Totally relaxed, I am ready the next day for my very early flight from Yangon to Bagan, an ancient city that is one of the main visitor attractions in Myanmar and one of the greatest historic sites in Southeast Asia.
My first sight of Bagan is the breathtaking vista of over 3,000 temples, most built between the 11th and 13th centuries, dotting the plain beside the Ayeyarwady River.
We stroll through the bustling morning market at Nyaung, with its stalls piled high with exotic fruits and vegetables and typical Myanmar products such as betel leaf (which the Burmese chew) and thanaka wood that is made into Thanaka Cream.
This is the first time I notice several Burmese women and children wearing a yellowish white paste all over their faces. I am told thanaka is a unique feature of Myanmar and widely believed to keep skin looking young, supple and elastic plus protect from harmful UV-A rays. Hoping for the best, I rub some onto my cheeks before proceeding to the jetty to board my ship, Belmond Road to Mandalay, anchored in mid-river.
Cruise with Belmond Road to Mandalay
We are greeted with cold glasses of champagne (a good start) and led to our stateroom, which is larger and better appointed than I had expected (additional points!). After a brief rest, we head back to visit one of the most significant pagodas of Bagan, Ananka Temple. This architectural masterpiece was built in 1090 AD and contains four gilded Buddha statues standing 30 feet tall. I roam through several other temples but am warned away from the many damaged in the 2016 earthquake which rocked this part of Myanmar.
As daylight fades, I hurry up a hill to watch a glorious sunset over plains peppered with hundreds of ancient pagodas. Then, after dark, we stop at a small temple near the jetty to participate in an exclusive candle-lighting ceremony organized by the ship. Each candle we light is offered for world peace – a wish shared by all in the international group onboard the Road to Mandalay.
The next morning several options are offered for exploration. Unfortunately, I did not book in advance for the Hot Air Balloon Ride at Sunrise (which I discover was essential) so I miss the opportunity. Hint: Book early! Instead of biking or taking a horse cart ride, I choose to visit Taung Be Village near the jetty to participate in one of Belmond’s Social Contribution Projects – a free health clinic established by the ship physician, Dr. Hla Tun.
Each week when the ship is in Bagan, hundreds of patients, many coming from as far as the Chinese border, gather to be treated. The clinic is on the grounds of the Nat-Htaunt Monastery and has volunteer doctors from around the world – the morning I visit I am pleased to report it was a doctor from Wisconsin, USA seeing patients.
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