Yangon & environs
Tour 2: Day 1 Monday 3 October
Welcome to Yangon – Myanmar’s largest city and former administrative capital. Known formerly as Rangoon, it is “one of the most exotic and striking cities in Southeast Asia” writes Lonely Planet. And we couldn’t agree more. The main gateway to Myanmar, this city of 5-plus million chokes with crumbling colonnades, picturesque dishevelment, and old-growth teak. Outlying neighbourhoods are refreshingly overgrown, taking on a Secret Garden feel. Colonial Rangoon is an exquisite architectural time warp little touched in a half century.
For those arriving today you will be met personally at the airport, then whisked to your lodgings. Depending on your arrival time, meet us for an optional dinner.
Tour 2: Day 2 Tuesday Oct 4
We begin at Shwedagon pagoda, the city’s landmark and one of the true wonders of the religious world. The pagoda is more than 2500 years old, towering some 98 meters/326 feet above the green cityscape. Testament of the faith of the Burmese, it is covered with hundreds of pure gold plates, while the pinnacle is encrusted with 4531 diamonds, the largest 76 carats. We’ll start with a brief walk through its surrounding picturesque park, past local craftsmen creating religious reliquary, then to the temple itself. If you are into wood carving, these local crafts are well worth purchasing.
Lunch is at Yangon’s best Myanmar assar-asa luncheon restaurant – with the local specialty a dried and pounded shrimp paste called Balachaung.
After lunch, visit the unassuming – but historically important – Bahadur Shah Zafar, final home to the last Mughal emperor of China – a lineage of some 300 years, abrubtly ended by British colonialism. Ironically, Burma’s final emperor was exiled to die in India, while India’s dethroned leader sent to Rangoon. Final stop, the National Museum, whose highlight is a 26-foot high, jewel-encrusted Lion Throne entry from Burma’s last king Thibaw Min. Breathtaking ceremonial garb and sundries are well worth the visit.
Return to hotel for a sunset river cruise along the Irrawaddy. B/L/S
Tour 2: Day 3 Wednesday October 5
Gather for our walking tour of colonial Rangoon. Wear comfortable slip-ons without socks today, as we explore the downtown area, where the ghosts of regal British influence still reigns. (You will be required to remove both shoes and socks well before entering all religious sites.) Pass splendidly unkempt Victorian and Edwardian architecture meshed with ancient pagodas, and used booksellers lining the sidewalks.
We begin at Sule Pagoda, one of the world’s most glorious traffic roundabouts, but more importantly, a pagoda with a 2000 year pedigree. Note the birds being sold just outside, as it is believed to give you good luck to purchase then set one loose.
Onto one of the city’s most historic tea houses, serving delicious semolina cake, before walking amongst the city’s architectural crown jewels. Lunch is at Rangoon Tea House, a trendy city-centre fixture set up by London-based Burmese expats in a gloriously restored Edwardian commercial building. Their Biriyani is superb. Then a downstairs glimpse of Sharky’s pansodan. Hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to meet proprietor Ye Htut Win, who returned to Myanmar after a 25 year absence studying artisanal food production in Switzerland; his cheeses and deli fare are superb. While at Sharky’s, note the elaborate ropes and mammoth tassels adorning the facilities – designed and installed by Morrison himself! We end at the historic Armenian church, a remnant of colonial Rangoon’s once-thriving Armenian community. Today the congregation numbers less than a dozen.
Dinner is far Western Rakhine food, from the former Arakan kingdom bordering Bangla Desh. The cooking style is perfect for seafood, much less oil than ethnic Bamar, but decidedly spicy. The local noodle salad is delicious.
Tour 2: Day 4 Thursday October 6
Our first stop is for Mohinga in Thaketa Township, well before leaving Yangon proper. This is the famed fish chowder of Myanmar, arguably its national dish. And the simmering bowls served at Daw Phwa May are famous! (We also hope its filling, as we are skipping lunch today.)
Travel across the river to Thanlyin & Kyautktan. Onto Kyautktan’s bustling regional market. We continue to Thanlyin Pork and its picturesque Yele Paya island. While here, be sure to check out the local dried fish market.Visit 800-year-old Kyaikkhauk Paya, built during the country’s Mon kingdom (Mon were former overlords based in Bago/Pegu, prior to Bamar/Burmese rule), and view Yele Paya island. We especially love the vast dried fish markets surrounding this local tourist mecca. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Thanlyn was an important base for foreign explorers, and today home largely to ethnic-Chinese Burmese.
Enroute back, stop at Kyaikkhauk Paya, before returning to Yangon city and a Kachin dinner from the country’s Northeast. We love the wild mushrooms and clear broth soups, not to mention the country’s best mashed potatoes.
Tour 2: Day 5 Friday October 7
For our last full day in Yangon we’ve scheduled a unique way to discover Yangon today, on the Yangon Circle Line, a train ride around the city. We won’t take the full circle, as the time schedule is confusing and time consuming, but we’ll go up to Insein (near the infamous prison where Daw Aung Sang spent many a year in imprisonment) and the local market here is one of our favorites. The train gives a fascinating glimpse of daily life, with hawkers plying their trade between stations. We’ll also stop at a very rustic tea house for Jonajo Indian sweet bread and Palatar Burmese bread.
Lunch is ethnic Daw food – served on massive lotus leaves, with myriad dishes surrounding the rice. It‘s communal fare, and deliciously so!
In the evening, regroup for our gala dinner scheduled at a restaurant training school for impoverished youth. The program is headed by Francois Stoupan, plus regular participation by Michelin 3-star chef Michel Bras and entourage. We’re impressed!
Tour 2: Day 6 Saturday October 8
Tour 2 Finishes
After breakfast, check out and transfers to airport included. Your rooms are confirmed until 12 noon today, and you can securely park your bags at lobby until departure time. Ask us about additional nights and private tour guides.
Tour 2: Yangon is the principal gateway to Myanmar, with even more international carriers to choose from. Tour 2 flies in and out of Yangon (RGN) solely.
Tour 1: Mandalay now hosts international carriers with direct routes to and from the former imperial capital. Fly from Bangkok or Chiang Mai on Bangkok Air (winner: Skytrax Best Boutique Asian Airline); Air Asia from Don Mueang/Bangkok; China Eastern from Kunming; and Myanma National Airlines from various ports. There are international code shares from Yangon to Mandalay using Ethidad, Emirates, KLM, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways. When using Yangon as your entry point, there are several domestic Myanmar airlines as well. When booking international flights for Tour!, ensure your travel agent flies you into Mandalay, but out of Yangon.
When booking international flights for Tour 1, ensure your travel agent flies you into Mandalay (MDY), but out of Yangon. Tour 2 flies in and out of Yangon (RGN) solely.