As RAC’s President, I hosted the second RAC President’s Cruise 2015 to Burma along with my husband Wayne. We were joined by 48 RAC Members as we cruised aboard Cruiseco Explorer from Yangon to Mandalay.

We explored many of Burma’s ancient sites, including the city of Bagan, a unique archaeological site in Asia with 2237 pagodas scattered over 42 square miles. It is simply an amazing area and something to behold.  After lunch, we passed the time on the sun deck watching the world of the Irrawaddy River people, as they fished, worked and played along its banks.

The hike up the bank was a little challenging for some, but there was plenty of assistance at the ready. The ships crew  are always willing and ready to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort.

We visited a lacquer wear factory to see the process of production and beautiful completed products. Afterwards we enjoyed the sunset from the top of a temple, which was approximately 30 stairs to climb but the view was worth it!

The local people of Bagan were comfortable with tourists and quite trusting in their retail efforts. They even allowed garments back on the boat to try on before payment. Many of us indulged in the retail fun of Longis (traditional sarongs) and shirts.  The retail choices were interesting, including books, maps, postcards, puppets, wood carvings, copper gongs and lacquer wear, and clothing of all sizes and colours. Wayne, my husband, purchased a copper gong with a prayer wheel inscription, which has a beautiful sound.

Some of the group participated in the hot air balloon ride over Old Bagan City. The trip proved to be truly wonderful. When the early risers returned we sailed a short distance to another, more accessible jetty of Bagan.  The ship’s captain did this specifically because some of the members had restricted mobility which was a truly thoughtful consideration.

During our journey down the Irrawaddy River, we visited fresh food local markets which were vibrant, colourful and quite fascinating. While in Yangon we visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, an amazing gold structure with surrounding market stalls and spirit houses. The Burmese people are very superstitious and their culture is steeped in offerings to protect from bad spirits.

We also had a visit to the Taukkyan War Cemetery just out of Yangon – a moving and sobering experience for us all. We sailed onto the Shwe Pyi Thar village, a simple village where we walked around the homes and livestock and visited the school. The Head of the Village had gathered all the children to greet us.They sang songs and some of us tried very hard to draw Aussie animals and engage the children. They were shy to start, but then quick to smile, delightful and great fun.  The school yard had a soccer pitch of sorts with rudimentary goal posts but needed a toilet. We had been told by our guides that $320 US was all that was required to build a toilet system. Instead of donating lots of pencils and books and small amounts of cash individually, the RAC members made a decision to collaborate and as a group generously donated over $500. A toilet block will be constructed in the next month and we will be sent photos when it’s completed.

On the ship again, we were welcomed back on board by the wonderful staff, followed by sunset cocktails and a delicious dinner. The dinner conversation was always varied and interesting. Our conversations involved personal history, family heritage and connections to the war and Burma, travel and RAC stories, including insurance, road safety, sustainability, toll roads, infrastructure projects, travel and roadside … one member who used roadside many years ago even shared how they were asked out by the patrolman! None of us could top that hilarious and delightful story!

We enjoyed different cocktails each evening on the deck and dinner was always delectable. Each evening there was a President’s table for myself and Wayne, to be able to dine with all of the RAC members on the tour.

We embarked for the Salay walking tour, visiting the largest Lacquer Buddha image in the Mann Pagoda and the 19th century old wooden monastery. We returned to the ship, which sailed into the Tan Kyi Mountains and we met in the lounge where we had a presentation on the Bagan dynasties. After lunch we departed the ship by minivan for the very winding and bumpy road trip up to the Tankyi Thaung, which means Sacred Hill in English. This was an amazing structure with incredible views over the river and valley below.

That evening’s cocktail was a Bagan Sunset, followed by a surprise! The surprise for all proved to be a truly amazing evening of entertainment!

The sun deck was arranged for us to all enjoy the crew singing, dancing and demonstrating their outstanding guitar skills. It was vibrant, joyful and wonderful fun. They sang traditional Myanmar songs and quite a bit of country and western in English and Burmese.

It was a sensational evening and everyone had a wonderful time. We all enjoyed another beautiful four course meal and then a traditional Myanmar puppet show on the sun deck after dinner.

Eventually the time came for us to enjoy our final sunrise over the water, final breakfast and final morning with the excellent crew. We bid a fond farewell to the excellent Explorer crew, and our guides Clement and Ton, all waving to us on the shoreline.

During the rest of our last day together we visited a monastery where over 1000 monks reside. Just seeing the massive size of the cooking bowls for the rice was amazing. It took four men to lift them! It was humbling to see so many Buddhist monks going about their daily rituals.

We then had a short stop at the longest teak bridge, which measures 1.2 km long and is over 200 years old.

We had a wonderful lunch at a restaurant in Ava under the shade of ancient mango trees, and while some members stayed there, others took a horse and cart ride to the Bagaya wooden monastery, and to see the remains of the Royal palace and fort.

We had a farewell function for the remaining RAC members followed by a lovely buffet dinner together. It was a lovely time and we toasted to a successful trip and to this wonderful and surprising country with its strong culture, history (only recently being valued and documented) and its distinctive architecture and gentle people.

Of course its most alluring quality is the beautiful Myanmar people we met, who made us all feel very special. It was my privilege to host this 2015 President’s cruise with Wayne and with terrific support from Clynton at RAC Travel.

Thank you to the very special group of RAC members who shared this journey with us, you were wonderful company and there was a unique and special bond within the trip. The members are meeting up again for a lunch in June to reminisce and maintain the great bonds of friendship created on the 2015 President’s Cruise.

Cheers and thanks

Esme Bowen

 

Thankyou to member Wendy Smith for many of the photographs.

For more information about river cruise holidays in Burma, contact RAC Cruise Club 1300 655 898 or visit RAC Cruise Club.