Day 1: Join tour Rangoon (Yangon)
Arrive in Rangoon and check-in at the hotel. The rest of the day is free. You may wish to venture out and take in your first impressions of the city.
Day 2: Sightseeing in Rangoon
Today we take a walking tour of Rangoon. Starting with a stroll along the banks of Kandawgyi Lake in the centre of the city we continue on to Botataung Pagoda. This pagoda is unique in that it is hollow - as we walk through we can see many ancient relics and artefacts displayed in glass cases. Later on we walk along Pansodan Street though downtown Rangoon, taking in the rich colonial architecture and bustling street markets. In the afternoon we make our way to the Chaukhtatgyi Paya, home to a giant 70 metre long reclining Buddha. The highlight of the day, though, is a visit to the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, the most revered Buddhist temple in Burma, whose golden stupa dominates the city skyline making it the ideal spot from which to watch the sunset.
A new layer of gold leaf will be applied to the main pagoda between September 2014 and February 2015. This tradition takes place once every five years, and during this time the main pagoda will be covered in bamboo scaffolding and enshrouded in canvas with parts of it possibly visible depending on the timing of your visit. While views of the main pagoda will be limited, the Shwedagon complex is large with a number of smaller pagodas, shrines and places of worship which locals will still visit and contribute to the special ambience of this holiest of Buddhist shrines.
Day 3: Drive to Golden Rock via Bago
Leaving Rangoon behind we drive to the town of Bago. Founded in 573AD, it is home to a number of sacred shrines and pagodas, including the Shwemawdaw Paya (the Golden God Temple) the tallest pagoda in the country. We visit the pagoda, as well as the Shwethalyaung Reclining Buddha (the second largest in the world) and the Kyaik Pun Pagoda. In the afternoon we continue our drive to the foot of Mount Kyaikhtiyo, or Kin Pun 'base camp'. Upon arrival we continue in an open truck up a steep 11 kilometre track to Yathetaung. From here we walk for approximately 45 minutes to the mystical and highly revered Mount Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda in time for sunset. Also known as Golden Rock, this pagoda is a large boulder precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff near the top of the mountain, supposedly held in place by a hair of the Buddha.
Day 4: Drive to Mawlamyine
If our hotel is at the top of mountain we have a chance to view the sunrise before continuing on our way to Mawlamyine via the town of Tathon, where we will stop for lunch. If road conditions allow, we travel by way of Kawtgoon Cave, which has many intricate Buddha images carved into the walls, before proceeding on to Mawlamyine. The former capital of British Burma, Mawlamyine today is the capital of Mon State and the gateway to Burma's little visited south-eastern region. In the early evening we make visit to the 9th century Kyaikthanlan Phayar (Pagoda), the highest structure in the city, to enjoy the sunset.
Day 5: Morning ferry to Bilu Island; Free afternoon
After breakfast we take a ferry across to Bilu Gyun (Ogre Island) to visit some of the local communities that lie along the Thanlwin River. After a chance to explore some of the villages and watch traditional craftsmen at work, we head back to Mawlamyine for an afternoon tour of the city. The afternoon is left free perhaps to visit the 100-year old monastery of Seindon Minbaya Kyaung or a walk along the Strand Road to take in every day scenes.
Day 6: Drive back to Rangoon
Today we spend the day returning to Rangoon by road stopping off along the way for photo opportunities, including a visit to the Allied War Memorial Cemetery in Taukkyan which commemorates over 30,000 British Commonwealth soldiers who died in Burma during World War II. There are over 6000 beautifully well-kept graves in all (along with 52 graves of WWI soldiers). Furthermore 27,000 names of fallen soldiers with no known graves are engraved on the Rangoon Memorial, an imposing and sombre memorial pillar.
Day 7: Fly to Bagan; Half day sightseeing
We take an early morning flight to Bagan. Without doubt one of the most impressive religious sites anywhere in Asia, Bagan is an ancient city dating from the 9th to the 13th centuries with thousands of temples, stupas and monasteries covering an area of 140 square kilometres. A half-day tour of some of its most distinctive pagodas include visits to the Shwezigon Pagoda, the 13th century frescoes and cave temple of Wetkyi-in-Gubyaukgyi and the Ananda Pagoda, one of the best preserved monuments in the entire city. Late in the day we watch the sunset from a panoramic viewpoint on one of the upper terraces overlooking the temple site.
Day 8: Half day sightseeing in Bagan; Optional visit to Mt Popa
After breakfast we continue our exploration of Bagan with visits to the Sulamani Temple of King Narapatisithu and the finely crafted brickwork of the Dhammayangyi Temple, the largest shrine on the site. This afternoon has then been left free to enjoy as you wish. There is a chance to take an optional trip out to Mount Popa, Burma's sacred abode of the Nats (spirit gods). A volcanic plug that rises some 1,500 metres above the surrounding landscape, the summit provides some fine panoramic views of the surrounding hills. The journey also travels via a local farm producing traditional 'toddy' palm juice.
Day 9: Irrawaddy Cruise to Pakkou; Afternoon drive to Monywa
This morning we enjoy a two to three hour boat ride along the Irrawaddy River to Pakkou, a bustling tobacco trading centre. From here we continue by road for about 3 hours to Monywa in the Chindwin Valley. This afternoon offers us the chance to visit the colourful Thanbuddhay Pagoda (home to more than 500,000 images of Buddha) and the Hiaungdawmu Buddha, the second largest reclining Buddha in Burma.
Day 10: Morning visit to Po Win Daung Caves. Afternoon drive to Mandalay
Crossing the Chindwin River this morning we visit the cave chambers of Po Win Daung and Shwe Ba Daung. A system of nearly 500 sandstone caves that honeycomb the Po Win Hills, these extraordinary caverns contain around 450,000 paintings, statues and carvings, representing what many experts believe to be the most comprehensive collection of Buddhist art anywhere in South East Asia. After our visit we continue by road to Mandalay, Burma's last royal capital and, for many, the centre of its most historic and culturally rich region. En route we plan to stop in Monywee Kayemon village to visit a blacksmith and a local cottage industry where they make slippers.
Day 11: Visit to Inwa and Amarapura
A short distance to the south of Mandalay lies Inwa (Ava). Here we take a horse cart ride around the old city (which can be a little bumpy), visiting the monasteries of Manu Ok Kaung and Bagaya Kyaung and the 'Leaning Tower of Inwa'. In the afternoon we head on to the former royal capital of Amarapura, perhaps best known for the 19th century, 1.2 kilometre giant teak footbridge of U Bein that spans Lake Taungthaman. We also visit some local cotton and silk weavers, before driving back to Mandalay.
Day 12: Irrawaddy River cruise to Mingun; Afternoon sightseeing in Mandalay
This morning we take a short cruise to Mingun village and the ruins of the unfinished Mingun Pahtodawgyi (pagoda) which, had it been completed, would have been the world's largest pagoda. Begun by King Bodawpaya in 1790, the pagoda work on the monument ceased with the king's death in 1890. Nearby we also visit the giant 90 tonnes bronze Mingun Bell - considered to be the largest uncracked bell on the planet. Returning to Mandalay we then spend this afternoon exploring some of the city's major highlights, including the world's largest book at the Kuthodaw Pagoda and the intricate wooden majesty of the Shwenanda (Golden Palace) Monastery. We also plan to include visits to craft shops where you can observe traditional and skilled gold-leaf making, tapestry making and wood carving as well as the fascinating jade market. If time allows we then head up Mandalay Hill for sunset and views across the river and over the city.
Day 13: Drive to Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo)
After breakfast we take a short walk from our hotel to Tey Yar Zay market. This is a local market selling fresh produce and street food and we will have time to explore the stalls and perhaps sample a few treats before driving to Kyaukse. In Kyaukse we visit the Tamote Shwegugyi Temple, estimated to have been built in the 11th century the one-storey temple was well hidden until fairly recently. The masonary work and carvings depicting mythical creatures are similar to those found in Bagan. We continue driving north to the former British Hillstation of Pyin Oo Lwin in the Shan Hills. Formerly known as Maymyo, after Colonel May of the 5th Bengal Infantry, it was the perfect retreat to escape the heat of Mandalay.
Day 14: Explore Pyin Oo Lwin. Drive to Mandalay
We explore this Colonial town to see the Purcell Tower, a clock tower that was a gift from Queen Victoria; the morning vegetable market; the 100 year old Church of the Immaculate Conception and the National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens, built by Turkish prisoners of war during WWI. We also stop at Naung Kan Gyi Paya, a hilltop pagoda, from where we can enjoy panoramic views of town. In the late afternoon we will drive back to Mandalay
Day 15: Fly to Heho; drive to Kalaw via Pindaya
This morning we fly to Heho. From here we drive through villages and endless fields of dry cultivated mountain rice and potato. We make a stop at Pindaya noted for its extensive limestone caves filled with nearly 8,000 Buddha images of different sizes and made of various materials. Nearby we have the opportunity to visit a local family to see how they make paper umbrellas from the bark of a mulberry tree. In the afternoon we continue on to Kalaw. Set in the edge of the Shan Plateau this charming Colonial town was popular with the British during their time in Burma. The remainder of the day is free for you to Explore Kalaw.
Day 16: Walk in Shan Highlands. Free afternoon in Kalaw
Today we can look forward to a gentle four-hour trek through the Kalaw tribal heartlands. Starting in the village of Say Wingabar, we ascend through pine forest to Lu Pyi village. Our trail passes through rural countryside and provides us with views of the valley - a picturesque patchwork of rice and vegetable fields. We might see tribal villagers working on their farms, or en route to the market with their produce. At the end of our walk we make a stop at Myinmathi Cave to see its many Buddha images and small stupas. After a lunch stop, we have a short transfer back to the hotel where we can relax for the rest of the day. For those who would prefer not to take part in the trek, there is the option to relax at the hotel for the day.
Day 17: Sightseeing in Kalaw; drive to Lake Inle
This morning sees an opportunity to explore this engaging hill town, whose attractions include the gold lacquered bamboo Buddha of Nee Paya and the Catholic church of Christ the King. We then continue on by road for two hours to the beautiful setting of Lake Inle, high up on the Shan Plateau. Surrounded by hills and populated predominantly by the Intha people, Lake Inle is one of the highest lakes in the country. Devout Buddhists, the local population of self-sufficient farmers and fishermen live in simple stilted houses of wood and bamboo, growing their food on floating gardens of grass and seaweed. We plan to make a tour of some of the local villages by boat and pay a visit to the famous monastery of Nga Phae. Time permitting we will make a short visit to Leshae Village where you can see the making of Buddha images from dried flower powder.
Day 18: Sightseeing around Lake Inle
Our boat takes us to the western part of the lake this morning, to a local Indein village, where we visit a hilltop complex of 1,000 stupas (places of worship). From up here we can enjoy some great views across the lake and on to the valley beyond. Continuing by boat on to the villages of Nanpan and Innpawkhone, we also get a chance later in the day to see some traditional boat making and silk weaving, and hopefully some local fishermen practicing their uniquely distinctive rowing technique.
Day 19: Morning cooking class; free afternoon
After breakfast we will join a local family for a cooking class. We'll start by visiting their local market to gether ingredients before cooking up some traditional recipes and sharing the food together. The exact dishes will be decided on the day, only the freshest ingredients are used so it will depend on what the market stalls have that day!
The afternoon is left free to relax and enjoy the final few hours at Lake Inle.
Day 20: Fly to Thandwe; drive to Ngapali Beach
We pay a visit to the city's fish market this morning, before you take a flight on to Thandwe. Please be aware that the beach extension is unescorted. At the airport in Thandwe you will be met and driven to the hotel where you spend the next three nights. The rest of the day is then free.
Day 21: Ngapali Beach at leisure
Today is left free to relax on Ngapali beach. There are various optional excursions, such as boat trips or snorkelling, which can be arranged and paid for locally. The nearby fishing village also offers an interesting insight into local life.
Day 22: Ngapali beach at leisure
There is more free time today to try oprional excursions, explore the local area or simply relax on the beach.
Day 23: Fly back to Rangoon
You leave the beach behind and make your way back to Rangoon by plane. The rest of the day is left free for further sightseeing in the sprawling city. You may like to visit the immense Bogyoke Market, formerly known as Scott's Market, for souvenir or gift hunting (closed on Mondays, full moons and public holidays).
Day 24: Tour ends Rangoon
Tour ends after breakfast.
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