Leigh and Emma continue their amazing journey through Myanmar.
By Leigh Reinhoild and Emma Thomas
A few days of breathing in the ancient-ness of Bagan, meant it was time for coastal fresh air, so we headed west to Ngapali in Rakhine State which is enjoying a moment as the go-to destination for travellers looking for the new Bali.
Situated on the shimmering Bay of Bengal, ritzy resorts dot the sweep of inlets and beach, opening their doors for the dry season and boarding them up during the torrential monsoon between May and September.
The infinity pool of the Hilton Resort & Spa Ngapali (https://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/myanmar/hilton-ngapali-resort-and-spa-SNWNBHI/index.html) takes full advantage of the hotel’s secluded position on the bay at the edge of town and gives guests no reason to move from their sun loungers.
Dining is done alfresco beside the pool and the executive chef, Mynt Tun, will take you on his morning run to the fish markets to choose your dinner, if you like.
The Eforea spa within the luxuriant tranquil water gardens of the resort offers local and Asian inspired massages and treatments to die for.
And when you want a ride into town to explore the sand-between-your-toes restaurants on Ngapali Beach, offering lobster, barracuda and squid cooked fresh, the Hilton’s private bus will drop you there and pick you up. Or you could just as easily hail a tuktuk for a $3 adventure tour.
Spend a day exploring and snorkelling at nearby Pearl Island on an all-inclusive boat trip. Or visit the local village of Thandwe where we saw traditional weavers making the National dress of longyi, worn by both men and women.
The recipe for this delicious curry can be found in this edition of The Starfish at: http://www.thestarfish.com.au/2020/05/19/recipe-starfish-myanmar-prawn-curry-in-a-hurry/
Next we flew to Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, an emerging and bustling city of 5.2million people, where east is definitely meeting west at a faster pace than the rest of the country.
You can do some serious shopping in the Midtown malls near the beautiful Inya Lake; take a stroll past the Colonial buildings of Downtown; get a fix of foot reflexology at Zu Dao in Bo Mar Nyunt Street and, afterwards, sample some delectable western or Japanese food just down the road at Fatman.
Or take half a day to visit the mind-blowing Shwedagon Pagoda, that dominates the Yangon skyline and is considered the most sacred pagoda in Myanmar. Its gilded gold dome is crowned with more than 4500 diamonds and 2300 ruby and sapphires with a 76-carat diamond at the very top. It also includes many sacred relics of Buddhas past. Pay a local guide to take you around and explain all the intricacies.
We stayed at the well-priced Merchant Art Hotel (https://www.merchantyangon.com), situated amid the twisting back lanes of the city and within easy access (up a couple of hundred stairs or an escalator) to the Shwedagon Pagoda. At dawn, saffron robed monks and pink robed Buddhist nuns can be seen with their alms bowls. Strong incense burns in multitudes of shrines and the temple bells ring out on the cool morning air as the ubiquitous black crows of any true Asian city hover overhead.,
If you want to experience the rickety train system of Myanmar, consider a three-hour city circle tour of Yangon to take in the sights before committing to a longer journey. Although the sleeper from Yangon to Thazi and then another winding 10-hour train journey to Inle Lake is the preferred alternative transport for nomads with time to spare.
We, however, chose to travel hard, taking a lot of short hop flights with several of the local airlines. For us, Trip.com proved great for pricing and issuing last minute tickets swiftly, without fault. All the airlines we used were efficient, with nice planes that were on time. In the cities we used the #GrabTaxi app to find local drivers at cut-price rates.
So, we jumped a 45-minute flight to Inle Lake, the 22km-long, high altitude stretch of water which is the favourite destination of many fellow travellers. With just 28 hours in this watery haven we determined to fit in the works – save for the popular mountain treks through Inle’s surrounding mountains – and checked into Aquarius Inn (https://aquariusinninlelake.com), a low budget, friendly as, family-run hotel in the middle of Inle town. Within minutes we were being whisked off on a private five-hour long-tail boat tour ($20 for two), speeding through the open waters and narrow canals of Inle Lake where farming and living is all done overwater and locals bathe in their backyards every evening.
We stopped along the lake to watch silversmiths craft intricate designs and see women weaving longyi and met some fascinating longneck women from the Shan State, who were selling their textiles. Topping that off with a mystical visit to yet another but definitely worth it pagoda – the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda – and an afternoon on Inle Lake with its people didn’t disappoint.
In the race to beat the setting sun back to the dock we developed a gnawing hunger and agreed to test the 4.8-star rating of Innlay Hut, a famed Indian restaurant, where the food is scrumptious, and the maître d thinks he’s Eminem. It was a beyond lip-smacking meal for less than $10 each.
With a balloon ride over Inle Lake (https://www.balloonsoverbagan.com/services/balloons-over-inle) to come pre-dawn, it was early to bed and a 4.30am rise for a thrilling and chilly pitch-black long-tail boat ride to the launch site across the lake. It was well worth the effort to ascend high above Inle and watch the skilled fishermen and farmers start their day in this waterlogged wonderland where we could well have stayed for days.
THE ROAD TO MANDALAY
But it was back to Bagan and the start of the most wonderful two-day sojourn aboard Belmond’s majestic Road To Mandalay ship (https://www.belmond.com/river-cruises/asia/myanmar/belmond-road-to-mandalay/), a luxury mini liner which wrapped us up in its world of fine dining, slow cruising and impeccable service. Offering one day or week-long journeys along the meandering Ayeyarwady, the experience onboard is a memory for life.
Guided by our efficient hotel manager Win Min and tour manager Win Myint, we joined fellow guests on a fleet of trishaws to visit the friendly town of Myin Mu and see how the locals live their simply happy lives. Like everywhere else on our tour of this beautiful land, we were rewarded with warm smiles and no pressure to purchase a thing. Although there was plenty of skilled lacquerware and textiles to buy and take home to those loved ones yet to discover the magical world of Myanmar.
- The writers stayed as guests of Belmond and The Hilton.