Myanmar has been on my bucket since forever and when the opportunity to take a tour there came up, I took it. I’ve never taken an organised tour before so I had mixed feelings as to the benefits. Was it going to be all go and no down time? Were the other people going to be difficult to deal with? I had no idea and I really didn’t care that much because I just wanted to see Myanmar. The Royal Asiatic Society of Seoul organised the tour and there were two options available, long tour and short tour. I took the short option so I stayed 6 days and 5 nights in Yangon.
After arriving in Yangon, I met the other three people on the short tour as well as the guide. As we drove along, our animated conversation was interspersed by the guide; “Excuse me ladies and gentleman, I’d like to introduce to you my country………” A night at the hotel and we were up and ready for day 1.
The four of us spent our day enjoying the sunshine and touring Yangon University. This really just involved visiting all the love sites and taking a tonne of selfies.
After lunch we joined the long tour members at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum. This is a memorial built to honour Aung San and six cabinet ministers who were assassinated. In 1983, North Korean agents attempting to assassinate the visiting South Korean president bombed the structure. He escaped but 21 others were killed. The structure was completely rebuilt and although less grand, it is still very beautiful.
We continued by taking a Yangon Heritage Trust walking tour of the heritage buildings in Yangon. The architecture is outstanding and the buildings are generally in bad repair as they have been neglected throughout the years.
That evening we enjoyed a buffet dinner at a traditional performing arts centre.
The following day, we enjoyed a lecture by a former university professor who then accompanied us to Shwedagon Pagoda. ,Myanmar is full of pagodas but this one is possibly the most impressive. It is a 98 metre golden spire located at the top of Singuttara Hill and it can be seen from anywhere in the city.
The next day we climbed on a boat and headed for Twanty, a town known for its pottery. We sailed across the Twanty canal and enjoyed the water taxis taking people to and from work. To get to the pottery, we took horses and carts. Possibly the most humbling part of the entire trip was the visit to the pottery workshop. Workers make anywhere from 150 to 300 pots in a day, depending on the size. The pottery wheels are spun by young girls who give up their education to do this task. The work is so menial and if they succeed in selling all their wares, they will receive just 6 dollars which must be split between them. The work area is dark and dusty but they were so welcoming and patient when we visited, even giving up their lunch break so they could show us around. Of all the things that humbled me, it was this visit.
We also visited Bogyoke Aung San Museum. This museum was founded in 1962, 15 years after the assassination of Bogyoke. In Myanmar, Bogyoke is the term used for the general. This museum was his home before he was assassinated. No cameras were allowed inside.
We also got to see the National Museum and got a guided tour through this 4 floor museum.
The reclining Buddha was HUGE. Honestly, so impressive but the most impressive thing I saw there was this monk. Some serious monk swag happening here.
One of my favorite places was the Bogyoke Market where you can buy ANYTHING you so desire. It is crammed full of jewellery, art, clothes, fabrics and so many other items. This was also a great place to go people watching and there was a great feeling of the local life here.
On the final day we were free from any timetabled events to go wherever we wished. A small group of us headed across the river to a small village where we took trishaws and saw more pagodas and generally just interacted with the locals. To see them continue to wear their traditional clothes is amazing. The skirts are called Logyi’s . They are so easy to wear and I came home with three of them.
As it turns out, my group were the best craic ever and they made the trip. Upon reflection, if the same person organised another tour, I’d take it in a heart beat. One day I will hopefully be able to return to Myanmar and visit other cities like Mandalay and Bagan. Myanmar was truly fascinating and a trip here is not to be missed. It still hasn’t caught up with the rest of the world in many respects and now is the time to go there before all the tourists arrive.
You can find out more about the Royal Asiatic Society in Korea from their website http://www.raskb.com
*Bring US Dollars- We arrived on a late night flight from Seoul. If you don’t have dollars, you won’t have any money until you can make it to a bank. Make sure your dollars are crisp and clean.
*Wear pagoda appropriate clothes. There are so many pagodas so be sure that you wear clothes that cover the shoulders and go below the knees. Also, there are no shoes or socks allowed so carry some wet wipes in your bag.
*Ask questions. The guides are only too happy to be explaining about their city and country so be sure to ask if you have a question.
*Go with a tour or get a guide and driver. I like to think that I’m fairly capable when it comes to travelling around a new city. However, there is literally no way that you will be able to tour Yangon unless you have a guide and driver.
* It’s extremely safe there and we didn’t have any incidents. However, as with all trips, don’t do something you wouldn’t do at home.