As more of the world comes within our reach every day, few places still conjure up the thrill of discovery. Of those that do, perhaps the most evocative is Myanmar, a mystical land of great natural beauty, wondrous world heritage sites and deeply religious, gentle people. Following the unqualified success of our inaugural Ultimate Invitation to Myanmar in 2007, 2009, 2013 and 2016 (‘it was one of the best holidays we have had’, ‘the trip was fantastically wonderful’, ‘we enjoyed every minute’), we have decided to repeat this magical journey in September 2019. The Ultimate Invitation provides a unique opportunity to explore this magnificent country on one of the world’s great river journeys along the famed Ayeyarwady River.
Following a two-night stay in Yangon, our adventure begins in earnest when we board Belmond’s (formerly Orient Express) river vessel, Road To Mandalay, which we have chartered exclusively for an 11-day cruise into northern Myanmar. Acknowledged as the most luxurious cruiser on the Ayeyarwady, Road To Mandalay is the perfect setting for our tour, offering beautifully appointed accommodation and a range of excellent facilities.
As we cruise along this great waterway we will discover – on foot (very leisurely!), bicycle rickshaw and train – a natural and cultural landscape little changed since Kipling’s day. At the heart of the voyage is beauty, both natural and man-made, from the spectacular, jungle-clad gorges that dominate the upper reaches of the river to the market scenes of Katha from George Orwell’s Burmese Days, and the ancient capital of Mandalay immortalized by Kipling’s eponymous poem. For many the high point of the cruise will be the 3,000 temple ruins spread across the great plain of Bagan, but for everyone on board the overwhelming impression will be of a land and a people unchanged by time.
Throughout, you will also enjoy the company of Nick Van Gruisen from The Ultimate Travel Company and his wife Iris, along with highly regarded photojournalist and past owner of London’s famous World Food Café, Chris Caldicott and his wife Carolyn. With his help your photographic record of Myanmar should convey just how very special this magical country and your cruise on the Ayeyarwady.
We are also offering the option to extend your stay at Inle Lake for a three nights after the cruise.
London / Bangkok
Depart London Heathrow at 12.30hrs on a Thai Airways flight TG911 overnight to Bangkok (suggested flights are subject to schedule change and have not been included in cost of tour).
Bangkok / Yangon
Arrive in Bangkok at 06.05hrs and depart at 07.55hrs on flight TG303 arriving Yangon at 08.50hrs. On arrival transfer to the Governor’s Residence Hotel where two nights are spent and where rooms are ready for immediate occupation. Housed in an imposing restored Burmese teak mansion in the Embassy Quarter of Yangon, this intimate 48-room hotel offers spacious rooms overlooking the private lotus garden and free-form swimming pool. Rooms are luxuriously decorated in teak with tropical cottons and silks, and each has a large handmade free-form bath.
Lunch under own arrangements. The remainder of the day will be at leisure to relax after the journey followed by a welcome dinner at the hotel.
City tour of the garden city of Yangon which will include a visit to the 2,500-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the world’s most spectacular religious monuments. The golden dome of the Shwedagon Pagoda rises 98 meters above its base and is covered with 60 tons of pure gold. Other stops may include the Chauk Htat Gyi, a huge reclining Buddha image, the Sule Pagoda with its golden chedi, a photo stop at the Karaweik Hall royal floating barge and Bogyoke (Scott) Market to see Myanmar’s wide range of handicrafts.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Dinner under own arrangements.
Yangon / Mandalay / Mingun
Transfer to the airport for a morning flight from Yangon to Mandalay. Board the Road To Mandalay berthed on the Ayeyarwady River at Shwe Kyet Yet – opposite the pagoda-studded Sagaing Hills.
After lunch on board we begin our cruise, which offers an insight into the history, culture and magnificent scenery of this river land, and a glimpse of the timeless life of the river people as we sail. As in ancient Egypt, much of Myanmar’s history is linked with the river, and all the country’s ancient capitals and ‘lost’ cities lie along the banks of the Ayeyarwady. Travelling north, we pass Mandalay on the east shore of the river and enjoy a view of Mandalay Hill in the distance.
Late in the afternoon we anchor at Mingun for a visit to the largest brick-built pagoda in the world and the world’s largest un-cracked bell. Welcome dinner on board.
Mingun / Nwe Nyein
The ship makes an early start today, transiting the plain to the north and west of Mandalay before entering the 3rd Defile (gorge) at Singu around midday. In the late morning, the Road To Mandalay drops anchor off the town of Kyan Hnyat for a walking tour.
Lunch on board. In the afternoon the ship will sail past the picturesque island pagoda of Thihadaw. This evening, pre-dinner drinks on the ship’s Observation Deck, followed by dinner on board.
Kyan Hnyat / Katha
Today begins with an early morning walking tour of the delightful village of Kyan Hnyat, when we will see hundreds of school children and the lively morning business in the market.
Lunch on board. We continue our journey north along vast stretches of river, expansive scenery and interesting rural villages on its shores. As the sun sets, the ship will anchor off the old market town of Katha, famous as the site where, in May 1942, the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company scuttled as many as 75 ships to defy the Japanese. Dinner on board.
Katha / Shwequ
Early this morning we visit Katha by trishaw, to see the market place made famous by George Orwell in Burmese Days. Back on board, the ship continues its journey north through the picturesque landscape, with the distant mountains marking the 2nd Defile (gorge) coming into view in the afternoon.
Lunch on board. Disembark into boats to take you ashore to the industrious port of Shwequ to experience life in a typical Shan riverside village. The ship anchors off the splendid island pagoda of Shwe Paw. Dinner on board.
Zinbon / Bhamo / Shwe Paw
Today we reach the magnificent 2nd Defile with its green-clad mountains reaching down to the narrowing channel. The ship holds close to one or other of the banks, passing logging camps and an old colonial village at Zinbon. We continue north towards the challenging 1st Defile where the ship will drop anchor off Bhamo.
Lunch on board. Afternoon visit to the town of Bhamo, which has been fought over for years by Burmans, Kachins, Chinese, British, Japanese and Americans. The town is barely 50 miles from the Chinese border in the foothills of Yunnan, which can be clearly seen to the east. Visit the local sights and markets. Dinner on board.
Shwe Paw / Katha
This morning we begin the day exploring Shwe Paw Island with its ancient pagodas.
Lunch on board. Sail this afternoon to the riverside village of Moe Dar to witness a traditional Noviciation Ceremony, a very important aspect of Buddhist life. Dinner on board.
Katha / Kyan Hnyat
In the morning board an antique train which takes us on a journey through the thick Kachin jungle to the forest station of Naba. Returning through the rainforest to the Road To Mandalay, we continue sailing to Kyan Hnayt.
Lunch on board. Evening cocktails on the Observation Deck. Dinner on board.
Kyan Hnyat / Mogok
This morning the ship anchors off Thabeikkyin where we will take the road to Mogok to explore the scenery of the forestry reserve where many precious plants are grown for their essential oils. Meet working elephants in the Burmese teak forest before returning to the ship.
Lunch on board. Remainder of the day is spent on board as we continue our journey south. Dinner on board.
This morning we reach Mandalay once again in time to enjoy a tour of the city. During the day we will see the most revered religious monument in Myanmar, the Mahamuni Pagoda Buddha, stop to see the stone carving and, later, to see the gold leaf being beaten into wafer thin pieces.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Visit the Shwenandaw Monastery, an ancient wooden building with intricate carving, which was once King Mindon’s home. We continue to see the ‘world’s largest book’ (Buddhist Scriptures inscribed on marble slabs) at the Kuthodaw Pagoda, before visiting the Kyaukdawgi Pagoda to see the vast statue of Buddha carved out of a single block of marble.
At sunset, we might enjoy the spectacular views from Mandalay Hill where there are interesting glass-studded temples. Rejoining the ship at Shwe Kyet Yet, we enjoy a tribal dance display in the evening. Dinner on board.
Mandalay / Bagan
Early today we leave Mandalay on the last leg of our journey. We will enjoy magnificent views of the Sagaing Hill before sailing under Ava Bridge and passing traditional riverside communities with women doing household chores by the river and waving children as we spend the day relaxing on board.
Lunch on board. By mid-afternoon we are well on our way into the ancient city of Bagan, just in time to witness sunset over the plain. This evening enjoy traditional Bagan entertainers. Dinner on board.
Bagan & Mount Popa
Our final day offers the opportunity to visit just some of the ancient sites in and around Bagan. These include: the Shwezigon Pagoda, an 11th century religious shrine with a golden stupa, which is Bagan’s most important reliquary shrine; the Kyansittha ‘Cave’ Temple; Htilominlo, which has old murals and friezes; the Ananda Temple, a whitewashed masterpiece of ‘Mon’ architecture with four standing Buddhas; the 61-metre tall 12th century Thatbyinnyu temple; Dhammayangyi, a massive-looking 12th century temple famous for its mortar-less brickwork; and Mingalazedi, the last of the large Pagodas built in the 13th century and representing the pinnacle of Bamar pagoda architecture. Time permitting, we might also visit the Moe Moe lacquer-ware factory to watch craftsmen skilfully making this most famous of Bagan handicrafts.
Lunch on board. In the afternoon there will be an optional tour out of the city to Mount Popa, home to Myanmar’s intriguing ‘nats’ (spirits). This is a steep and energetic climb (or you can be carried on a litter!), but rewarded with fabulous views from its impressive monastery at the summit. This evening, pre-dinner drinks mark the end of a most memorable voyage. Farewell dinner on board.
Bagan / Yangon / Bangkok
Early this morning, sadly we disembark from the Road To Mandalay and transfer to the airport for a flight back to Yangon. On arrival, we transfer to the Park Royal Hotel where day rooms have been booked.
Lunch at the hotel. The remainder of the afternoon under own arrangements. Late afternoon transfer to the airport. Depart Yangon at 19.45hrs on Thai Airways flight TG306 to Bangkok arriving at 21.40hrs (suggested flights are subject to schedule change and have not been included in cost of tour).
Bangkok / London
Depart Bangkok at 00.25hrs on TG 910 to London Heathrow arriving at 07.15hrs.