Today is free for sightseeing. The golden stupa of Shwedagon Paya glitters and beneath it city life goes on in the busy streets. Feel free to explore dilapidated colonial edifices and the maze of side streets that give this city its character. Downtown Rangoon with its unpaved streets lined with old wooden shuttered houses, medicine shops, temples and the more colourful markets offers plenty of photographic opportunities. Close by,visit Shwe Bontha, perhaps the most photogenic of all streets in the city, with its leafy sidewalks, pavement tea-shops and magnificent colonial buildings. In the evening at approx. 5pm there will be a group meeting which you should attend. The local leader will discuss the trip ahead in detail,take your insurance details and answer any questions you might have. Then we'll head out and eat in one of Rangoon's many restaurants.
This morning we leave early for our short flight to the ancient wonder of Bagan (Pagan), where after checking in we will have an afternoon tour of some of the wonders of this amazing site. There are over 4000 temples and pagodas in many shapes and sizes to explore amongst this site which compares to the Angkor Kingdom of Cambodia, Chichen Itza and Machu Picchu as one of the world's most spectacular archaeological sites. This is where Buddhism, Hinduism and Nat worship come together in an array of different shrines. Ananda Pahto with its bejewelled umbrella (hti), Dhammayangyi Pahto and Shwezigon Paya are the largest and most impressive sights we will visit as well as some smaller hidden gems away from the main tourist route. Weather permitting, this evening we will catch the sunset from a temple called Lawkananda which is picturesquely situated on the banks of the Irrawaddy River.
After breakfast we will cross the Irrawaddy River and follow a rugged, dusty dirt road passing rice fields and local seasonal crops (approximately 96km, 4 hours) to the Pontaung mountain range, famous among archaeologists, following a recent discovery of fossilised remains dating back 35-50 million years ago.After lunch we proceed to Mindat, through tropical lowland forest. Mindat (1516m) is the main administrative town for southern Chin State and is overlooked by Mount Victoria some thirty miles away across a deep valley. The guest house where we stay is simple and facilities very basic. Bucket showers are available but the water is cold (it's warm here though!). We will have dinner at a local restaurant.
An early start sees us exploring the streets of Mindat where we should have some good photo opportunities of the monks on their ritual alms walk and the children heading off to school. We will also walk up to the Buddhist monastery on the hill for beautiful views of the surrounding area. This afternoon, we set off for the drive to our trailhead (approx 45 minutes) where we meet our trekking crew. We then begin on a good track descending steadily through pine forest. After an hour we arrive at Heelong from where we will see animal skulls hanging from the huts. We should arrive at Khone Ei late afternoon. Here we will sleep at a village house or at the village temple. Approx. trekking time 3 to 4 hrs (1516m to 2429m then to 1307m).
After breakfast we set off on the trail, which is a good and steady descent to the River Chi, traversing several ridges. We will stop at Amlong for lunch and on our way we'll pass local villagers' weaving huts. Continuing on we climb the path steadily from the bottom of the valley up to the village of Kyar Ai Nuu, where clay pipes are made. We will have lunch in the villlage. In the afternoon we may have the opportunity to meet the village leader and share a cup of tea. Our accommodation for the night is the local school, which will be very basic.Approx.trekking time 3 hrs. (1307m to 1430m).
This morning begins with a steep descent for 45 minutes until we reach the bottom of the valley.Crossing the river we then continue to climb up and down on paths crossing another valley before a short but tough climb to the village of Madat where we will stop for lunch. We'll then continue along the undulating path passing through a number of small villages where animism is widely practiced (look out for the animist tombs of the local people) en route to our evening stop, the village of Kyardo. Kyardo is known for its gold hunters who pan in the river. Tonight we will stay in a local home with very basic facilities. For the brave there will be cold bucket showers. Approx 6 hrs trekking(1432m to 1090m).
We begin today's trek on a more challenging trail as we walk for three hours on an often muddy and steep path before it levels out. The scenery begins to open up with wonderful views of the plains to the north and east. We take lunch at a local monastery before a further hour's steep hike along a densely forested track finally leads us to Aye. From here, the whole view of Mindat can be seen.Our accommodation for the night is in a basic guest house. We will have the first electricity in 3 days, so we can recharge camera batteries. Hot water showers should also be possible though the electricy supply can be sporadic. Approx. trekking time 5hrs (1090m to 1845m).
After breakfast we begin to gain altitude as we start the climb towards Mt. Victoria. We will follow a good but steep track which is mainly forested and later we'll pass through banana plantations. Tonight we will be sleeping in a local homestay, dormitory style. Washing facilities are limited and although bucket showers are possible there is no hot water. Approx trekking time 6 hrs (1845m to 2211m).
After breakfast, we join the trail which loses sight of Mindat as we head for Mt Victoria. It will take 4 hours to reach base camp and then another hour to reach the summit. Be prepared for a much cooler and more windy night as Mt Victoria is the highest point in the Chin Hills at 3084 metres. We will set up camp up here for the night. The views from this top are breathtaking and we will have plenty of time before dinner to soak up the sunset. Approx 6 hrs trekking (2211m to 3084m).
After a stunning sunrise we have breakfast before we head back down to base camp to meet our jeeps. Bidding farewell to our crew, we set off for Kampalat an hour's drive away. If we have time we will visit Kampalat's market and have tea at a local coffee shop before our six hour drive to Bagan. As it's a long drive we will stop for coffee at a town on the river as well as making a lunch stop. The drive passes through lots of teak plantations and there is some beautiful scenery. We arrive in Bagan in the late afternoon and check in to our hotel.
A short flight east to the former Kingdom of Myanmar crosses the plains and the great Chinese road before landing in Mandalay. Mandalay has one of the most evocative names in the world, epitomised by Kipling's poem and later as an adapted song 'On the road to Mandalay'. The former Kingdom of Myanmar was abolished in 1885 by the British in the 3rd and final Anglo-Burmese war, with the remnants being given away by the last King Thibaw Min. The remains now sit directly in the middle of a grid system similar to that of Manhattan. After checking into our hotel we will take a guided walk around the streets of downtown Mandalay where we will be able to see people going about their day- to- day lives in the local markets. After lunch we will visit a local cottage industry where gold leaf is made for people to place on Buddha statues. We then continue onto Mahamuni Pagoda, revered as the holiest site in the former Kingdom where will see local people applying the gold leaf onto the the Mahamuni Buddha statue. We will continue onto Shwe In Bin Kyaung, the Teak Monastery, built in traditional Burmese fashion. Constructed in 1895 by Chinese merchants, the monastery consists of fantastically intricate woodcarvings and also contains a number of admirable works of art. After a short break at the hotel we will head to Mandalay Hill with its glittering stupas, mosaics and great lookout points, a must see for every visitor. Access to the top is via lots of steps (you should be prepared to remove shoes and socks for the climb). Once at the top you should be able to make a wish at Sutaungpyei (literally wish-fulfilling) Pagoda. With panoramic views of Mandalay we will watch the sunset over the old city walls and moat, and to the West the Minwun Hills and the Irrawaddy River. When heading back down the steps you will need your torch.
An early start as we head out to one of Burma's most iconic sights - U Bein Bridge, built in 1849 by Mayor U Bein. This teak bridge spans over a kilometre and is best seen at sunrise when villagers cross it to begin their journey to work and the fishermen prepare for a day on the water. This is one of the most photogenic sights of the country and should not be missed. We then drive back to the hotel for breakfast before heading down to the port area where we board our boat for a cruise on the Irrawaddy River. We'll explore the pretty riverside village of Mingun home to one of the world's largest bells (weighing in at 90 tonnes) and the Hsinbyume Paya with its whitewashed terraces and staircases. From here we board our boat and cruise downriver to the township of Sagaing - known as a meditation centre for monks and nuns who wish to escape city life. Here we will find many stupas on its famous Sagaing Hill with leafy pathways leading to caves and shrines. Sagaing also boasts a monastic hospital and an international Buddhist University. We board our boat and take the scenic ride back to Mandalay.
This morning we will fly to Rangoon and will have some free time to relax before we head out late afternoon for our visit to Lake Kandawgyi to view the Karaweik replica of the Royal Barge, before ascending to Shwedagon Pagoda for impressive sunset views over Rangoon which sits under its shadow. It is 2,500 years old,the most religious site in Burma and is said to contain eight hairs of the Buddha as well as 5500 diamonds and other precious stones.
The trip ends in Yangon.For those on group flights, these depart in the morning and will arrive in the UK the following day.