One Last Day in Myanmar

Exploring the port city of Thanlyin, Myanmar today on the last of our three-day stay in the country aboard Silversea's Silver Shadow. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Exploring the port city of Thanlyin, Myanmar today on the last of our three-day stay in the country aboard Silversea’s Silver Shadow. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

I don’t think you could ever get tired of being aboard Silversea ‘s Silver Shadow. My butler, Catalino, brought breakfast to my suite once again, and once again, he arrived at my suite a few minutes early. This makes getting ready for an early-morning tour a snap.

Yesterday, I booked one of Silversea’s shore excursions offered on our third full day in Yangon, Myanmar. However, due to insufficient participation, that tour had to be cancelled at the last moment.

A Grand Suite Good Morning aboard Silver Shadow. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

A Grand Suite Good Morning aboard Silver Shadow. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Now, on other lines, this would be a disaster. A cancelled tour typically means there’s no way you’re going on a tour. But on Silversea, that’s not a problem at all. At the opening hour of 7:30, I presented myself at the Shore Excursion desk on Deck 5, and staff kindly rebooked me on a new tour at the same price-point as my existing one, that was scheduled to depart at the very same time.

That’s how I came to find myself on Silversea’s $59-per-person Island Pagoda Discovery Tour (RGN-C3). At five hours in duration, it was the exact length I was looking for. To be honest, I’m a little burned out after two full days of non-stop touring in Yangon, and wouldn’t mind an afternoon onboard the soothing Silver Shadow.

Our first stop this morning: a bustling local market in Thanlyin, Myanmar. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our first stop this morning: a bustling local market in Thanlyin, Myanmar. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Rather than battle the traffic juggernaut in Yangon, this fantastic tour took us to the town of Thanlyin, which is nearer to our docking location and just 15 kilometres to the southeast of Yangon, across the Yangon River.

One of Myanmar’s principal port cities for centuries, most travellers would never find Thanlyin unless they tried to. Without the big-name spectacle of Yangon, it has the appearance of being just another township. But as I discovered today, this town is well worth the journey.

Packed with people and goods of all kinds...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Packed with people and goods of all kinds…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...local Burmese markets are a trip back in time. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…local Burmese markets are a trip back in time. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

To start with, we stopped at a local market for 30 minutes of exploration. This couldn’t be further from Yangon’s Scott Market in terms of overall experience; this is the real deal, a market frequented by local residents for their day-to-day needs. Bustling to the point of being overwhelming even at quarter to nine in the morning,

As with most local township markets in Myanmar, this one was a hodgepodge of items, from fresh seafood to boxed Colgate toothpaste. There are spices and curries and fruits and vegetables, clothing and hygiene products, and dried and fresh meats in shapes and sizes never before seen. Add to that a few hundred shoppers packed into the narrow streets, and you’re left with an amazing experience.

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Of course, foreigners might want to be careful about what they eat at the market. Our stomachs aren't as strong as locals. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Of course, foreigners might want to be careful about what they eat at the market. Our stomachs aren’t as strong as locals. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Equally amazing was how guests left the market: aboard a horse-drawn rickshaw-style wagon. Taking two guests apiece, a small procession of horse-drawn carts made its way slowly for about two kilometres down the road, weaving in between crammed omnibuses, dangerous-looking fuel trucks, and motorcycles weaving in and out.

The skies opened up as we visited the Kyaik Khauk Pagoda, which is perched on a hill and dates back to 1300. It’s almost a miniature version of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, with a similar circular arrangement to the stupas and shrines that adorn its base.

To get from the market to our next destination...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

To get from the market to our next destination…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...we took a very traditional means of transportation! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…we took a very traditional means of transportation! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Old meets new, once again! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Old meets new, once again! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Like any other Buddhist site in Myanmar, dressing for the part is important here. Shorts are not allowed full-stop, and bare shoulders aren’t allowed on women, either. So that relegates men and women to wearing full-shouldered shirts and long pants. I’d recommend light, expedition-style pants; jeans are a nightmare here.

Add to that, temples here require both shoes and socks to be removed and stored with a guard, typically outside the temple or at the foot of one of the staircases. Remember how I said it was pouring rain? Well, you’ll get to walk barefoot through puddles of all kinds as you trek around these spiritual sights. I can’t complain: the rain cooled off the stone, which can get pretty hot in the heat of the day.

The rain only enhanced the beauty of the Kyaik Khauk Pagoda, which became one of my surprise finds of this cruise and this visit to Myanmar.

Visiting the Kyaik Khauk Pagoda...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Visiting the Kyaik Khauk Pagoda…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...as the skies open up. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…as the skies open up. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The only thing better than a pagoda on a hill is a pagoda in the middle of the river. We next journeyed to the town of Kyauktan to see the amazing Ye Le Pagoda, which just so happens to be situated on an island in the middle of the Hmaw Wun Creek.

My Rough Guide to Myanmar tells me that reaching the Ye Le Pagoda is a bit intimidating for independent travellers. First, you have to pay a local ferryman about $5 to get you across the creek (really a river) in the first place. Then, you get shaken down for a “Foreign Visitor Fee” in order to enter the actual pagoda. And that’s if you can figure out how anything works: the area around the boat launch in Kyauktan is absolutely packed with people.

To reach the Ye Le Pagoda...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

To reach the Ye Le Pagoda…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...we had to take a boat across the river. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…we had to take a boat across the river. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Locals praying to Buddha...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Locals praying to Buddha…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...in picturesque surroundings. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…in picturesque surroundings. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Afterwards, we finished our tour with some fresh coconut water. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Afterwards, we finished our tour with some fresh coconut water. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

I can’t imagine anyone figuring out how to get across on their own, much less knowing about the Ye Le Pagoda in the first place. Myanmar isn’t impossible to visit independently, but it sure isn’t easy. That’s what makes this Silversea voyage so incredible: Silversea is taking all of the guesswork and uncertainty out of travelling here. You may not need that so much in a place like Hong Kong or Singapore, but for many folks, having that assurance that Silversea has taken care of everything can make the difference between someone deciding to visit Myanmar or not.

Myanmar by Cruise: The Way To Go

Seeing Myanmar by cruise ship is the way to go for the first-time traveler to the region. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Seeing Myanmar by cruise ship is the way to go for the first-time traveler to the region. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

If you want to see Myanmar for yourself, Silversea has a bunch of different ways you can do that. As of right now, there are three Silversea Expedition cruises and five “classic” voyages that will all call on Myanmar between now and 2018. They are:

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to Myanmar. After a gorgeous sunset, Silver Shadow dropped her lines and eased away from the berth that has been our home for the past three days. We’re bound for Malaysia once again, sailing southbound through the night as we slowly begin to make our way back to Singapore.

I am as enamoured with Myanmar now as I was on my first visit last year. I find this country intoxicating. It is a land of contradictions and change, where modernisation and the traditional way of doing things are often at odds with each other. But it is precisely that imbalance that makes it so special. That, and the kindness and easygoing nature of the Burmese people. You may not realize it, but a trip to Myanmar is far safer than coming ashore in any Caribbean port of call – or even any trip to Chicago. I’d encourage anyone who has found the past three days’ remotely interesting to book your cruise now, before Myanmar changes for good.

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Silversea’s elegant Silver Shadow continues tomorrow with a day at sea as we sail south towards Malaysia! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
October 31, 2016SingaporeEmbark1800
November 1Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia08001900
November 2Penang, Georgetown, Malaysia08001800
November 3Phuket, Thailand08001400
November 4At Sea
November 5Yangon, Myanmar0600Overnight
November 6Yangon, MyanmarOvernightOvernight
November 7Yangon, MyanmarOvernight1900
November 8At Sea
November 9 At Sea

November 10Langkawi, Malaysia08001500
November 11Malacca, Malaysia13001900
November 12Singapore0700Onward Journey Home
 

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