The best way to get around – a floating boutique luxury hotel.
If you’ve read my first post from Myanmar, you’ve probably already gathered that Myanmar is still one of those rare places in the world that are not overcrowded with and heavily altered by tourism (yet). And again, I urge you to go there soon! One disadvantage of lesser-developed countries, of course, is the lack of modern infrastructure such as proper roads. That is one (of multiple) reasons why, in Myanmar, traveling by boat is the best way to get around and see things off the beaten track!
We booked a 4-day cruise from Mandalay to Bagan with Sanctuary Retreats on the Sanctuary Ananda. You can read the full itinerary here. There are a few other providers for this kind of cruise, but we chose this one for our honeymoon because of the style and amenities of the boat itself (interior, only ship on the Irrawaddy river with balconies, etc.) as well as the travel date options and how they fit into our agenda. The ship isn’t too big, so be sure to book well in advance. If the price seems intimidating at first, do consider that you get a whole lot for your money spent – you don’t have any additional cost for the meals and even wine, and all excursions are included. We thoroughly loved the experience, and when people ask us what our favorite part of our honeymoon was, we say the river cruise and our trip to Koh Yao Noi (will blog about this one soon!).
While excursions with a semi-private tour guide (we were 6 in the group and our group was super fun) are offered each day, you can pick and choose what you want to participate in. We felt that the tour guides are truly educated and knowledgeable, they don’t try to get you to buy anything, and you end up seeing a whole lot more than you would without them. On the other hand, traveling in a small group is never as quick and efficient as traveling as a couple, so we did spend a day or two apart – more on that later. We’d definitely recommend participating in the monasteric school visit and the local market tour.
LOCAL MARKET VISIT
One of our stops included a visit to a local market – truly in the middle of nowhere, a place where you wouldn’t think to stop by if you were traveling by car and by yourself. Lucky for us, that meant we were able to witness truly authentic village life during our stay. People in Myanmar are somewhat sceptical towards foreigners, but very friendly and very obviously happy.
Whenever you travel and take pictures, please make sure to ask people if you can take their picture. Unless you’re using a professional zoom lens that will enable you to take pictures from far away, people will notice. And how would you like it if tourists would be taking pictures of you going about your day in your hometown?
LOCAL, RURAL LIFE
During one stop, our ship was docked right at the river bank somewhere, and there were small busses to pick us up – but they first had to drive a few miles until they reached the next proper street. One of my personal highlights was getting out of the car and walking back to the ship on foot, only to visit the local village next to the path. The school kids had just gotten back on foot and were starting to play all sorts of games when we arrived. Some women were already preparing the next meal, animals were seeking shade from the sun – well, except for the one pig in the middle of the road. Once we got back to the ship and climbed the makeshift little gangway from the muddy riverbank, we saw women doing their laundry right next to us. It felt like we had traveled back in time, except we had only come to Myanmar in the 21st century. It’s always refreshening and mind-opening to see how other cultures live once in a while.
When we weren’t out and about on land, we enjoyed the ship and the calming river views, as we cruised South towards our next destination. We saw whole families permanently living on wooden rafts, and we experienced some incredible sunsets. It all felt like we were a million miles away from home and our daily lives – and so we soaked up every second of it.