Myanmar: Land of Trishaws and Temples

You visit Myanmar to see a way of life that is fast disappearing in Southeast Asia. Yes, skyscrapers and other signs of modernity are encroaching, but you will still see men in traditional skirt-like garb and women in distinctive traditional makeup. British colonial buildings and an adopted passion for tea stand beside people getting around in trishaws and thousands of Buddhist temples and stupas (dome-shaped shrines).

A trip here will appeal to travellers who want to experience the mystery, spirituality and history of the Far East, but far from the usual crowds. It’s a land where you can travel safely among friendly, quiet people. You can have an active adventure, biking and hiking among natural wonders, wildlife and remnants of old civilizations, or have a more leisurely time, perhaps on a river cruise – an increasingly popular way to explore in Myanmar and elsewhere – or on a hot air balloon ride over thousands of sacred shrines.

Temples and Bikes

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As part of a privately guided journey with Belmond, the experiential travel and hotel company, my friend and I started our trip in Cambodia, visiting one of the largest and most spectacular religious monuments ever built – Angkor Wat (Temple City). Once the capital of the Khmer Empire, it contains hundreds of temples spread over 500 acres. My favourite was the Bayon, built in the 12th or 13th century, carved with a multitude of calm and smiling stone faces, as well as two impressive sets of bas-reliefs.

IMG_0054However, Angkor Wat is a major draw for tourists. As an antidote to the crowds, you can also take a guided bike tour through the countryside, interacting with locals, seeing their way of life, stopping to shop in a marketplace, visiting small temples and spending time at a farm.

Because of the language barrier in Cambodia and Myanmar, the difference between a good and great trip can be your guide. They are not created equal and you take your chances arranging for one without a recommendation.

Chen, the guide on our trip, was really engaging. He really knew his history and interspersed his talk about what went on with Vietnamese, Americans and Khmer Rouge with personal anecdotes from his family.

The Melting Pot in Yangon

Photo: Wagaung

Photo: Wagaung

In Myanmar, we visited first Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the country’s largest and most commercial city. Here modern high rises stand beside old colonial buildings and temples. You look down alleyways and see this bustling chaos of electrical lines and and people that make you want to explore further.

It’s a city that offers a melting pot of ethnic influences – there’s the Chinese area, the Indian area and areas devoted to some of the countries hundreds of indigenous ethnic groups. You also get all these different influences in the Myanmar cuisine. With a tasting menu, you can fill your table with a multitude of delicious dishes – curries, Thai noodle dishes, local fish delicacies and so much more.

A Golden Opportunity

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Dominating the skyline of Yangon is the 2,500-year-old golden Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Myanmar, attracting thousands of pilgrims. It stands 99 meters high and is surrounded 64 smaller pagodas, as well as four pagodas at the four cardinal points.

With my network of contacts, we were able to arrange access to a special candle-lighting ceremony (something I can also organize for clients). After the final rays of sun are caught on the golden exterior, hundreds of candles and sticks of incense are lit and burnt as offerings by the faithful at stations around the main stupa, as monks chant their prayers in the background.

A Bridge Over Water and a Balloon Over Temples

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Photo: Andre Lettau

In Mandalay, the world’s longest teakwood bridge (1.2 kilometres!) gently curves across the shallow Taungthaman Lake. A good time to cross U Bein is just after sunrise, when villagers and monks make their daily commute. While you might be entranced by the view from the bridge, don’t be surprised if visiting pilgrims are amazed by their first sight of foreign visitors and ask politely to have their picture taken with you.

One of Myanmar’s chief attractions, Bagan, is rightly known as the “temple town,” with more than 4,000 sacred stupas scattered across 40 square kilometres of plains. One of the best ways to appreciate this sight is in a hot-air balloon ride at sunrise, which will also take in views of the Irrawaddy River winding to the west and mountains soaring in the east.

The skillful balloon pilot navigates changing breezes to take you over the most interesting temples and narrates the tales behind them.

Water World

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We finished our Myanmar adventure in the magical water world of Inle Lake. You travel the 21-kilometre freshwater lake in a comfortable, narrow wooden boat fitted with outboard motor, which has to be quickly lifted – with whining complaint – when the still, reflective water becomes too shallow.

The 45-minute boat ride takes you past villages on stilts, floating gardens and Buddhist temples on islands, and fishermen moving their vessels with a unique one-leg paddling technique. There’s one grouping of 1,000-year-old temples on an overgrown hillside, behind a restaurant, that is going through a restoration that may eventually make it a major attraction like Angkor Wat. But for now you can explore the 8th-century Shwe Indein Pagoda, with its famous stupas and rows of shops, at your leisure, without competing crowds.

Trekking enthusiasts can also climb up Mt. Shwe U Daung,  3,000 feet above sea level, in an ascent that takes about 90 minutes.

We’ll Drink to That

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Aythaya Vineyard

Myanmar also surprises with delicious attractions from other cultures. For example, outside Yangon, you can have a fabulous French meal in colonial architecture overlooking a lake, enjoying perhaps Wagyu steak or truffle risotto, while rabbits roam the restaurant grounds.

You can also indulge in some very nice local wines. The country has two wine estates, located near Inle lake. To prevent the grapes from being burned by the hot Myanmar sun or damaged by fungus bred through humidity, the growers plant their vineyards high in the mountains.

Since the estates don’t produce enough wine for export, you have to visit Myamar to taste them. . . .  Any excuse will do.

—Natasha Rhodes

 

(Featured photo on top by Thomas Schoch)

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NEWLY DESIGNED FOR 2016: DISCOVER EUROPE IN A REFRESHING NEW WAY

EUROPE

 

“I’ve spent most of my life either in wild places or in the third World. But every time I venture into Europe, I’m enthralled. And last year we made a commitment to curate the most compelling experiences possible to reveal this historic, cultural and modern part of our world to you in a seamless way. We’ve had three teams on the ground for months looking to blend the known and the unknown into a mosaic of possibilities” – Sven-Olof Lindblad

 

For most travellers, Europe’s diversity is both alluring and exhilarating. Its art and architecture are among the greatest gifts human culture provides; and its food, people, plus the everlasting co-existence of past and present are a wonder.
Now, you can discover Europe, again or the first time, in a uniquely gracious and personal way. Get to know each destination—more actively, insightfully, exclusively, and effortlessly than you ever imagined.
Europe 2.0, by Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic — carefully curated, perfectly paced one-week itineraries with distinct advantages over Europe by any other means. And, to make your Europe experience even more remarkable,  arrangements for pre- and/or post-voyage hotel accommodations at premier properties have been taken care of.

Itinerary design has always been a Lindblad Expeditions art, and the new Europe 2.0 program combines the best of independent travel with having someone thoughtfully handle the logistics for you and ensure unanticipated delights. The Europe Experience Design Team has developed exclusive opportunities— behind-the-scenes visits, dining experiences, concerts and performances, and more— ones you wouldn’t otherwise experience, everywhere they go.
In addition, these voyages are deliberately paced to allow more time in ports so you can explore deeper, with at least one evening ashore for a local dinner, and the nighttime delight of charming towns. And most importantly, we’ve also built in time for you to explore on your own.
You’ll never miss a one-of-a-kind view, an enriching encounter, a photogenic sunset, or the magic of the totally unexpected. It’s a way to travel that puts the unforgettable in otherwise memorable experiences.
Earlier scheduled embarkation, boarding by 1:00 pm, so you can settle in, relax and enjoy lunch aboard the ship as the crew prepares to set sail. And aboard National Geographic Orion, you’ll traverse tedious distances while you sleep (the ship travels by night), so you awaken to a new vista daily.
The bicycles, kayaks and Zodiacs that will enhance your experience each day are all onboard, so heading off to have fun is uncomplicated. And, all museum, cathedral and other site visits and entance fees have all been arranged for you, and in many cases, we’ve also arranged special access or behind-the-scenes opportunities you might not otherwise be able to secure.
Every activity you’ll have the opportunity to do on each voyage is included in the price, as is your bar tab and crew tips. And, to make your Europe experience even more remarkable, we have arranged for pre- and/or post-voyage hotel accommodations at premier properties if you wish. All you have to do is to decide you like the notion of a before or after ‘decompression,’ and we’ll handle the details.

 

RLT_Icon_keyInteresting fact: If you were to travel on your own, duplicating, for example, the experience of our Mediterranean Isles: Sardinia, Corsica, and Menorca itinerary, it could involve 17 hours of driving/ traveling total, 2-3 hours a day over 8 days. And that’s assuming your directions are flawless, and you’re willing to limit the joys of discovery to the non-driving, or packing, parts of the day.

 

NG ORION

THE PERFECT SHIP TO DISCOVER EUROPE

The National Geographic Orion is a beautiful ship, originally purpose-built for luxurious expedition cruising—to adventurous regions such as Antarctica, as well as the temperate and tropical zones of the South Pacific. Spacious and modern, Orion offers panoramic views from her main lounge, observation lounge and library at the top of the ship to maintain a constant visual connection to the wonders outside. The dramatic window-lined main lounge is the site of lively daily Recap sessions, presentations and performances. And her expansive decks offer balmy air and brilliant vistas by day, or the romance of dining under stars at night. And while Orion interiors are elegant, life aboard is always casual, with no need for formal clothing, and very inclusive, fostering a rewarding esprit de corps.

INCLUSIVE PRICING

Included is just about everything you have the opportunity to do as part of your expedition aboard ship and ashore. The only things not included are scuba diving in Scapa Flow and those of a personal nature—internet usage, wellness treatments and other specialized arrangements.
ABOARD SHIP
  • All meals and alcoholic and non- alcoholic beverages, Hors d’oeuvres & snacks during lounge recap
  • Sauna & Fitness Center, Fully stocked library
  • The guidance and company of expert expedition staff
  • Gratuities to ship’s crew
ASHORE
  • Meals on land, as indicated in itinerary
  • Special access permits, park fees,port taxes
  • Transfers to and from group flights
  • The expertise of our expedition staff
ACTIVITIES
  • All shore activities
  • Zodiac, kayak and bicycle explorations
    Snorkelling, including wetsuits,masks, fins
  • Lectures & presentations in the lounge

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON DETAILED ITINERARIES, PRICING OR TO REQUEST AN ELECTRONIC OR PRINTED BROCHURE, CONTACT NATASHA

Photos Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions

 

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MONGOLIA’S GOLDEN EAGLE FESTIVAL

Mongolia

Once a year unforgettable journey takes place – The the Golden Eagle Festival in Bayan-Ulgii Province, located in the Altai Mountains of Western Mongolia. Each year Kazakh hunters from near and far attend the festival with their Golden Eagles, known as Berkut, to enter them into competitions testing speed, agility, and accuracy. Ceremonies, dance performances, a parade in the provincial capital’s city square, and a Kazakh play in honor of the hunters and their eagles. The Golden Eagle Festival is one of the many unique experiences you will have while touring Mongolia.

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JOURNEY THROUGH THE PHILIPPINES WITH PALAWAN & TUBBATAHA REEF

The Philippines

MARCH 12-28, 2016 – 17 DAYS

“Made up of over 7,000 islands, the Philippines is the perfect destination to explore by ship, allowing access to off-the-beaten-track villages, coral reefs, rainforests, and wildlife. If you love beaches, you’ve certainly come to the right place. But if you have even a HINT of an inclination towards wildlife and wild places, then you will be absolutely blown away by the Philippines” – Rich Pagen, Marine Biologist & Expedition Guide

READ MORE

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BASE CAMP GREENLAND

Greenland

A Luxury Expedition Camp for Arctic Wilderness Exploration
For adventure travellers looking for the ultimate Arctic experience, this is it. You can now experience the staggering natural wonders of Greenland in complete comfort, without giving up an immersion in some of the most remote wilderness on Earth. Previously this region was accessible only via hiking while camping in tents, or on a very limited basis by ship via short day excursions.

 

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“A one of a kind experience in Greenland – 2015 departures sold out a year in advance, select departures still available for 2016!” Natasha Rhodes

 

     As technology shrinks our planet and its most remote reaches become more accessible, novel adventures are ever rarer. But we have a genuine first to offer: Base Camp Greenland, a deluxe new expedition camp at the edge of the Greenland ice sheet! In East Greenland, one of the most isolated places on Earth, travellers will experience this stunning Arctic landscape in supreme comfort. Greenland in summer is glorious: Once the snow melts, wildflowers burst into color on the verdant tundra. Lowbush blueberries invite picking. Whales feed offshore in the bay. Icebergs, spawned from massive glaciers, glitter in the late-night sun. Beneath granite peaks that tower over deep fjords, Greenland’s east coast—the “Arctic Riviera”—offers some of the best hiking and kayaking in the Far North. Nothing compares to Greenland for an epic Arctic adventure destination—and there’s no better way to experience it than from this new ecologically designed base camp.

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Only Luxury Base Camp Deep in the East Greenland Wilderness

    Brand new for 2015, our partners have built the one and only luxury Arctic expedition lodge in East Greenland – close to Greenland Ice Sheet and far from any vestiges of civilization. From here you have access to the ice cap by Zodiac. The location on the edge of the vast Sermilik Fjord complex grants travellers a vantage point on huge icebergs floating by, and we occasionally see big whales in the bay below.
  • A Small-Group Wilderness Immersion

    The camp accommodates a maximum of just 12 travellers. This small group size ensures a strong commitment to safety and personalized attention from your guides. It’s a markedly different experience to see Greenland’s dramatic coast in this manner. The camp chef provides excellent meals, even in this remote locale – and you’ll enjoy enlightening lectures in the evenings presented by expert Arctic naturalists guides.
  • Round-Trip Helicopter Flight from Kulusuk to Tasiilaq

    To expedite our arrival to Ammassalik Island where this Base Camp adventure begins, you fly via helicopter from Kulusuk to East Greenland’s small administrative capital of Tasiilaq. It’s a much faster mode of transportation than traveling via boat, and you’ll have an excellent chance to spot whales from the air.
  • An Authentic Experience of Contemporary Greenland Culture

    In addition to your time at Base Camp, you’ll spend three nights in Tasiilaq, the remote capital of East Greenland. You’ll enjoy an encounter with Tasiilaq’s people and culture and learn about their history on a visit to the town’s museum. Most visitors never get to Tasiilaq; these overnight stays afford an opportunity to meet the locals, appreciate their traditions, and gain insight into the challenges and rewards of life in modern Greenland.

AVAILABLE DATES IN 2016 (TAKING RESERVATIONS FOR 2017, PLEASE INQUIRE)

7/31/2016 – 8/8/2016
8/7/2016 – 8/15/2016
8/11/2016 – 8/19/2016
8/15/2016 – 8/23/2016

2016 RATES:

$9,995 – $10,295 USD
Single Supplement: $1595 USD
Internal Air: $1,275 USD (subject to change)

For more information or to request a detailed itinerary, drop us a line

Photos Courtesy of Natural Habitat Adventures

Photos Courtesy of Natural Habitat Adventures

 

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