A Travellerspoint blog

Yangon to Pyay (Prome) - Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Scenic bus trip from Yangon to Pyay. Stop in Htaukkyant to visit the Allied War Cemetery. In Pyay, board the Scenic Aura and raise a toast to the journey ahead. The cruise begins!

sunny 32 °C

Scenic Aura Cabin 302
Today we left Yangon on a Scenic bus bound for Pyay, where we boarded the Scenic Aura at about 4.30 pm. We left Yangon at 8.45 am on the most lavish bus I have ever been in. Frilly curtains, seat covers with frills on them and plush reclining seats bigger than the airline seats in Business Class. It was total luxury. However, I must add a story here about buses.

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Last night at Happy Hour we were talking with Ann and Dieter from Bonn, who are joining another river cruise on Wednesday. They have done this cruise before, but not with Scenic, and warned us about the bus trip to Pyay, saying that when she went she wore white trousers and the seats in the bus were filthy and by the time they got to Pyay, her pants were black. Well, if only she could have seen the luxury and cleanliness of our bus! She would have been speechless.

Our first stop a couple of hours out of Yangon was at the Allied War Cemetery at Htaukkyant. It is looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and there are 21 Australian soldiers buried there, along with British, Burmese and Indian soldiers. We found a couple of the Australian graves but they were very hard to find, as all the nationalities were mixed in together. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission do a marvellous job all over the world, maintaining all the Commonwealth Graves and they are to be commended for the job they do.

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The hotel provided us all with boxed lunches and after another hour or so, we stopped to eat our lunch and visit the "Happy Place" (toilet). We went into a restaurant to eat our boxed lunches and ordered drinks and visited the Happy Place. Of course, the queue for the women's toilet was long and going nowhere, so I jumped into a squat toilet. I find it rather difficult these days to stand from the squat position without pulling myself up on something but the walls and floor were so grotty that I wasn't touching anything. It is amazing what one can do when one has to. I managed to stand upright without touching anything and when I left the cubicle, the queue for the western toilet was still as long.

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Back on the bus for the two hour drive to the next Happy Place stop, so Phil started playing sixties music on his phone and we in the front of bus sang along. It made the trip go faster. It was only 268 kilometers but it took us seven hours, with three stops included. The road was surprisingly good. It was bitumen with no lines down the middle and passing trucks and cars was hair raising. Best not to look, I thought! But it was slow going, bumping along but singing songs from the sixties made it fun.

We stopped for Happy Place and coffee at Cocoaman and first this lady brought her baby up close to look at Phil, then I took her photo and then back she came with her sister and her mother. Also, the waiters were just young boys and were giggling and laughing at Phil when he was whistling.

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Back on the bus for the one hour drive to Pyay where we boarded the beautiful Scenic Aura. The steps down the river bank were a bit tricky because it was basically just a sandy river bank with steps cut into it and when we reached the gang plank, only one person was allowed across at a time. Just as well there were only 40 of us or else it would have taken all night.

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We were given welcome champagne and escorted to our cabin which is on the top deck at the front of the ship - Cabin 302. It is very spacious and lovely. We have plenty of room and a huge deck out the front with a swinging hanging chair, a table and chairs and a jacuzi! This is going to be fun.

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Our butler bought us a cafe latte and a gin and tonic and then we proceeded to the pool area to meet the staff and have a security briefing. Then into dinner. Prior to dinner, I visited Ingrid and Elfi's cabin - Room 101. It is a standard cabin on the Scenic Aura but is roomy and spacious and they have plenty of room. They also have a balcony area that can be closed off by a sliding glass door. It is really very nice.

Dinner was just a buffet but was nice.

Posted by gaddingabout 17:26 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Yangon, Myanmar - Monday, 16 January 2017

Visit to a traditional village at Dhala

sunny 32 °C

Sule Shangri-La Hotel - Room 2207
The holiday is over - now adhering to a timetable begins!

At 8.30 am we met in the foyer, about 36 of us, for the short bus ride to the wharf to catch the ferry to the other side of the Yangon River to visit the village of Dhala. The bus took ages to drive the short distance to the wharf, due to the traffic that never seems to get anywhere. The waiting area was chock a block with locals, so we joined in and waited for the ferry. As it arrived, hoardes of people disembarked and as we all piled on, the thought did cross my mind about overcrowded ferries sinking in Asia. How many times have we heard that in the news?

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It only took about 15 minutes for cross the fast flowing, very muddy river and waiting on the other side were our trishaws - one each plus a driver (or should I say a pedaller!) My driver's name was Coco and he was a young man aged 21. A majority of men and boys in Myanmar wear the longyi (a wrap around skirt) but Coco was one of the very few I have seen in jeans.

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We drove through the streets of the village and the villagers and the children came running out to say hello and high five us. "Mingalabar" means hello or wishing you an auspicious day or anything nice you would like to impart. It was nice being driven through the narrow lanes shouting this out to everyone we passed. They were very responsive and are a very gentle and friendly people. The road was made of cement, which surprised me as we are in quite a remote village and most of the houses are no more than shacks so I had really expected a dirt track. There were even speed bumps which gave the back side a bit of a thump, but I guess they are there to slow down the motor bikes which are here in their thousands. They are not allowed in Yangon.

We visited the market. It was small but the people were very happy and friendly. Lots of local fresh produce and the stalls with all the junky stuff.

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Next stop was the local monastery where the children attend school. Government schools insist the chidren wear uniforms but the monastery children can wear what they like but most are in uniform. They learn English from early primary school. The monks take in boy and girl orphans and both sexes become monks and nuns, but they are brought up in different places. Compared to Australian primary schools, these children and thd teachers have absolutely nothing - no teaching aids, no books, no pencils.
These are the rules they try to teach the children.

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This is a good way to keep the kids in the class room. Only joking - it wasn't really locked but looked like it was.

Bye bye Coco..

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Back to the ferry terminal for the ride back to Yangon.

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We had lunch at the Rangoon Tea House. Each table shared Pennywort Salad and Mutton Samosas and the main was Pork Belly in Soy Bean Sauce. It was okay but pork belly is not something I would normally eat. Dessert was delicious - House Falooda which was egg pudding, rose jelly, rose syrup, chia seeds, pandan cendol (whatever that is), vermicelli sev, whole milk, milk icecream, pistachio and almonds. Yum.

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Back to the hotel for 45 mins before we visited the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is visible from all over Yangon. It is not far from our hotel and didn't take very long to get there in the bus. It is huge. I think our guide said there were more than 1,800 buddahs in the area. It is absolute stunning. There are really no words to describe this magical place. And the later we stayed, towards sunset, the lovelier it became. The golden colour changed in the evening light and just glowed. It was wonderful. It is covered in gold plate from the bell shape up and gold leaf for the rest. The gold leaf is replaced every 5 years.

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We participated in the ritual of 'oil lamp lighting' where we lit candles to mediate on how fragile human life is. It was very moving.

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After circumnavigating the entire pagoda, we finally came to Saturday corner for all people born on Saturdays, which is me. I poured water on Buddah - not sure why, but it will probably bring me good luck.

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These people are volunteers who come to sweep the floor every day. They are usually born on the day that they come to sweep. For example, people born on Mondays will donate their time on a Monday afternoon to clean the pagoda. Despite the cleaning, our feet were black!

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We arrived back at the hotel in time for the last hour of Happy Hour. We spent a lot of time chatting to Ann and Dieter from Bonn. They are very nice people. It would be nice if they were travelling with us but they are joining a cruise in Yangon on Wednesday, which will take them to Mandalay. I don't think it could possibly be as nice as the Scenic Aura.

I didn't have time for a swim today. I was going to try to improve on my laps.

No motor bikes are allowed in Yangon, but maybe the traffic would flow a bit better if they were.

Leaving tomorrow to join the Scenic Aura. Bags out at 7.30 pm. On the bus at 8.30 am for the six hour road trip to Pyay.

Posted by gaddingabout 21:35 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Yangon, Myanmar - Sunday, 15 January 2017

Exploring the city and meeting the group (our new travelling companions) at 6.00 pm

sunny 32 °C

We both had a great night's sleep - about 10 hours of it! And the bed and pillows are divine.

After breakfast, we met the girls in the foyer and after perusing a local map given to us by reception, we decided to walk a block or two down the road to the Sule Pagoda. As opposed to the old saying, "Everything that glistens is not gold", well everything here that glistens, IS gold! As I had long shorts and a sleeveless top on, I had to cover my shoulders and my knees with a sarong and a long sleeved top. Phil didn't come in because he didn't want to take his shoes off and walk barefoot. The gold in these places is just amazing. It's everywhere. The Sule Pagoda is one of the city's oldest landmarks. It was built after the Third Buddhist Synod about 2200 years ago. The golden zedi is unusual in that its octagonal shape continues right up to the bell.

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We then walked a couple more blocks towards the river to Merchant Road to look at the old colonial buildings, but we didn't really see any. And those that we did, we in a very bad state of disrepair.

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We returned to the hotel and the conceirge had booked a taxi for us for several hours to take us to other well known landmarks in Yangon. And he made sure that the driver spoke English. First stop was the Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda which houses the Reclining Buddah. How fabulous this was. Just amazing. The reclining Buddha is 72m long and one of the larget images in Myanmar. The original Buddah was built in 1907 and rebuilt in 1957.

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Next stop was the Bogyoke Aung San Museum which is located in Bahan Township. It is the former home of General Aung San and his wife Daw Kin Kyi and is the house where Aung Sung Sue Kyi grew up. The house dates from the 1920s and is still in very good condition.

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We then called into Karaweik which is located on the Royal Lake and resembles the images of a traditional royal barge. We stopped at a cafe called The Public and had a lovely large cool beer with our driver, but he was only allowed to have a smoothie as he was driving. The bottles are huge so we bought one for him to take home.

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We then visited Botataung Pagoda which was named after the thousand military leaders who escorted relics of Buddha brought from India over 2000 years ago. There is a piece of Buddah's hair in there. The Pagoda was hit by a bomb in 1943 and was rebuilt after the war. It is unusual for the zedi to be hollow and you can walk through it. The walls and ceilings are gold, gold, gold and around every corner, there is someone squatting in the corner, praying or chanting. We asked someone about it and there was a monk in the group and he wanted to have his photo taken with us, so we obliged and then asked him to pose with us.

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After our day's touring, we came back to the hotel and went for a quick swim. I was SO pleased with myself as I swam two lengths of the pool, freestyle. I mean, head in the water and properly breathing. I haven't done that since I was in my teens. So nice to know I can still do it! But boy, was I puffing at the end of it. I'll try to do three lengths tomorrow and build it up.

Before our Scenic Meet and Greet at 6.00pm, we dived into the Club Lounge for one small Happy Hour G&T. We had our briefing and as yet, haven't had much of an opportunity to speak in depth to other members of our group, but they all seem quite nice. There are some pommies in our group and one American couple and the rest are Australians. There are two groups travelling together - our group with guide Susan and the other group, who are going on to Inle Lake for four days at the end of our Irrawaddy cruise are touring with Papa. But we all go to the same functions, just in different buses.

At 7.15 pm we met in the foyer and caught the bus to the lovely old Strand Hotel, where we had our Welcome Dinner. The decor was traditional old English in a very stylish manner and we had a lovely meal of Cucumber Salad served with Smoked Salmon and Lemon Dressing; Grilled Chilean White Sea Bass/Osso Buco; and Lemon Tart. Very, very nice.

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Back on the bus and back to the hotel for a reasonably early night, as the tour starts in earnest tomorrow.

Posted by gaddingabout 08:31 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Canberra/Singapore/Yangon - Saturday, 14 January 2017

Business Class all the way!

sunny 28 °C

Sule Shangri-La Hotel - Room 2207 - on the top floor.

We boarded on time and were escorted to our seats. We think they are the best seats in the plane, bar First Class! We are on the right hand side of the plane and the first seats in Business Class. We have a huge amount of room and our seats lie flat like a bed. We had a champagne on boarding and I have just ordered and received a Singapore Sling, so very soon I'll be in La La land! Phil is having Chivas Regal, on the rocks.

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We phoned Ingrid and Elfi at Brisbane Airport before we boarded and their flight is leaving about the same time as ours and we arrive in Singapore at the same time too.

The holiday has begun!

We were offered a meal just after we boarded, but I declined and Phil had a turkey sandwich. I snuggled down and went to sleep. My seat stretches out absolutely flat so I had plenty of room for sleeping. Phil started to watch a movie but he fell asleep too. About 3.30 am we were woken for breakfast because the pilot had made good time during the flight and we were going to be landing 30 minutes earlier than expected. We both had a continental breakfast and the plane was on the ground in Singapore and we were in the terminal by 4.45 am. Phil did comment that this flight is going to be called the "Red Eye Special" from now on!

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Our flight landed at Terminal 2 and our next flight to Yangon was leaving from Terminal 2, so we had a huge walk to find our lounge but we needed it after our long flight. Ingrid and Elfie were waiting at the lounge for us and it was so lovely to see them again. Their flight from Brisbane had landed at Terminal 1 and they had to walk over to Terminal 2 because the Sky Train and the buses weren't running at that time in the morning.

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Changi Airport is just beautiful and has such lovely displays.

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It is also the Year of the Rooster soon.

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Because our flight from Canberra arrived early, we had three hours to wait until our flight left for Yangon, but the time went really quickly chatting and catching up with Ingrid and Elfie.

By the time we boarded, I was starving and when they offered a cooked American breakfast, we both jumped at the chance. I gobbled it down so quickly and I hope no one was watching, because they would have thought I looked like a pig, but I was starving. Then I went to sleep. It is amazing what a good meal and a sleep does for a person!

Yangon Airport is huge. Back in the sixties, it was the biggest airport in Asia, but has since been taken over by Singapore, Hong Kong and KL.

We breezed through Immigration, collected our bags, connected with our Scenic transfer driver and then proceeded on the long drive into the city to the Sule Shangra-La Hotel, right in the centre of the city. The traffic was horrific - sometimes we just sat there for ages and ages, with no one going anywhere. But we chatted to our guide about Myanmar and found it all very informative. The drive from the airport to our hotel in the centre of the city probably took about an hour and it wasn't because of the distance - just impossible traffic. This is a city of almost 6 million people.

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The hotel is lovely and as we are on the top floor we have access to the Club Lounge for Happy Hour and breakfast and coffee etc during the day.

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First disaster - on unpacking my bag, I discovered that my purple shampoo had leaked everywhere, so I had a lot of cleaning up to do, and rinsing of some clothes. Thank goodness it is just shampoo and not a dye as it all washed out very easily. Now I have clothes hanging in the window, trying to dry in the sun!

We went for a walk to find the Bogyoke Aung San Market, which was just around the corner from our hotel. Nothing amazing here. Just people selling lots of local produce and junky clothes and souvenirs. It is warm outside, but not unbearable at all.

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We came back to the hotel and had a swim in the pool. The water is 22 degrees, which was a tad cool, but once you were in, it was okay.

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Met Elfie and Ingrid in the Horizon Lounge for Happy Hour. The snacks were substantial so we decided to have an early night and see what tomorrow brings.

Our tour officially starts at 6.00 pm tomorrow, when we meet with the other members of our group and our tour leader.

Posted by gaddingabout 05:47 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Cook to Canberra INTERNATIONAL Airport, Friday, 13 Jan 2017

Our first limousine ride courtesy of Scenic Tours

sunny 40 °C

Today is the day we fly direct from Canberra to Singapore from Canberra Airport and we are so excited not to have to travel to Sydney a day early, stay overnight in the airport hotel and then battle the crowds at Sydney Airport. At least when you fly Business Class, it is a lot less painful.

Our flight for Singapore leaves at 12.35 am on Saturday, 14 January.

So, for the first time ever, we have been able to avail ourselves of a Limo ride to the airport, courtesy of Scenic.

The car and driver arrived at 10.15 pm, in a nice BMW, and away we went for the 15 minute drive to the airport. Canberra is SUCH a small place. The limo driver was one of Phil's old taxi drivers!

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We arrived at the airport, checked in all the way through to Yangon (the girl at the check in didn't know where Yangon was, so we gave her a geography lesson about Yangon once being Rangoon and Myanmar once being Burma!)

Breezed through the first security check and then up the escalator to Customs and Immigration.

A bit of confusion here as once we went through Immigration and into the general lounge, we couldn't get into the Virgin Lounge which we are entitled to as Business Class passengers. We asked one of the staff members and he said once we were in here, we couldn't get out and into the Virgin Lounge but he gave us a $20 voucher each to spend here. Well, we needed every cent of that. The prices here are outrageous! AND there is no wifi in here. Very bad.

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There needs to be a bit better signage so people know to go into the lounge first before Immigration. We'll know next time!

One red wine - $12. One champagne - $15. One bottle of water - $4.50. Terrible. No wonder no one is eating or drinking but it is 11.40 pm and it's time for bed, not eating.

Boarding soon and then it will be Saturday, 14 January 2017.

Posted by gaddingabout 00:16 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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