Monthly Archives: March 2017


Bagan is one of Burma’s most popular destinations.
Is it worth the hype?


Somewhere in the middle of Burma, the once-thriving kingdom of Bagan lies in ruins. Thousands of pagodas – some well-preserved, others little more than heaps of ornate bricks – cover the left bank of the Irrawaddy on the inside of a giant southward bend.

The heaps of bricks grew a little more numerous in August 2016, when a 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit Central Myanmar. 185 of Bagan’s monuments sustained major damage. However, says one architect who surveyed the site in the earthquake’s aftermath, “…the damage could have been much worse”. In many cases, the worst damaged temples were those that had been most heavily (and shoddily) reconstructed in the late 1990s, and several important pagodas – Sulamani, North Guni and That Bin Nyu – remain closed.

For all that, however, at sunrise and sunset, in the warm light of the “golden hour”, crowds are still drawn to temple terraces to see the awe-inspiring landscape below, as hot-air balloons drift lazily over the temple-littered Bagan Plain – a sight that draws many to visit Burma in the first place.

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Despite being one of Burma’s top destinations, Bagan’s size (roughly 100km2) diffuses the impact of visitor numbers. It’s possible to explore – by horse and cart, bicycle or car – and to see few other visitors, save for at the most popular pagodas and attractions. The region’s small towns and villages remain sleepy, even by Burmese standards.

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Peaceful though Bagan may be today, its history has featured plenty of drama. Bamar raiders from Yunnan founded a settlement here in the middle of the 9th century. By 1044, when the energetic King Anawrahta acceded the throne, Bagan had grown into a statelet that stretched as far as Mandalay and Magway. Anawrahta transformed his kingdom, uniting most of the territories that comprise modern Burma for the first time, establishing Buddhism as the Bagan’s foremost religion, and building the first pagodas.

Monk in corridor

Pagodas, or paya as they’re known in Burmese, are built to accrue merit, erasing sins and earning their sponsor an easier rebirth. Given the appalling behaviour of some of Bagan’s monarchs, the reason for the sheer numbers of paya here becomes clearer; a twelfth-century king, Narathu, constructed the vast Dhammayangyi Paya (pictured below) in the hope that it would improve his karma after murdering his father, brother and wife. (It seems doubtful that this worked, at least in that particular incarnation – he survived just two years on the throne before being assassinated by his angry father-in-law.)

Justin Vidamo Dhammayangyi Pahto

Eventually, in the late thirteenth century the Kublai Khan’s Mongol armies launched a series of attacks against the kingdom. Although they never reached Bagan itself, the last king, Narathihapate, fled south anyway, earning himself the soubriquet Tayok-pyay-min, “The King who ran away from the Chinese”, his empire ceasing to exist almost overnight.

Bagan’s heyday may have ended when the Mongols left Burma in 1303, but in contrast its builders’ and artisans’ legacy has endured for seven centuries, surviving earthquakes and monsoon floods. The sheer scale of the site, the significance of its history, and the beauty of its architecture and art rightfully give Bagan a place on most “must-see” lists, whether you’re a specialist in Asian art, or simply want a really unforgettable balloon ride.

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With so many monuments, it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to exploring Bagan. Our advice is to take your time – rush and you’re likely to become rapidly templed-out. Old Bagan, with the site’s densest and most diverse collection of temples, makes a logical starting point, but thereafter you might prefer to wander at will, perhaps with one of the major temples elsewhere as an end destination. Many of the less-visited temples are locked (although caretakers often magically appear to unlock the doors when needed, for a small tip – around K500), and it’s a good idea to take a torch to appreciate the murals that decorate many pagodas.

As far as sunset and sunrise go, the Myanmar government is currently building four viewing points that will reduce the wear-and-tear on Bagan’s ancient buildings. Once the last of these is completed, the viewing sites at older temples will be closed. For now, however, you can still sit atop ancient, sun-warmed walls and watch the dying rays of the sun over beautiful Bagan. Some temples may be closed or swathed in scaffolding, and it may be one of the country’s major destinations, but yes, it is very much still worth visiting.

But beyond Bagan and its temples lies the rest of Burma. The country is changing quickly, but there is little sense of this outside of Yangon and Mandalay. In the countryside, life continues unhurriedly; women still wash clothes and wriggling children in the Irrawaddy, men still drive bullock carts down dusty country roads and sip palm wine in the shade. For many visitors – myself included – it is Burmese people and countryside life that provide the most vivid memories from a journey here. When you are planning your own Burmese journey, make sure that you, too, go beyond Bagan.

Boat on Inle Lake

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Experience the best of Burma with us…

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BURMA THROUGH A LENS

Explore Burma with your camera and professional photographer, Ron Yue.

We take you to Bagan and beyond on this special photography journey, designed to showcase Burma’s most photogenic places.

  • 10 Day-journey
  • Yangon Nay Pyi Taw Inle Lake Pindaya Mandalay Bagan
  • Travel Dates: Nov 21 – 30, 2017

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A BURMESE JOURNEY: From the Lanna Kingdom to the Bay of Bengal

This journey is a discovery of Burma’s beautiful scenery and traditions.
This spectacular itinerary will take you from Chiang Mai, Thailand, former capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom through Burma – the “Golden Land” – to the Bay of Bengal

  • 12 or 17 Day-journey (Please note that while the full journey is 17 days, we also offer a shorter version. Please contact us for details.)
  • Chiang Mai – Mae Sot – Hpa An – Taungoo – Inle Lake – Pindaya – Mandalay – Bagan – Magwe – Pyay – Ngapali
  • Travel Dates: Nov 3 – Nov 19, 2017 /Nov 24 – Dec 10, 2017/Jan 9 – Jan 25, 2018/Feb 8 – Feb 24, 2018
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Have you ever dreamed of designing your own country? Mine would have Sydney’s warm, dry climate; the mountains, forests and meadows of Austria; the cuisine and wines of Italy, and Hong Kong’s low taxes. As far as I know, nowhere has all of these qualities, but I think I’ve found somewhere that comes close. The Italian region of South Tyrol, known as Alto Adige in Italian and Südtirol in German, matches most of my criteria – although I would need to do some work on the tax regime.

 

Explore this region on our journey –

SALZBURG, NORTHERN ITALY, THE ADRIATIC SEA, THE ALPS, AND VIENNA

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Explore stylish and historic European cities, including Salzburg, Vienna and Ljubljana; and drive beautiful roads over mountains, through vineyards and along gorgeous stretches of Mediterranean coastline. Stay in wonderful hotels both big and small, discover delicious local cuisines and meet the people and artisans who make this region so varied & vibrant

Where about?

Day 1: Berchtesgaden (Germany)
Day 2: Berchtesgaden (Germany) & Salzburg (Austria)
Day 3: Berchtesgaden (Germany) to South Tyrol (Italy)
Day 4: In and around South Tyrol (Italy)
Day 5: South Tyrol (Italy) to Istria (Croatia)
Day 6: In & around Istria (Croatia)
Day 7: In & around Istria (Croatia)
Day 8: Istria (Croatia) to Ljubljana (Slovenia)
Day 9: Ljubljana (Slovenia) to Otocec (Slovenia)
Day 10: Otocec (Slovenia) to Vienna (Austria)
Day 11: In Vienna (Austria)
Day 12: Life must go on…

What you will discover

– a journey that will take you to Salzburg, Vienna & Ljubljana, some of Europe’s most romantic cities.

– Explore and get a taste of five countries: Austria, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and the Bavarian corner of Germany 

– Drive from the glorious Dolimiti UNESCO region of the Alps to the little known, deep blue Adriatic Sea (the eastern corner of the Mediterranean) –from Summit to Sea, in other words.

Journey Dossier

View here

Interested Links…

Feeling peckish?
Go to South Tyrolean apple farmers’ lovely website.
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Feeling adventurous?
Visit the website of the multi-site: Messner Mountain Museum, which is housed in unusual properties from castles to underground bunkers across Tyrol
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Northwest Yunnan is one of the most diverse, beautiful and fascinating regions of China. But why is this the case?

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An immensely long time ago – 35 million years, give or take a few millennia – the Indian subcontinent crashed into Eurasia and created the Himalayas, the mountains effectively forming a vast, icy wall that divided Asia in two.

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At their far eastern end, however, the chain peters out in a series of lush, forested valleys that carve their way south through Yunnan’s northwest corner. Here, plants, animals and people from both sides of the Himalayas have mingled, creating a genetic crossroads, a meeting place between ecosystems on the mountains’ leeward and windward sides. Thanks to a trick of geography, these few valleys enjoy “Goldilocks conditions”, just right for life to thrive. The result? A dramatic explosion of biological diversity seldom seen in the Earth’s temperate regions.

4a439ee9-34cd-4faa-9e18-ed0327834579Towering 30-metre tall rhododendrons turn the forests ruby red each spring; wild azaleas cover swaths of hillside; gorgeous golden pheasants rustle through the undergrowth, and snub-nosed monkeys dine on the lichen that thrives in the crisp air. Three of Asia’s major rivers (four if you count the headwaters of the Irrawaddy across the border in Burma) – the Yangtze, the Mekong and the Salween – flow alongside each other for a few hundred kilometres, through the epicentre of this diversity, the Three Parallel Valleys region.In the late nineteenth century, word of these remote cloud-forests filled with exotic new species piqued the interest of Western plant collectors. Between the 1890s and the 1950s, intrepid botanists scoured northwest Yunnan and the neighbouring regions of Burma and northeast India for new specimens. The results were staggering. Joseph Rock returned from a single expedition with 500 species of rhododendron. The appropriately named George Forrest collected an incredible 31,000 specimens over seven expeditions in Yunnan, and Frank Kingdon-Ward was still discovering new species even after half a century of energetic exploring.
294868f8-d4af-4516-a09d-5b439e46aa29c1f21657-23bb-4c17-bf9a-859b68126c93While geography has limited the scale of human impact – until fifty years ago the only way to cross any of the major rivers was on a rattan rope slide greased with yak butter – eight of Yunnan’s 25 ethnic minorities make their homes here. These remote steep-sided valleys have even helped to conserve many ethnic minorities’ cultures. In villages across the region, women still wear traditional dress and the rhythms and rituals of rural life continue as they have done for centuries, whether the inhabitants are Bai, Drung, Lisu, Naxi, Nu, Pumi or Tibetan.

862b0685-1f7e-4465-855f-3fd788bf2da2Today, a handful of bridges have been built, steel cables have replaced the rattan, and beautiful, if winding roads link the larger settlements. Modern-day visitors will be spared the fleas and bandits that plagued earlier visitors (today northwest Yunnan is home to an excellent selection of boutique hotels in beautiful locations), but as you climb over each mountain pass, do spare a thought for Joseph Rock’s long-suffering Naxi porters, who lugged their employer’s collapsible bathtub over this rugged terrain.

 

Explore this region on our journey –


This 7- or 9-day journey offers the perfect blend of adventure and comfort, as you travel through beautiful northwest Yunnan.

Appropriately, for a region that inspired the story of Shangri-La,each evening you will stay in charming small hotels, having traveled through untouched countryside each day.

Where about?

Day 1: Kunming
Day 2: Dali and Xizhou
Day 3: Xizhou to Shaxi
Day 4: Shaxi to Tacheng
Day 5: Tacheng to Deqin
Day 6: In and around Deqin
Day 7: Deqin to Shangri-La
Day 8: Shangri-La to Lijiang
Day 9: Lijiang to Kunming

What you will discover

  • Snow-capped mountains & blue skies
  • Red-robed monks & colorful prayer flags
  • Tiny, unspoiled villages & dozens of different minorities
  • The Three Parallel Rivers region, one of only 31 bio-diversity hotspots of the world
  • Amazing roads in stunning landscapes
  • Lovely boutique hotels that will make you wonder “how did they find them?”
  • Suitable for families with children and as a couple’s getaway

Journey Dossier

View here

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