"this is the best trip ever, mommy"
Dec 25 - Jan 4, 2020
My 23-year-old daughter and I chose to visit Myanmar to learn more about the fascinating culture, history, political transitions, and people there. Anne planned an 11-day adventure for us which far exceeded any expectations. We had an amazing time!
First, I will say that I barely needed to communicate with Anne. She “got” how I travel almost immediately and my trust in her decisions was gave me no worry. I could focus on the rest of my travels and the rest of my life. We spent the first two nights at the Mercure in Mandalay. Nay was the first of several guides Anne arranged. Each of them is OUTSTANDING! Nay has spent a lot of time guiding trekkers, which we were not on this trip, and so he led us on a beautiful bike ride through the countryside outside of the city. We opted to start and end inside the city and I’m happy we did. We could handle the busy streets and we got to see some interesting sites. In the outskirts we stopped several times to learn about different industries and had lunch at a nunnery, which prepared and educated us on this fascinating side to Myanmar culture that we revisited everywhere we went. Nay also showed us other Mandalay sites — the sunset from high up, the World’s Biggest Book and the last remaining building from the former Royal Palace. Nay is lovely!
Our next two nights were spent aboard the Strand Cruise, motoring down the Irrawaddy. We visited U-Bein Bridge, Mingun, and Ava. Site visits included a tuk-tuk ride and a horse and cart ride…so fun. And the boat accommodations were wonderful. We upgraded our room upon arrival because there was a larger one available and the staff could not have been nicer. The entire crew deserve incredible accolades! All the details, the food, the excursions (Aung was our guide from The Strand Cruise), the entertainment, the rooms, everything was lovely. On the second evening dinner was served shoreside BBQ style. The crew had string lights, a bonfire, music, and had raked the sand into intricate patterns. Magical!
Our next two nights were in Bagan, which I could go back to tomorrow! We loved it. Numbers vary but I’ll use 8,000 — temples, pagodas and other religious monuments litter the landscape and sparkle with their gold. Thin was our guide in Bagan and she is really engaging. She grew up literally among the temples and was moved by the government to New Bagan before the site became a UNESCO site. I was super excited when we arrived at the e-bike stand to get our bikes, but my daughter was not. No problem…Thin just put her on the back of her bike and off we went! That is the way to travel there, scooting among the temples on the small pathways. We saw a LOT of incredible temples, each unique and full of stories. We visited a lacquer workshop where Thin’s mom used to work. They give a wonderful and really impressive explanation of the process. It will wow anyone, the amount of labor involved. We stayed at the Aureum Palace, which, if in your budget, is worth it! It’s in the middle of the site and I’ll bet one could not build a hotel there anymore. Views are stunning. The next morning was an early one for our balloon ride. Again, if in the budget DO IT! Enough said. That afternoon, another DO NOT MISS: May’s cooking class. May could run a Fortune 500. She had the 12 of us from 3:30 to 7:30. We made 21 dishes in her back patio on eight open flame wood stoves. She introduced all the ingredients, let us make choices, gave assignments for prep and manning the stoves. Everyone participated, everyone learned and the spread on the table was so impressive. I’ve been doing these cooking classes in various places on my travels and this one tops them all. May was so well organized that we were just finishing up the meal when our guide came to collect us. Not easy to do! As we were walking out, we passed an open garage facing the street filled with books on shelves, because May runs a free library for her community. 🙂
The next morning we took the first of our two in-country flights to Heho and drove to Kalaw. There, we met our next guide, Naing, who we LOVED! (Recommended reading: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats and A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker). We stopped at Pindaya to visit the famous cave filled with thousands of Buddhas…pretty crazy! And we stopped at a local home to learn about their tea crops and the famous tea leaf salad, and at a local market for bulls, and the local every-five-day market which happened to fall on that day. We stayed overnight in Kalaw Heritage Hotel in order to drive the next morning to the Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp, a retirement home for logging elephants. We spent the day feeding and bathing the eight elephants in residence there, learning about their history and medical requirements, and eating a delicious lunch. I could go on an on about these beautiful animals, and certainly our phones are filled with special images of our time spent with them…it’s a special, special place and so beautiful. I would like to retire there. We drove to Inle Lake afterwards, which is where Naing grew up. We stayed at the beautiful Aureum Palace Resort on Inle. Naing picked us up the next morning by boat for a full day on the water. This was another highlight. We chose to visit a lotus fiber weaving factory and a silver factory. Then we had the most amazing experience: Naing took us to his home, where his sister-in-law cooked us a delicious meal and we got to sit around and chat (with Naing’s help) with his aunties and his mom, who put thanaka on us. His home is a traditional wooden one on pillars lining the lake. Wandering after lunch over bridges and alongside homes, and experiencing Naing chat with everyone he passed was really special. He is special.
We flew to Yangon the next morning to meet our final guide, Sandar. Each one of our guides, carefully chosen and nurtured by Anne, are young, eager, enthusiastic, transparent, delightful people. Our experience throughout our journey would not have been possible without them. And it’s clear that Anne knows how to not only find the right people, but communicate and manage them too. Sandi is adorable. The best way to learn about cultures is by sitting down to eat with local people. We did that throughout our trip. In Yangon, with Sandi, the experience was even more immersive. She is so chatty and funny and sweet. A simple stop at a street stand because my daughter was hungry, turned into an experience with crickets, the difference in taste between males and females, which ones her husband would like her to bring home, and more. Hilarious. Sandi guided us through the famous Shwedagon Pagoda the next day. I was really glad we organized the trip this direction, from Mandalay to Yangon, finishing with this impressive site. We went in the evening of the local new year, so it was a bustling scene, beautiful with the moon and the people and the spirituality of it all. A wonderful way to conclude our journey.
My daughter and I highly recommend Anne, Myanmar Pure and kimkim as travel planners. I’ve planned many trips in my life and just didn’t have the bandwidth. Anne connected with my request and created the exact experience I was hoping for. My daughter repeatedly said, “This is the best trip I’ve ever been on, Mommy.” Is there anything better? And we cannot wait to return someday to Myanmar — to connect with such a diversity of people, walk and ride through so many beautiful places, eat the delicious food, and feel the spirituality. Thank you!