This article is a guest post by Ian Woods, Group Business Development Director for ICS Travel Group
Myanmar, the Golden Land, lives up to its reputation. I was fortunate to take a family vacation to Myanmar, joined by my parents who are visiting from the United Kingdom. Of course we booked our journey through ICS Travel Group because of the expertise with multi-generational travel and knowledge of how to accommodate the various needs of different age groups.
The flight from Bangkok to Mandalay is short, and after clearing Customs and Immigration we were met by our guide, who was carrying an ICS Travel Group sign. We were presented with a welcome packet including all the necessary documentation, vouchers and contact information for our guides and the local ICS Travel Group offices.
Our first stop was Sagaing, the spiritual centre of Myanmar. Hundreds of stupas, monasteries, temples and nunneries are to be found in Sagaing Hill, sometimes known as a “living Bagan.” Thousands of monks and nuns retreat here for meditation and contemplation. Some of the more famous temples here are Tupayon Paya and Hsinmyashin Paya (the Pagoda of Many Elephants).
The shallow Taungthaman Lake is crossed by a famous 1.2 km long weathered teak footbridge (the longest teak bridge in the world) known as the U Bein Bridge, curved to withstand the wind and waves. During the dry season, the bridge crosses mostly dry land.
Pyin Oo Lwin was originally a Shan Danu village, but following the influx of Asians during the British colonial era, it is now home to around 5,000 Nepalis and 10,000 Indians. For many years it was a British hill station because – due to the altitude – even at the height of the hot season, it is pleasantly cool and the air is fresh.
We enjoyed our visit to the 237-acre Botanical Gardens, which features wide expanses of manicured grass, large flowerbeds, natural forest, rose gardens and an orchid house. You can even see views of the town from Purcell Tower, situated near the entrance to the town. The tower was a gift from Queen Victoria, who offered an identical tower to Cape Town in South Africa.
One of the the most interesting stops was a visit to a gold-beating workshop where we observed the laborious method involved in producing the delicate gold leaves used by devout followers to adorn shrines, Buddha statues and temples.
The central stupa of the Kuthodaw Paya was modelled on the Shwezigon Paya at Nyaung U near Bagan. Building commenced in 1857, at the same time as the royal palace. The paya has been dubbed ‘the world’s biggest book’, because standing around the central stupa are 729 marble slabs on which are inscribed the entire Tripitaka.
One of the unique stories in Myanmar history is the Shwe Inn Bin Monastery. A Chinese merchant, U Set Shwin, married a local Burmese lady and with his newly acquired fortune built a monastery for his religious wife. It is built of teak, has Burmese carved doors and paintings depicting General Prendergast negotiating with court ministers prior to King Thibaw’s exile.
In summary, my parents and I loved our time in Myanmar! The land is beautiful, the people are friendly, and the guides were a wealth of knowledge. We are already looking forward to our next visit!