The Strand Cruise (part two)
Shortly after finishing breakfast, we disembarked The Strand Cruise at the ancient capital of Ava (Inwa), with our first stop being the 200-year old Maha Aung Mae Bonzan brick monastery. Built by Queen Me Nu, wife of King Bagyidaw of the Konbaung dynasty in 1818, this is a very different style of monastery to Shwe In Bin Kyaung (the monastery we visited in Mandalay) and due to it being early morning, we were the only tourists there. NOTE: A group of children were quickly alerted to our presence however, and were very keen to sell us goods. This is unfortunately part and parcel of travelling to a popular destination (especially on a cruise) in Myanmar, but all credit to The Strand’s Cruise’s staff as they did try their best to avoid this. They also educated them about littering (a big problem unfortunately), and encouraged them to keep the area clean.
A bumpy horse ride then ensued to a couple of other key attractions including Bagayar monastery and Myint Mo Taung. The spooky looking Nanmyin watchtower wasn’t included, but this has been done purposely to avoid crossing paths with groups of other tourists.
Our last stop was our personal favourite attraction, the ruins of Yadana Hsimi Pagoda. Although most of it was destroyed by a series of major earthquakes in 1839, enough remains for you to get a sense of its original splendour.
Back on-board the ship, the chef was busy preparing lunch, which was to be a south east asian-inspired multi-course tasting menu, consisting of dishes such as papaya salad, chilli salmon and stir fried pork belly. Served al fresco on white wicker tables, this was a lavish experience, and served at just the right time by the looks of things seeing as a gigantic rain cloud was fast heading our way.
After finishing off the custard tarts served for desert (not very South East Asian we know, but it still worked!), we opted to relocate to the bar for a leisurely paced game of chess and a pot of earl grey tea. Other games included a Myanmar version of Connect Four (the frame and pieces having been handcrafted in Bagan), draughts, scrabble and packs of playing cards. It felt more like a grand living room than a bar, which explains why most of the passengers chose to relax here when they had free time.
A couple of hours later, even though our bellies were still full from lunch, we were treated to The Strand’s trademark high tea set.
Not long after the last crumbs had been cleared, the ship’s crew assembled to carry out a longyi (a Myanmar sarong) and thanaka demonstration. The thanaka demonstration was particularly memorable due to the thanaka baby, a toy doll used to demonstrate the application apply this traditional cosmetic paste (made from ground bark). Some later said they had visions of it walking around the ship in the evening, but that was probably down to them drinking too much complimentary house wine. The idea would be sure to make a great horror film though, perhaps donning the title, “A Night on the Strand…”.
Due to it being a calorie heavy day, and with only the excursion to Ava in the morning, we felt the need to work off some energy in the ship’s compacted, yet surprisingly well-equipped gym. With a cross trainer, exercise bike and free weights, this addition will be sure to please health conscious and active individuals.
As will the ship’s spa, with its individual or double treatment rooms. We passed up on this however, and opted for a one hour massage in the foot reflexology station; with a full day of touring in Bagan planned the next day, it only made sense.