Standing on the observation deck of The Road to Mandalay, the most luxurious river cruiser on the Ayeyarwady river, the sun glistens on the golden temple spires that emerge from the green Sagaing Hills. Ox-carts amble through cultivated fields whilst excitable children and their mothers, going about their daily chores, stop to watch the river boat pass by. This has to be the best means to see the hundreds of incredible temples and pagodas that are scattered throughout this stretch of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) along the traditional highway, the Ayeyarwady river, between Bagan and Mandalay. No wonder great writers such as Rudyard Kipling, W Somerset Maugham and George Orwell were drawn to this part of the world.

What to Expect

'The Road to Mandalay' refers to both the Orient-Express river cruiser and the route it takes. It courses the Ayeryarwady river between Mandalay and Bagan with occasional cruises to Bhamo. The length of cruise is variable, from three to eight nights, with daily sightseeing excursions. This deluxe 126-passenger boat is fully air-conditioned, has a swimming pool, piano bar, lounge, library, boutique and 24-hour service, while cabins have an en-suite bathroom, telephone, personal safe, and satellite TV. State cabins are surprisingly spacious with the additions of writing desk and sofa. Staff to passenger ratio is high so excellent service is maintained. Myanmar staff and guides dress in traditional 'longyis' and go out of their way to ensure passengers receive every attention.

Buffet breakfast and lunch are served in the restaurant, as is the four-course dinner and are inclusive in the cruise price. The menu is a subtle blend of Eastern and Western cuisine, with regional dishes such as freshly caught pan-fried butterfish, served with cognac-lemongrass sauce. Passenger's cultural immersion, on board as well as off, is further maintained by a live musical accompaniment throughout dinner with musicians playing Burmese harps, xylophones and drums. Differing forms of entertainment take place afterwards, from local villagers demonstrating basket and mat weaving from rattan, cigar rolling to puppet shows and traditional folk dancing.

From Bagan to Mandalay: Four-night cruise with sightseeing

Thursday Fly Bangkok to Yangon with Thai Airways International. Transfer to your chosen hotel for 2 nights (bed and breakfast). Afternoon orientation tour followed by a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda for sunset.
Friday Day at leisure to explore Yangon.Optional sightseeing tours available
Saturday Morning Air Mandalay flight from Yangon to Bagan. On arrival, transfer to Road To Mandalay, lunch on board. Afternoon tour of Bagan. Dinner on board.
Sunday Breakfast on board. Further tour of Bagan or time to explore on your own or relax on board. Mid-morning set sail for Mandalay, remainder of day cruising the Ayeyarwady. Lunch and dinner on board.
Monday Breakfast and lunch on board cruising to Mandalay. Arrive Mandalay. Afternoon tour of Mandalay. Dinner on board.

Temples Galore!

There is a fundamental difference between a temple and a pagoda. Pagodas are usually sited on elevated ground as the centre of this bell-shaped structure usually enshrines a holy relic. It is a place for the faithful to pray or make an offering and is not entered by the worshipper, whereas a temple is specifically designed for worshippers to pray inside the building.

Yangon

"The Shwedagon rose superb, glistening with its gold, like a sudden hope in the dark night of the soulů.." wrote Somerset Maugham about the Shwedagon Pagoda. Said to date from the eleventh century, it is one of the world's most magnificent religious sites. The stupa is plated in slabs of gold and the tip is set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and topaz. The monument is surrounded by an incredible assortment of statues, shrines, images and pavilions; a truly magical place.

Bagan

This deserted city is full of fabulous pagodas and temples and is one of the wonders of Asia. Today, A World Heritage Site, its Golden Age was between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries when 13,000 temples and pagodas were built. Damaged by looters and earthquakes over the centuries, there are still an astounding 2000 scattered across the 42-kilometre site.

A pleasurable way to visit the site is by horse and cart and one of the most interesting temples to visit is Ananda, with its elegant Budda statues that face the four main points of the compass, as though they are keeping a protective eye over all corners of the earth. Thatbyinnyu and Gawdawpalin are also worth visiting and the Htilominlo Temple, which houses some beautiful eleventh-century murals. Watch people ceremoniously light candles and ring those enormous bells in the gold and scarlet Shwezigon Pagoda and be sure to visit at least one at sunset to watch the sky turn a soft orange behind a silhouette of pagodas.

Mandalay

The Golden Palace Monastery, with its exquisite wood carvings, is evidence of Mandalay's royal heritage and the city is still a significant cultural and religious place for the Burmese people. The city has many impressive pagodas and monasteries, as well as the Mandalay Fort, a walled palace built by King Mindon Min in 1857. But the spiritual heart of the city is enshrined at Mahamuni Pagoda which houses Mandalay's most venerated Buddha statue. It is so greatly revered by its worshippers that layers of gold leaf placed on the statue as a mark of homage have distorted the original shape of the statue.

In the Sagaing Hills, across the river, there are 800 monasteries and nunneries and a number of stunning temples that overlook the Ayeyarwady river. Take the opportunity to visit a monastery and you'll find the solemn chanting of Buddhist scriptures by the monks a haunting and tranquil memory that will calm your soul on your return home.

Official web site: http://www.orient-expresstrains.com


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