First Trip to Myanmar (Burma)
During the summer of 2014, I took my first trip to Myanmar (Burma) along the Irrawaddy River, starting in Mandalay and finishing in Yangon. In the coming months, I was to begin as the cruise director for a newly built luxury river cruise ship, the Irrawaddy Explorer, and this tour was to familiarize myself with the region in which I would be living and working. To my surprise, I found a country full of life, friendly faces, and a culture that dates back hundreds if not thousands of years.
Myanmar (Burma) Trip Review
My travels began just outside of Mandalay in the town of Amarapura, home to the world’s longest teak-wood bridge. Local boatmen took my travel companions, our guide Kin Thida, and me on a sunset ride around the bridge and surrounding lake. I was amazed by the beauty of the land of the kindness of the local people. I knew from that point that Myanmar was going to be a truly magical place. In every village we visited or site we saw, the local people always greeted us with genuine warmth, a smile and “Minga la ba” meaning “hello” in the Burmese language.
Over the next few days on our trip down the Irrawaddy River, the unspoiled beauty of the land became apparent. No skyscrapers or factories could be seen along the shores; only lively villages, farmers tending to their crops with ox and yoke, and pagodas dotting the landscape as if they were just placed there hundreds of years ago. Whenever we sail past a village, the children would come to the shore and greet us with waves and smiles. At each stop along the river, we were always greeted by warm smiling faces of the locals. One of the farmers even let me try his ox to grind the pulp of the toddy palm tree to extract the juice used to make toddy wine, a local favorite among rural villagers.
Further down the river, we arrived at the archaeological mecca known as Bagan, one of my personal favorite places in all of Myanmar. In Bagan alone, there are over 2,000 pagodas, temples, and stupas scattered throughout the area. You could stay for over a week and not take in all that Bagan has to offer. Luckily, we had our expert guide, Kin Thida, who took us to see some of the best examples of Bagan era architecture, carvings, and frescos in the area. Along with being a main tourist attraction, I was surprised to see that these ancient pagodas served as a social “hang-out” and place of worship for the local population. It was very common to see groups of monks praying, children playing, and teenage boys and girls walking around in groups socializing.
Over the next year while working as a cruise director on the Irrawaddy River, the locals began to know me by name and even some would invite me to their homes for food and tea. I can truly say that my experiences in Myanmar have forever shaped my life. The warmth and hospitality shown by the guides, the ship crew, and especially the local people made an impression that will last forever.
Submitted by Joshua Youngerman. Contact us for more information on traveling in Myanmar.