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5-star and deluxe accommodation throughout, including Rangoon’s most prestigious address: The Strand – in colonial itmes considered the finest hotel East of the Suez. Plus domestic flights, airport transfers, admission fees, and guides. Most meals, including gala banquets, cooking classes, and daily hotel breakfast.
Yangon Airport is serviced daily by Bangkok Airways and twice daily by Thai Airways via Bangkok; on Silk Air (a subsidiary of Singapore Air) via Singapore, plus its national carrier Myanmar and other regional airlines via Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, Kunming China and Calcutta India, Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi, plus an ever-growing list of airlines.
Our tour begins and ends in Yangon / Rangoon, the country’s largest city and airport hub. For early arrivals, ask us about our special rates for additional hotel nights at The Strand, plus our unique private guide option. We’ve secured exclusive rates at The Strand, so no one can beat us on price. Guaranteed!
Hosted and organized personally by Asian cookbook author Robert Carmack and textile designer Morrison Polkinghorne.
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Water Festival Tour: April 1 - 13, 2013
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highlights of our popular Burma Explorer series, travelling to the country’s top sites of ancient Bagan, imperial Mandalay, Inle’s water kingdom, and the colonial relics of Rangoon.
Water Festival, Rangoon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake
day 1: Monday April 1, 2013 meal: - - -
arrive Yangon
For those arriving mid- afternoon, we’ve scheduled an optional sunset visit to Yangon’s most famous landmark. Undoubtedly, the best time to see Shwedagon pagoda is at dusk, as the sun begins to fall over the city. One of the true wonders of the religious world, the pagoda is believed more than 2500 years old, towering some 98 meters/326 feet above the green cityscape of Yangon. 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. Before returning to the hotel, walk down the streets of Yangon’s Chinatown by night to sample street foods and local treats.
Our accommodation is the city’s most prestigious hotel, The Strand, a gloriously renovated colonial treasure, in the heart of downtown.
day 2: Tuesday April 2 meal: B L D
Yangon to Inle Lake & Kalaw
After your sumptuous Strand breakfast (order from the a la carte menu: price is included) we fly off to Shan State and Inle Lake, a vast, yet relatively shallow waterway, 22 km long and 10km wide. Along its shores lie some of the country’s most fascinating destinations, including the 8000 Buddhist figurines of Pindaya, and the picturesque hill station of Kalaw, plus hill tribe markets little changed over the centuries.
Upon arrival in Heho lunch on simple, yet satisfying, bowls of Shan noodles -- the regional specialty. The setting is a story in itself, with local villages clamoring to give you cheap hand, shoulder and leg massage while eating!. And a word of advice: Saying no graciously is much harder than saying yes. It’s all part of the fun, so enjoy!
Drive through the picturesque hills of Shan State, to Kalaw. In former days it was said that Maymyo was where Europeans went to the hills for summer; the Burmese went to Kalaw. Enroute, in Aung Ban you'll have an opportunity to taste and purchase some of the region’s – and the nation’s -- best tea.
Kalaw is an historic hill station town rich in colonial-era mock Tudor buildings, somewhat incongruously set in the Shan hillside. Before check in, stop at Shwe U Min, a small cave containing thousands of Buddhas (and totally different to Pindaya), and Nie Pago, a 500 year old hill top retreat.
Our accommodation tonight is a restored 1930s colonial cottage with rambling English-style gardens. It’s one of our personal favorites. Remaining afternoon and evening free, with group dinner at the lodge.
day 3: Wednesday April 3 meal: B L D
Pindaya Caves
Morning market
Cooking demonstration & Shan dinner
Start at Pindaya’s quaint local market, and stop for delicious la phet salad made from fermented tea leaves, and a light Chnese-style tea. The local brew here is delicious, and be sure to purchase dried “sticky rice” leaves to add to your green tea back home. Pindaya caves is a sacred destination for pilgrims around the country, and outwardly it vaguely resembles Tibet’s Potala built into the cliffs.
In the evening, we’ve arranged a short cooking demo of simple Shan dishes. This is our favorite restaurant in town, and on previous visits, but after long prodding and encouragement, the shy owners eventually agreed to open their kitchen for a demonstration. We are delighted they have agreed to once again.

day 4: Thursday April 4 meal: B L -
Kalaw Market
Inle lake
We begin at Kalaw’s 5-day market, so named after the rotation repeats every firth day to a different town in the area, excluding full moons. This local gathering of tribes' people is a colorful introduction to vibrant daily life.
Then drive to Inle Lake and explorations on land and on the water.

day 5: Friday April 5 meal: B L D
Morning boat travels along Inle Lake.
Drive back to Heho airport and late afternoon flight to Mandalay. Myanmar's second city, and the last capital of its third empire, before British conquest. Mandalay is a showcase for Burman art and architecture of the 19th century -- both a busy commercial centre and the region’s repository of traditional crafts like gold leaf, woodcarvings, silverware, kalaga tapestries and silk weaving The city is situated in the center of the country, 425 miles/668 km due north of Yangon.
As Mandalay airport is located about an hour from the city centre, we’ll first stop at scenic Amarapura, one of the capitals of the third Myanmar Empire. Promenade U Bein bridge, 1.2km/3/4 mi. long and made of teak (pedestrian traffic only). Monks here will likely ask you for help with their English conversation, and its busiest just before sunset. Drive past
Pahtodawgyi Paya dating to 1820, and remains of the old Amarapura palace, including the treasury building and watchtower, then a brief stop to view the country’s finest silk weaving in the same village, and especially its time consuming achek patterns.
As it has been a long day of travels, you will love the luxury of our hotel tonight, plus room service and dining options.
day 6: Saturday April 6 meal: B L D
Our first stop Mahamuni Pagoda, which is the country's second most sacred image, after Shwedagon in Yangon. (For those continuing to Rakhine state on Tour 2, you will visit the site of this statute’s origin, in Dynyawady.) Walk by temple handicraft vendors and artisans, to view their gilt and tin smithy.
Afterwards, trek inside the walls of the old imperial palace. Reconstructions have taken place, albeit somewhat controversially, and the actual grounds now house military installments. You will have a chance to compare this with its original teak carved buildings, when you visit Shwe Kyaung, or the Golden Palace Monastery this afternoon. This monastery is a fine example of a traditional Burmese wooden carved architecture, but more importantly it is the last standing remnant from the original wooden royal palace. (It was moved here before World War 2, and consequently missed the fire bombing.) Afterwards, visit the World’s Largest Book – a series of tombstone-like inscriptions, and finally the best views of this ancient capital from the top of Mandalay Hill, while the sun slowly sets.
Lunch at Mandalay’s best tea house fare, for billowing Puree puff ball, and dinner is at our favorite beer hall (known colloquially as a “beer station” for typical pub fare.
“The contrast of this crudeness of workmanship with all this gilt and lacquer gives, I know not how, an effect of peculiar magnificent. Each building, too much like a Swiss chalet, by itself is unimpressive, but in the mass they have a dark splendour that takes the fancy. The carving that adorns the roofs, the balustrades, and the partitions between chamber and chamber is coarse, but the designs have often grace and a luxurious elegance. The builders of the palace in the most unexpected way, by the use of the most incongruous elements, have achieved a palatial effect-- W. Somerset Maugham, The Gentlemen in the Parlour. 1929.

day 7: Sunday April 7 meal: B L D
Mandalay artisanal crafts
Pwin U Lwin/Maymyo
Botanical gardens
Indian dinner
Begin the morning exploring Mandalay's largest market, Zeigyo, followed by visits to the craft artisans of Mandalay. Gold leaf production is still hand hammered over days, to achieve a hair-like thickness, plus cast bronze, antiques, and magnificent quilted tapestries known as kalaga. Myanmar Assasa set lunch, followed by drive to the Pwin Oo Lyin hill station.
Former Maymyo was colonial Burma’s most famous hill station, indeed, during the hot months it served as its summer capital. Consequently, there are numerous decaying colonial buildings, while now also being rediscovered by wealthy Burmese renovating its mansions. It’s famous for its Kandawgyi gardens and ponds with black swans. We have long been enamored by the a unique South India restaurant in town, run by a Catholic Indian family whose father was former chef at the city’s most famous colonial hotel, the Candicraig. We’ve even met travelers saying they ate nothing as good during travels in the subcontinent!
day 8: Monday April 8 meal: B L -
Maymyo to Bagan
In the morning visit the local market, which is a colourful spectacle of fresh flowers, green vegetables, huge mounds of shrimp paste, cow bells and the like. Take the famous pony-drawn stage coaches still playing the streets. Lunch in town, including a stop at its most famous Indian sweets shop (Mandalay tourists lengthily line up to take them back home) then drive to Mandalay airport for our late afternoon flight to Bagan, Myanmar’s ancient imperial capital sacked in 1287 by the Mongols.
Dinner tonight at a local marionette theatre specializing in Bagan-style puppetry, and a delicious Daung-Lann meal, served on large, but individual, lacquer ware platters. In keeping with the local style, no utensils are served, and you will learn how to eat with your hands. ("It tastes so much better this way," locals contend. -- Now is your opportunity to find out!)
day 9: Tuesday April 9 meal: B L D
Bagan is a truly mesmerizing destination, and the favorite of many a seasoned traveler. Once renowned as the city of four million pagodas, this is one of the richest archaeological sites in Asia. Today there are more than 2,000 pagodas, temples and monasteries set over 40 sq km -- most built during the Bagan Dynasty, founded by King Anawrahta in 1044, and sacked by the Mongols in the mid 13th century. Begin at gloriously massive Shwezigon pagoda, considered a prototype of all future such pagodas/stupas. (Don’t miss the numerous vendors on the approach to the temple.) Then Ananda temple, the largest and most impressive of these ancient temples.
We’ve arranged a special lunch in a family home today, followed by the regions arts. Bagan is not only famous for the profusion of ancient temples, but also for its exquisite handicrafts. After lunch, watch the time consuming and intricate production of quality lacquer ware. Some of the finest are flexible, and made around bamboo and twisted horse hair.
Regroup for a sunset cruise.
day 10: Wednesday April 10 meal: B L -
Horsecarts through the temples of Bagan
Mt Popa’s majestic pinnacle
In the morning, a picturesque stroll on horse carts through the ruins of this ancient capital. Lunch at the town’s best Myanmar assasa spread and one we personally discovered years ago. (We now consider ourselves friends of the family, and often host cooking demonstrations here.) Before departing, staff has offered to give us lessons in tanakha powder make-up, the tree bark paste locals spread on their face.
Drive to Mt Popa, and its stunning temples built impressively on the pinnacle of a volcanic core. Seen from afar, it resembles a spectacular magical kingdom. The temple celebrates nat/animist spirits, an important part of everyday Burmese life.
Walking up to its top is a simple but slightly taxing 25-minute climb, albeit barefoot. Others below can visit the local shops below for arts and curios. Enroute, stop at a palm sugar production, once a famous activity in the area, but much diminished now in favor of new lucrative crops.
Dinner at hotel after arrival.
day 11: Thursday April 11 meal: B L D
Mt Popa to Yangon
Today travel further afield, Salay and Chauk and Kyauk Padaung, well off the beaten track. Kyauk Padaung is the heartland of the country’s jaggery sugar production, and in fact, locals call a heavily sweetened tea “la pey ye khauk Padaung. Salay is home of some 50 monasteries in a town of only 7000 persons, and a unique chance to see the beautiful 19th century wooden temple Yoke Sone Kyaung. Also visit Payathonezu and Manpaya, the latter, the world’s largest lacquer Buddha. From there drive to Chauk, its bustling regional market, and a glimpse of authentic Burmese village life. Chauk is also home to a manufacturer of the country's tasty tamarind flakes. (Be sure to save lots of spare room in an empty bag; they are deliciously addictive!) Continue to Bagan airport. Fly to Yangon, and remaining evening free. B/L
Yangon, formerly Rangoon, is “one of the most exotic and striking cities in Southeast Asia” writes Lonely Planet. And we couldn’t agree more. The main gateway -- and until very recently, administrative capital – of Myanmar, this city of 5 million chokes with crumbling colonnades, picturesque dishevelment, and old-growth teak. Outlying neighbourhoods are refreshingly overgrown, taking on a provincial feel. Check into the city’s best hotel, and remaining evening free. B/L
day 12: Friday April 12 meal: B - -
Colonial Rangoon walk & Water Festival
After your sumptuous Strand breakfast 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.) We’ll pass splendidly unkempt Victorian and Edwardian architecture meshed with ancient pagodas, and innumerable used booksellers lining the sidewalks. Stops after The Strand include the Australian High Commission and British Embassy, the colonial post office, and 2000-year-old Sule pagoda.
In the afternoon, official water festivity events begin, until dusk. Join us partying on a flat bed truck. Get ready to be drenched, and dress accordingly. NB: keep all monies and camera in sealed plastic bags.
Then regroup for our final gala evening. We’ve structured tonight’s events unusually; by letting you cook the meal. Meet in the hotel kitchen for a private primer of Burmese dishes, finishing with dinner. As a final evening gift, everyone will be given a personal longyi to wear at dinner tonight, and we encourage you as it is a great compliment when locals see you in their native attire. (Please ring butler for assistance in tying.) B/L/D
Friday night at The Strand boasts “happy hour” all evening, when the city’s expats congregate there. (Everyone then heads onto 50th St bar around midnight.)
New Year’s Water Festival:
Splashing water is a traditional part of new year’s celebrations, as it represents cleansing from old to new.
Typically, the peak is during hot day time hours, and minimal after dark. Bleacher stands are often constructed for revellers to party under streams of water, while spectators can sit safe and dry on nearby seats. But this is not guaranteed.
If splashed, accept it graciously, and without resentment. The water may not be appreciated by you, but a welcoming reaction is appreciated by them. Laugh, and enjoy the holiday spirit the same as both young and old locals do. In other words, don’t be a Grinch – no matter how tempted you may be.
day 13: Saturday April 13 meal: B - -
Tour Ends. Return flights home.
Savor your sumptuous Strand breakfast and after check out transfers to airport included. Note: your rooms are only confirmed until 12 noon today. Surcharges apply for later check out, but you securely can park your bags until departure time.
For early morning departures, request room service breakfast.
Additional nights at The Strand available on a space available only basis, and should be made well in advance to avoid disappointment. Also ask us about our private guide service in Yangon, for those wishing to tour longer.
14:00-16:00 water festival events.
Price and Registration