This is a very well planned and executed holiday. Our tour guides' organisational skills and interpersonal management of our group was exceptional. As a whole the trip way exceeded my expectations for content and quality of the hotels used. We were blessed in being a very agreeable and well balanced group in all aspects. In short a wonderful and memorable holiday in a remarkable country spent with a great group of co-travellers.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
There were so many:
Climbing up the 1000 or so steps of Mandaley hill bare footed to see the setting sun reflected in a veritable palace of coloured mirrored tiles in the Pagoda at its' sumit.
Finding ourselves in the middle of an initiation parade for Burmese boys entering monkhood where their family and friends carried elaborate temple gifts of flowers made from folded currency notes.
Eating ice cream sundaes with the whole group in Mandaleys' only ice cream parlour. You have to be deprived of such luxuries for a week to appreciate just how wonderful this was!
Walking through a patchwork of cabbage fields looking every inch like a cubist painting in the hills above Kalaw. Then eating cabbage soup and other delicacies with a local farming family.
Riding the circular slow train around Yangon. Three hours of rattling travel and a lifetimes' memories gained from observing the diversity of Burmese day to day life being lived by fellow passengers.
- What did you think of your group leader?
- Joseph Zau Li is a truely inspirational tour leader. His organisational skills were always spot on; we truely never wanted for anything. Joseph was always happy to just chat about anything and was a great source of information for me about contempory Burmese society way above and beyond the tour content. Because of Josephs' enthusiasm for his country I felt we did far more than was strictly listed in the tour notes, and for me this added a huge amount of added value to the tour.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
We went at the hottest time of the year - March/April. The guide books will suggest you should avoid this in favour of December/January and this worried me. My fears were unjustified. Yes it was very hot and we had to avoid walking about too much at mid-day, but if you wear a hat, sunscreen and drink plenty of water the upside is less crowds. I didn't even get sunburnt, and if you sit around more in the middle of the day its more opportunity to watch and interact with the local people.
Is there a process to toughen your feet up before you go? If so do it. You will find yourself constantly walking around barefooted over roasting hot stone pavements. This seriously burns the soles of our "sensitive" feet. At times must have looked like a group of sand lizards hopping from one foot to the other to avoid the pain! Curiously, I have to say, dispite such depravations, my feet suffered no lasting damage at all.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
One of the best things about this itenerary is that it has a very good blend of planned and unplanned time, leaving lots of opportunity for arranging other activities, which, with the inestimable help of our excellant guide was always easy to achieve.
There were some early starts because of the plane schedules, but I felt the advantage of using the planes to save time on road journeys over very poor roads easily repaid the effort. Other companies sail from Mandaley to Bagan, but I felt the day cruising up the Irrawaddy to Mingan on a private boat gave enough exposure to riverside life and the time saved flying gave welcome extra time to explore Bagan.
I feel the itenerary circuit of Bagan/Mandaley/Hill Station/Lake Inle was preferable to the reverse circuit used by some other tours, as we did the hottest, most temple saturated and most energy demanding areas first before moving onto the more relaxing, slightly cooler areas: which gave a very welcome change of pace.
We were a large group of 18 but this was never a problem. We had beautiful large buses for our transport which gave everyone plenty of space to move around and socialise freely. In such a hot country you really need, comfort, good air conditioning and space for long journeys over terrible roads. I have critizised tour companies for using 24 seater mini buses for groups of 16 or more in such conditions which usually makes the travelling hell. I'm very happy that this was not the case here.
I spent an extra day in Yangon before and after the tour and would recommend this to anyone who enjoys individual exploration as there is so much to see in Yangon and there is only limited time within the tour program.