Dreaming of Myanmar (Burma)

Black Friday is here and the chaos has just begun. How many times will we be reminded:  “there are only X more shopping days until Christmas” in the coming days? TV commercials and mailings from corporations pushing their trinkets daily…

Being Myanmar travel enthusiasts, we’d rather be shopping in a Shan State Tribal market—a fascinating hodgepodge of brightly colored flowers, flopping fish and tribal people, each in their distinctive traditional dress. It is a feast for the senses and there are photo opportunities galore.

Or at sunrise we’d rather float quietly over the amazing stupas of Bagan (Pagan) in a hot air balloon. During its golden age in the 12th century, Bagan was known as “the city of four million pagodas.” While Kublai Khan and several massive earthquakes have reduced that inflated number drastically, what remains is quite incredible, and one of the greatest sites in Asia.

Or better yet, we’d rather spend an afternoon aboard a boat exploring the beautiful Inle Lake. There are so many sights to see: the famous Intha fisherman rowing their fishing boats with a swirling move of their leg; floating gardens where villagers actually grow tidy rows of vegetables on the lake’s surface; and a weaving village to see locals hand crafting traditional wares.

That sounds more like it!

If you would like more information about organizing travel to Burma, please contact one of our Myanmar travel specialists at 800-642-2742.

Mekong River Trip

One of the most majestic waterways in the world is the Mekong River. It begins on the Tibetan Plateau in China and flows to the coast of Vietnam, where its estuaries, the “nine dragons,” fan out to form a fertile delta that meets the South China Sea. The Mekong River is over 2,600 miles long, and supports an expansive river basin comparable to the Amazon River in its biological diversity. The beauty of the basin’s mysterious jungles, soaring mountain peaks, and countless species of wildlife will captivate you as you visit the Mekong River delta for your next travel destination.

As you explore the Mekong River, evidence of the alluring Southeast Asian culture abounds in the form of floating villages and markets, thriving shoreline cities, and stunning coastal architecture, such as the royal Four Rivers Palace in Phnom Penh. Journey by longboat as the river winds through the Laotian jungle, take a river cruise on the Mekong Delta, or opt for a longer, leisurely cruise between coastal cities of your choice, including the bustling capital cities of Vientiane, Laos, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Your group and custom travel options are limitless, and our expertise is unmatched.

Travel along the Mekong River is most enjoyable between November and February, when the river is full and navigable, the weather is mostly dry, and the temperatures are moderate. The Mekong River is a worthy destination for part of your journey or for an entire getaway.

Postcard from Our Traveler: Violinist Aaron Meyer’s Musical Trip to Myanmar

By Aaron Meyer, Asia Transpacific Journeys' Traveler

I returned to Myanmar, 14 years after my last trip to Myanmar when I spent 6 weeks there in Dec 1995/Jan 1996 as a backpacker. Big changes had occurred in this isolated and amazing country. I joined my parents on a very well organized tour by Asia Transpacific Journeys; in fact my sister and Asia Travel Specialist, Rebecca Mazzaro, planned our entire trip, which was amazing!  I am a violinist by profession and specialize in combining world music with my contemporary/progressive original music. I bill myself as a Concert Rock Violinist, whatever that is…(www.aaronmeyer.com). I mentioned to my sister that I would like to visit any schools and reach out to students and share my music with them and also learn about any local music. My sister suggested that I visit a local music school in Yangon where students were learning to play western instruments.

I arrived in Yangon a few days after my parents and visited the music school. I performed for students at a very unique makeshift music school. Instruments were limited but there were approximately 10 violinist, 3 violists, 4 cellists, and 2 bass players. The quality of the instruments was very poor and the students lacked strings and other supplies but they played nicely and seemed to enjoy performing. Most importantly they lacked regular teachers to teach the students. I had an instant connection with the students. They wanted to learn as much as they could. It is not very often that they get to meet a professional musician from anywhere outside of Myanmar. It was really exciting to share music with the students and hopefully inspire them. I know the students were very interested in my style of music and how I incorporated the violin in a band with drums, percussion, and electric guitar. All I could think about was, I need to come back here and spend a month with these students. I plan to do this in the future. The people in Myanmar are amazing—so friendly and inviting.

Off I went to Bagan, the land of many temples, to connect with my parents and start our journey together exploring Myanmar. On my second full day of travel in Bagan, our guide, Golden, told me that they had organized an opportunity for me to perform for some children in an orphanage. The children were bussed into the town of Bagan and I played several songs for the children. These are the opportunities that really get me excited. I love connecting with local people wherever I go and music is a bridge between cultures. Music has no barriers and certainly crosses the language barrier. The children were bopping their heads to the music and looking at the violin as they had never seen a real violin before. I learned later, that one of the older orphans, 14 years old, was learning to play the guitar. When I heard this, I was again inspired to return and work with students who want to learn more about music in Myanmar.

Our next stop was a trip to Inle Lake, one of the most magical places in the world, where villages of people live out in the middle of a huge lake in the Shan State surrounded by beautiful mountains. The easiest way to get around here is by boat. We pulled up to a school over the water in our water taxi where I would perform for about 200 young Inle students in a small classroom on stilts over the lake. None of these kids had ever heard or seen a violin before. When I pulled out my violin, they had no idea what this unidentified object was. I played 3 songs for the kids and their favorite part was clapping at the end of each song. All I could think about was this is history in the making—for me a National Geographic moment. The most exciting part of the program was when I gave the violin to my father, a very accomplished violin teacher for young students in Philadelphia, PA. My Dad played Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and as he played all the children started singing the alphabet song. It was so neat hearing the children from Inle Lake sing along with an American violinist. And this song and the English alphabet was something that the children had already learned in their classroom. Then he played a classical introductory violin song, at first very boring with no emotion. He then played the same song, where he added more character to the music by changing the volume and adding crescendos.

He told the children he was going to try to scare them with the music by playing very soft, then really loud. As he proceeded to play, the children totally picked up on what he was doing and started laughing hysterically. We had so much fun with these students through music. It was a total magical experience. We really didn’t need any words to communicate with the students because we had the music. No matter where one goes in this world, music is the universal language.

I have performed several times in Southeast Asia including 2 solo appearances with the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra in Thailand. I do plan to travel to Myanmar this coming December and January and spend some time working with violin students. I would encourage anyone to visit Myanmar for the people and the natural beauty. Asia Transpacific Journeys was a tremendous help in setting up our trip and these amazing magical musical opportunities.


To learn more about trips to Myanmar, visit Asia Transpacific Journeys’ website or contact one of our Asia Travel Specialists.

Tour Leader Postcard from the Field: Myanmar (Burma)

On Sunsets and temples
By Steve Merchant, Asia Transpacific Journeys Tour Leader who regularly leads our Burma: Land of the Golden Pagoda Small Group Trip

sunset-kyaw

On Sunsets and Temples, Myanmar (Burma)

Arriving in Mandalay mid-morning it was obvious that a heavy rainstorm had occurred during the night. The air was clean and crisp and there was a vividness about the colors that follow sudden downpours. Our small group of travelers were in good mood after 5 days in Burma (now called Myanmar) and despite frequent thunderstorms were enjoying mixing with the locals in the street markets and observing their reverence as they prostrated themselves before Buddha in the incensed fumed temples. Careful to observe the rituals we had also bought perfume scented flowers from the street sellers and carefully hung them from the alter in the hope of improving our karma while the last of the rainy season storms filled the ricefields and we dodged under cover to continue our sightseeing.

Much to our surprise we were informed that the famous Mandalay road is in fact its river, the Ayerwaddy, which we were due to get a glimpse of when we ascended Mandalay hill for the “glorious sunset”, as promised in our literature. But first we visited the Golden Palace Monastery and the “Largest book in the World” pagoda which consists of 729 marble tablets carved with the Buddhist sacred writings and then broke for lunch. Due to its geographical positioning between two of the world’s great culinary countries, India and China, Burmese food surprises visitors with its subtleness and variety and so far none of our group had succeeded in losing any of the pounds they’d hoped for on leaving home. With the heat back in renewed force we retreated to our rooms to coolly contemplate the chances of seeing a sunset instead of the aerial pyrotechnics witnessed the previous night. Continue reading

A Staff Postcard from the Field: Mergui Archipelago

Mergui-1I am sitting atop the Mermaid 1, somewhere in the Andaman Sea along the Mergui archipelago, watching the sun set after another incredible day of snorkeling and beach walking. The late day sky looks like a watercolor in muted shades of pink and orange.

We were all up by 6 a.m. today and instead of the morning beach walk we all opted to snorkel before breakfast. The Zodiacs took us to a fabulous spot where the water was calm and so clear, it was truly amazing. This morning we saw beautiful fields of table coral and so many colorful fish. It was like swimming in an aquarium.

Every time I go in the water I see something new. This morning I saw the biggest puffer fish ever, just hanging on the bottom. It was nearly three feet long, light blue with dark spots. It seemed quite oblivious to all the masked creatures hovering over the little guy, us! There was a countless school of large parrot fish, so vibrantly colored, and every time they munched on the coral you could actually hear them dining. After about an hour and a half we came back to the Mermaid and had a fabulous breakfast, then on to more snorkeling and island discoveries.

We were recently on Lampi Island, which is rumored to have wild elephants inhabiting it. And while we did not see any elephants, we did see their relatively fresh scat, so the rumors are a reality!

We always saw various birds on our beach walks, from sea eagles to bramminy kites and collared kingfish, which are a brilliant turquoise blue. We also saw a multitude of reef heron on Steward Rock.

Another day in paradise!

Donna

View Donna’s photos at our Flickr site >>


Donna is our Controller and joined our World Wildlife Fund trip, Snorkeling Thailand and the Mergui Archipelago. This trip sells out fast every year. Our 2010 departure is set for February 28. Learn more at our site.

 

Southeast Asia, Off the Beaten Path

An article in Forbes Traveler by Don Willmott.

“Where can you experience authentic Southeast Asia without sharing it with busloads of other travelers?

The answer is simple: Find the places that fewer people know about. Throughout Southeast Asia, it’s easy to find viable alternatives to the wonderful but overcrowded destinations to which throngs of travelers typically flock.”

To read the entire Forbes Traveler article, visit ForbesTraveler.com


To learn more about travel to Southeast Asia, visit our site.

Giving Back – Myanmar

Many travelers like to include an activity whereby they can give back to the communities they visit. Some travelers find that this is a way to deepen their connection to the people and culture of the area. Following are some examples of philanthropic activities we have incorporated into our clients’ itineraries in Myanmar (Burma):

  • Sponsor the daily meal for young Buddhist monks at a temple. Buy the ingredients and help dish out the food to the hundred or so novice monks. A special blessing will be said on your behalf.
  • Visit Twante, a village near Yangon that was built with funds from Asia Transpacific Foundation, the non-profit charitable arm of Asia Transpacific Journeys. There they produce simple clay filters from affordable, indigenous materials. The filters are distributed and health rates soar, particularly among children.
  • Interact with the gifted musicians at Gitameit, a conservatory of music in Yangon that is devoted to teaching and nurturing young talent. The school supports many youngsters from remote villages, offering scholarships and the chance to study abroad.