuesday birthday corner at Shwedagon Pagoda


The majority of Myanmar’s Buddhist practitioners believe fervently in astrology. Due to the Myanmar horoscope practise being based on the day of the week, an individual’s date of birth is extremely important. There are eight zodiac signs in Myanmar, one for each day of the week (including two on a Wednesday). These signs are represented by animals with Monday being a tiger, Tuesday a lion, Wednesday morning an elephant, Wednesday afternoon a tusk-less elephant, Thursday a rat, Friday a guinea pig, Saturday a dragon and Sunday a Garuda (a mythical bird). When a child is born, it is common for them to be named using a name associated with their zodiac sign. Many people also believe that the day of birth determines an individual’s personality. Almost every pagoda (depending on size) has a special corner dedicated to each sign of the zodiac and this is often referred to as the birthday corner. People often visit pagodas to pay respects to their corner and carry out special devotional acts. Neglecting to do this may bring about bad luck and misfortune.


5) Watering the scared Banyan (Bodhi) Tree


Head monk at Yandabo

A head monk in the monastery at Yandabo village


The Banyan, or Bodhi Tree, plays an extremely important role in the spiritual life of Myanmar Buddhists. The main reason being that it is the tree associated with the life of Lord Buddha. It is said that Buddha attained enlightenment under a banyan tree and as such, it is revered by Buddhists all over the world to this day. When travelling you will notice that almost every major pagoda complex has a Bodhi tree located somewhere inside and it is common to see people paying their respects.


On the full moon day of Kason, Buddhist devotees honous the occasion by pouring water on the Bodhi tree. For Myanmar Buddhists this day is very important as it’s the day Buddha was born, the day he attained enlightenment and the day of his demise. The carrying out of the ceremonial act is supportive not only to the religion and traditions, but also in keeping the sacred trees green, lush and healthy during the summer months. In addition, people perform meritorious deeds by keeping Sabbath, chanting Buddha’s Summons, meditating, and by offering various items such as flowers, water and incense to images of Lord Buddha.


6) Festivals


A novice monk paying his respects in Bagan

A novice monk paying respect to a reclining image of Lord Buddha


Myanmar is a country rich with culture and religious festivals. When we talk about Buddhism in Myanmar, we cannot forget to mention the many festivals that take place throughout the year. For me, one of the most special is the Thidingyut (Light) festival celebrated across the country from the beginning of October. The story behind the festival is that Lord Buddha came down from the abode of Tavatimsa (according to Buddhist cosmology, the second highest level of 31 planes of existences) after spending three months of the Buddhist lent there. People welcomed Lord Buddha with candles and colourfully illuminated objects of light. During the festival, houses and streets are decorated with lanterns and strings of light. People typically enjoy this lighting festival by visiting pagodas at night with friends and family. Here it’s common to see wonderful displays of oil lamps, fireworks and manmade balloons rising slowly up into the sky.


7) Paying homage in Myanmar


An image of Lord Buddha at Ta Moke Shwe Gu Gyi

Paying respect at Ta Moke Shwe Gu Gyi


Paying homage is a long-standing practise of devout Myanmar people. A person, always of lower social standing, pays respect or homage to a person of higher standing (including images Lord Buddha, Buddhist monks, elders, parents and so on), by kneeling before them and paying obeisance with joined hands and bowing. This is a way of showing an individual’s reverence, gratitude and it also serves as an opportunity to ask for forgiveness. Elders readily forgive if there is anything to forgive. This form of repentance is usually carried out over the Thingyan and Thadingyut periods.


8) Mythical lions


Two lions protecting Shwedagon

Come rain or come shine, two lions keep watch over the entrance of Shwedagon Pagoda


In Myanmar a pair of mythical lions, known as Chin-the, can often be found outside the entrance of stupas, pagodas and Buddhist temples. Lions are noted for their bravery and magnificence, thus considered the best guardians for religious shrines and edifices. According to folklore, the lions actually stand watch for completely different reasons.


A princess gave birth to a son through her marriage to a lion, but later fell out of love with him. Pained with a broken heart, the lion was unable to control his feelings and unintenionallt became the terror of the land. One day, the son went out to slay the lion, only to find out after that it was his father. To atone for his sins, the son later built a statue of a guardian lion outside of a temple.


9) The donation of gold leaf


Gold leaf production

Gold leaf production in Mandalay


Segments of delicate gold leaf are widely sold at the pagodas in Myanmar. Devotees gently press the gold leaves onto sacred images as offerings; for most, this is seen as a meritorious deed. Some believe that by placing a gold leaf on a certain parts of a Buddha image, it will help to cure their own pain in that area. The majority of gold-leaves are made in Mandalay.


10) Robe offering


Monks in Loikaw

Two monks watch the sun slowly setting over Loikaw


Myanmar people believe that offering robes to monks and Lord Buddha is one the noblest forms of donation. Buddhists in Myanmar offer robes on various occasions. The most famous of all are the Waso robe offering, Kahtein robe offering and Matho-thingan offering.


The Waso robe offering is celebrated in the Myanmar month of Waso. It marks the beginning of the three-month period of lent in the month of Waso (June – July). This ceremony celebrates Lord Buddha’s first sermon, delivered forty-nine days after he attained nirvana. During the ceremony monks are offered robes to wear during lent, a time when they are not allowed to travel. According to the monks’ code of conduct, they are still obligated to carry out a round of alms to source the monastery’s daily provisions. Monsoon season also starts around about the time of Waso, so the offering also helps to ensure the monks have an extra supply of dry robes (anyone that’s visited Myanmar before will know how heavy the rain can get!). Interestingly, events such as marriage and moving home are avoided during the lent period and pious individuals try to follow the five precepts more conscientiously.


The Kahtein robe offering ceremony takes place between the full moon day of Thadingyut and the full moon day of Tazaungmone (October – November). This robe cannot be offering to a monk of an individual’s choosing, but to the Sangha in general. People also donate other useful accessories such as umbrellas, shoes, fans, medicines and alms bowls. These donations are then hung from tree-like stands (usually found in public places all over the country) and sent to monasteries in a delightful, pomp and lively procession.


The Matho-thingan, literally translates as “the robe that has not decayed”. Groups of devout Buddhist women start weaving robes in contest on the 14th waxing day of Tazaungmon (usually November) with the aim of completing the garment by sunrise. Shortly after, the robe is then donated to a sacred Buddhist image.


Thanaka onboard Pandaw



The longest operating cruise company in Myanmar and easily the best value for money; for a 3-4 star product, the service on here is exceptional! Due to them having operated in Myanmar for so long, we find the excursions are extremely well-oiled and the cruise captains know the Irrawaddy’s challenging sandbank gauntlet better than anybody. The rooms however aren’t huge and it’s fair to say they’re not very private when the cabin’s curtains are open. This does however encourage passengers to get out and socialise, and judging off the multiple times we’ve sailed with them, this is one of the main things that makes a Pandaw cruise different from any other. Another important point is that, even though the ship is still considered luxurious (certainly by Myanmar standards), it’s not as “bling” or in your face as some of the more high end options. We regard Pandaw as the experienced, slightly more humble option. Although it’s only a small thing, it’s worth mentioning that they have the most powerful showers on the river – you’ll be sure to appreciate this even more after a long, often sweaty day of touring.


As per the Pandaw’s website: “We began in Burma. The unique Pandaw river expedition concept evolved here from the vestiges of the colonial Irrawaddy Flotilla Company. Our first ships were built here and in Burma we learnt to master river navigation at its worst. These lessons were applied to the other rivers of Asia.


Burma, after 1987 renamed by the regime Myanmar, is the largest mainland South-East Asian country and with the greatest variety of scenery from Himalayan peaks to tropical beaches. We have yet to meet a visitor to Burma who does not feel that this is the most beautiful, friendly and culturally interesting Asian country ever visited.


Most of the population live in three great river valleys encircled by impenetrable horseshoes of mountains. River life dominates the country and still to this day forms the main system of transportation, irrigation and from its rich fishing grounds the principal protein source for the majority of the population.


In the river valleys two millennia of Buddhist art, architecture and archaeology survive, including the 3000 standing monuments at Pagan. There is no other Asian country with so vast and varied a range of cultural sites. Almost everywhere there are temples and monasteries, festivals and ceremonies. The Burmese are a deeply pious people and Buddhist activities dominate every aspect of life.


The Burmese are also very warm and friendly people who since Independence in 1947 have suffered terrible impoverishment and deprivation. We do our best to support the local domestic economy and make sure our suppliers and contractors are small local businesses. We are very careful to make sure our clients’ money falls into the right hands. Sanctions and the politically correct refusal of most NGOs and international charities to work in the country has served to exacerbate deprivation and entrench the regime further.


Our Pandaw passengers believe that by visiting Burma we are doing something to help as has been proved by the many schools our passengers have built, not to mention the outstanding contribution made by our passengers after Cyclone Nargis struck in 2008. Most of the Burmese our passengers encounter tend to agree with this assumption. These cruises are the most acclaimed luxury vacations on the Irrawaddy river.”


Pandaw offer 11 cruise options ranging from the 1-night Bagan to Mandalay short cruise and a 10-night ‘Golden Land’ itinerary, which sails you all the way up to the northernmost point of the Irrawaddy. All of the expeditions can be found on the front page of their website (click here), and by clicking on ‘Learn More’ you can access the detailed itinerary and scheduled departure dates. For something truly unique, be sure to have a browse of the ‘Voyage to Nagaland’ programme.



The Strand Cruise


Operated by the Strand Hotel, this is arguably the best option for any self-confessed foodies out there. Although it’s currently the most expensive cruise option and the entry level rooms are a little bit on the small side, the contemporary style and focus on fine dining puts this experience into a category of its own. The Strand even have their own resident Entertainment and F&B managers who provide 24/7 support to the Myanmar staff to ensure service levels don’t slip. Weather permitting, the BBQ on the side of a sandbank would surely make for a memorable highlight. Most of the dining options are a la carte (not buffet!) and the ship has what we feel is the grandest bar area on the river. The Head Bar Manager at the time of writing, Mr Win, previously worked for the popular Governor’s Residence, and his cocktail and silver service training received in Dubai after that really shows. In the evenings, the Entertainment Manager also keeps passengers amused with witty humour and mind boggling card tricks.


A short description, as per The Strand Cruise’s website: “The Strand Cruise is the latest Luxury Cruise to sail the magnificent Ayeyarwady River of Asia’s hidden treasure that is Myanmar. Embark for an authentic journey of discoveries from visiting temples, pagodas, palaces and monasteries to remote villages aboard this ship, which mirrors the heritage and reputation of its sister property.”


Currently the Strand only offer a 3-night and a 4-night cruise from Bagan to Mandalay and vice versa. The ship departs on Monday from Bagan to Mandalay (4-nights) and Friday for Mandalay to Bagan (3-nights). They only operate from September to April. For more information about logistics, please click here and select ‘Programme Details’.


To give you a better idea of what the experience involves, feel free to read through our detailed firsthand account by clicking here.


360 pool

Heritage Line’s Anawrahta Cruise


Heritage Line’s Anawrahta is the largest cruise ship on the river and it also boasts the largest entry level cabin. At 32-square metres, it’s huge and it also comes with a private balcony. Out of the cruises we’ve experienced first-hand, the guiding is the best, as is the outsourced entertainment. The highlight for most will be the swimming pool on the top deck, which offers an amazing 360-degree view of the passing scenery. The bar’s also fit for royalty, with large folding windows that extend fully to allow a nice breeze to circulate.


A short description, as per Anawrahta’s website: “With the largest cabin space on the Ayeyarwady, and the highest crew to passenger ratio, The Anawrahta offers the finest on-board experience in Myanmar. This impressive vessel is named after the founder of the Burmese nation, modern day Myanmar. During his reign, from 1044-1077, he introduced and spread the religion of Theravada Buddhism throughout the land.”


Heritage Line offer a diverse range cruise options, varying in length from 3 to 11 nights. The most popular cruise would surely be the 3-night Ancient Capitals/Golden Land cruise, with the crème de la crème being the 11-night Exotic Chindwin, which only sets sail in August and September. Information for each of these cruises including logistics and timings can be found by clicking here.


To read a detailed first-hand review of Anawartha, please click here.


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