Monumental golden statues of Buddha, landscapes dotted with thousands of sacred shrines, and a sense of travelling back in time to the days of old Asia are just some of the experiences that will greet you in Burma (Myanmar). During your visit you will have plenty of time to explore the remarkable city of Yangon (Rangoon), a highlight being the awe-inspiring Shwedagon Pagoda which is strikingly covered in golden plates. Burma is a land of mystery, staggering natural beauty and deeply spiritual beliefs. In the words of Rudyard Kipling: “This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know.”
When Rudyard Kipling first saw the 99-metre high golden stupa of the Shwedagon Pagoda in 1889, he wrote: ‘Then, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon, a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple-spire.’
The Pagoda is situated on a hill overlooking the city of Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in Myanmar (Burma) where it dominates the skyline. According to legend, it was created by two brothers, Trapusa and Bahalika, who encountered Gautama Buddha shortly after his enlightenment. As a gift to them, Siddhārtha Gautama pulled eight hairs from his head, which the brothers brought back to Singuttara Hill to preserve in a magnificent reliquary.
As well as Siddhārtha, Buddhism recognises four other Enlightened Ones from the current aeon, or kalpa as it is known, including the predicted future Buddha, Maitreya. Alongside hairs from the current Buddha, Shwedagon is also said to contain the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Koṇāgamana and a piece of the robe of Kassapa.
The practise of covering the stupa in gold leaf began in the 15th-century when Queen Shin Sawbu gifted Shwedagon with her weight in the precious metal. The people of Myanmar have continued this tradition to this day, with plates of gold now riveted to the brickwork of the bell-shaped structure.
The spectacular effect created by these panels of gold is best experience at sunset, when their glow casts a spell over the entire city, so the tour will depart at around 4pm, giving you time to learn more about its incredible history as well as experiencing a truly unforgettable sunset.
The National Museum of Myanmar (Burma) in the city of Yangon (formerly Rangoon) was founded in 1952 but only moved to its current five storey building in 1996, when the decision was made to provide even more space for this diverse collection dedicated to the indigenous people of Myanmar and its natural history.
Artefacts are spread across fourteen galleries representing different areas of history, from royal regalia to musical instruments, various eras of art to epigraphy and calligraphy, traditional folk art, Buddhist iconography, natural history and prehistory. A highlight is the spectacular 26-feet high, jewel-encrusted Royal Lion Throne of King Thibaw, the last ruler of Myanmar, but there are plenty of other priceless and illuminating exhibits to see as well, ensuring you will leave with a greater knowledge and understanding of Myanmar and its people.
Not far from the museum is the indoor Bogyoke Market, formerly named Scott’s Market, after the Municipal Commissioner Gavin Scott who led the city under British rule during the early 20th-century. Following Burmese independence in 1948 the market was renamed in honour of the national leader Bogyoke (General) Aung San who had been assassinated the year before.
Housed inside this beautiful colonial building are 1,641 shops selling luxury items, handicrafts, food, clothing, jewellery, fashion and consumer goods. The market is square in shape and divided into four wings, but the stalls and shops are not categorized, making finding items more fun.
An hour’s flight north of Yangon, Mandalay is a cultural center, Burma’s second largest city and her last royal capital. It’s worth making the early start to enable a visit to the Mahagandayon Monastery at Amarapura, one of the largest in Burma and home to over 1,400 monks. Watch the monks line up to receive their last meal of the day, eaten in silence in the middle of the morning.
The nearby U Bein bridge spans the Taungthaman Lake and was built in the mid-19th century. Mandalay has been famed for centuries for silk production and a visit to a weaving workshop provides a fascinating glimpse into the art. Nimble-fingered young women use old-fashioned looms to produce intricate patterns for festive “longyi” or sarongs.
Time to enjoy a typical Burmese lunch, then make a stop at the gate of Mandalay’s city wall within its moat to photograph Mandalay Hill. In the afternoon, a visit will be made to the Shwenandaw “Golden Palace” former monastery to view its fabulous 19th-century woodcarvings of Buddhist myths.
If time permits, a short stop at the Mahamuni pagoda, one of the most revered religious monuments in Myanmar will complete today’s tour of Mandalay before a late-afternoon return flight to Yangon, reboarding Aegean Odyssey for dinner.
Please Note: This excursion involves a visit to a pagoda and you will be asked to remove your shoes and socks. Please dress appropriately for visiting religious sites, with shoulders and knees covered as a general rule