Myanmar • by Stefano Bajona, Founder

A tribute to Burma

A country that has always been on my Wander List that has preserved, in my opinion, all the authentic charm of South-East Asia: genuine hospitality combined with a profound spirituality.

Since our arrival at Yangon airport, our guide -Mia- and our driver -Win- welcome us with joyful eyes that fully express the sense of hospitality of this extraordinary people.

For my sojourn in Yangon, this time, I opted for The Strand, an hotel with a colonial charm and an immense history; it is 1901 when the Sarkies brothers decided to build this hotel. Yangon, as an important commercial hub of the British Empire, allows the hotel to welcome all the most important merchants over the years. The property was completely renovated in 2016, preserving the colonial style and atmosphere intact.

The experience at Strand Restaurant left me speechless both for the refinement of the presentation of the dishes and for the quality of the service. The Sarkies Bar is a perfect place to enjoy an after dinner drink while playing pool and getting to know other guests.

Discoter The Strand hotel

Wandering around Yangoon with Mia allowed us to discover the market but above all the Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset; a truly suggestive experience. A golden stupa, 98 meters high, which represents the holiest Buddhist place in Burma. The impression is that, despite being a very important worship place, it is experienced by locals of various ethnic groups as a meeting place where they also enjoy a picnic with friends.

The very long monks procession, which suddenly makes its way through the clamor, is very suggestive arousing respectful curiosity among tourists and deep meditation among the faithfuls.

Discovering Yangon

A visit to the brand new Rosewood Yangoon could not be missed. A very refined contemporary style with large spaces dedicated to different food and beverages outlets. I was impressed by the furnishings quality in the spacious rooms and by the restaurant where the chef’s attention is certainly amazing.

Discover Rosewood Yangon

The exploration of Myanmar continues towards Inle Lake where on board the lhaay (လှေ) – typical boats equipped with a rudimentary outboard engine – we were able to discover the local artisans diverse qualities. Navigating at high speed, in a maze of canals we reached the stilts where families live and at the same time dedicate themselves to craftsmanship in the art most congenial to them.

It was interesting to understand the mulberry processing technique that allows them, starting from the plants they grow directly, to produce an elegant paper that they use to create different objects.

Interesting, while sailing, the crossing with other boats dotted with open parasols; we do not have time to indicate the boat that passes us that the guide explains that Myanmar  women take extreme skin care protecting it from the sun’s rays using the powder obtained from Thanakha wood, a tree similar to sandalwood that grows mainly in the Pakoku region.

The lake is dotted with numerous floating platforms – made by compacting water hyacinths and dried algae – on which locals, since centuries, grown mainly vegetables . The farmers move, with dexterity, between the rows to harvest their crops. Some of them do not even get off the boat and do their utmost in maneuvers like true equilibrists:

what a show!

Handicrafts at Inle Lake

Getting to Sofitel Inle Lake by boat was a pleasant experience: we had to go across the dense expanse of water hyacinths. The resort, built on 20 hectares of rice paddies and floating gardens, offers a contemporary atmosphere which, in my opinion, fits in well with the local context.

The rooms have large windows to fully enjoy the unique view of the sunset reflecting on the lake.

Worthy of note is the dinner served on an islet – not far from the resort – which can be reached by a small boat following a path lit by candles scattered across an area full of water lilies.

Having lunch in the middle of Inle Lake, in the surreal silence context, aboard a small boat -specially designed with mats to ensure shade- was a magical experience that I can truly recommend with enthusiasm. We are greeted by a pleasant aperitif and the waiter shows us the menu that will be served shortly. Surprisingly, we learn that the chef prepares local specialties in a satellite boat and the waiters paddling between the two boats are doing their utmost to provide unparalleled service. All the menu is paired by an excellent wine selection.

Lunch experience at Inle

We take off for Mandalay and board the Sanctuary Ananda to set sail towards Bagan. The captain and crew, after accompanying us to the suite, welcomes all guests by offering a cocktail during the short safety briefing.

The cruise along the Irrawaddy River onboard this boat immediately shows us a different atmosphere:

a gentle flow between shores dotted with a mix of temples, pagodas and monasteries that ensure a landscape dense of Country’s history. The perfect break after busy sightseeing days.

La popolazione locale è estremamente attenta alle esigenze degli ospiti anche in situazioni ove la natura rende difficoltoso fornire un servizio di livello; sono rimasto impressionato dalla velocità con la quale l’equipaggio ed il personale locale di terra si è prodigato nel rimodellare gli scalini della sponda – che un improvviso temporale aveva cancellato- per consentire lo sbarco in una delle tappe durante la crociera.

I found the boat above my expectations and the smallest details are well taken care. The crew was very attentive and professional.

During the cruise we experienced, however, interesting excursions into remote places that would be difficult to reach by other means. I remember visiting the Aung Myae school where – thanks to donations –  poor children,  who would have no other way to approaching studies otherwise, are educated. The school started operations 10 years ago with only 20 children and today counts 300 students!

The local population is extremely attentive to guests needs even in situations where nature makes it difficult to provide a good level of service; in one of the cruise stops, I was impressed by the speed with which the crew and the local ground staff remodeled the shore  steps  -that a sudden storm canceled- to allow our disembarkation.

Cruise excursions

What a unique emotion was the spectacular hot air balloon ride over the temples of Bagan!

It is important to remember that this experience always heavily depens on weather conditions.

After leaving our boat at 5 am, we find ourselves having a coffee in a field at the edge of Bagan where the pilots briefied us on flight safety procedures. Later, after consulting several instruments and checking the conditions -even by sending in flight few small balloons- the pilots test the flight feasibility. So much joy when our pilot confirmed the boarding!

After the noise of the take-off characterized by the burner at maximum power suddenly – as soon as the altitude is reached – everything quietens down and you can savor a unique landscape: what a marvel to admire from the sky an infinite stretch of 2229 temples and pagodas!

Hot air ballon emotions

We are aware that in this moment the Country is going through a very difficult moment but we wanted to pay tribute to all the our Burmese friends.

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