I wrote previously about my delay in meeting up with the Viking Myanmar Explorer itinerary – including 10 travel tips if you’re ever significantly delayed. A volcano erupted in Indonesia and completely closed the airport in Denpasar, Bali, where I’d spent the previous six weeks. At any rate, when I did finally reach Viking, it was after a flight to Yangon, Myanmar. I missed one transfer and one tour day in Bangkok, Thailand and also one transfer and one tour day in Yangon, Myanmar.
I’ve traveled with Viking River Cruises before and knew that once I could put myself in their capable hands, I would have a stress-free, perfectly comfortable vacation. I was not disappointed. Program Director Nanda kept the hotel kitchen open for my 10pm arrival and also made arrangements for me to sneak away from the Sule Shangri-La Hotel before our morning airport transfer. He wanted to make sure I was able to visit Yangon’s premiere sight – the Shwedagon Pagoda.
River Cruise Advisor’s Aaron Saunders is covering the logistics of this cruise itinerary, while I’m covering the cultural elements of our excursions in Myanmar. Therefore, suffice it to say in this article that the transfer of 29 people from the Yangon airport to Heho Airport (Inle Lake gateway) was flawlessly organized and executed. On the way to our lodging at Aureum Palace on the lake, we stopped at the Shwe Pan Khing paper making workshop.
It’s unbelievable to me that after an investment of such care and skill to make the paper products, everything is so inexpensive. That’s one of the joys of Myanmar, though. As far as affordable travel destinations, you can’t beat it. Tourists have yet to take over and we really are so fortunate to witness life-as-normal. It’s a backpackers’ dream, minus the fact that there aren’t many places to stay (more on that later).
After our demonstrations (and shopping) at the Shwe Pan Khing workshop, Program Director Nanda told us we were headed for “a surprise.” We all assumed we were headed to the Aureum for dinner and bed…but he had other plans for us.
Just as we caught a glimpse of Inle Lake, we turned a corner and headed up up up into the hills. A few of us spotted grapevines out the window and whispers of a wine tasting made their way around the bus. We were in fact headed for a winery. Red Mountain is one of the most picturesque vistas I’ve ever seen and easily rivals anything in Sonoma County. I don’t know about you, but when I thought of Myanmar before this trip, hilltop wineries did not come to mind. Water buffalo pulling ploughs through fields? More like it.
I didn’t realize it then, but my surprise at finding a posh winery was indicative of a pattern of surprises I’d experience in Myanmar. It’s not that I had low exceptions, I had no expectations. We’re taught so little about the Burmese culture in our North American education. Beyond the timing of the elections being held during out tour and infamous heroine + candidate Aung San Suu Kyi, I had no idea what I was in for. I only hoped for an adventure. Myanmar delivered. It was the SE Asian experience I was seeking – and didn’t find – in Indonesia.
I will let Aaron cover the logistics of our lodging at Aureum Palace I do want to say, at the very least, that photographing my suite’s bathroom for purposes of Instagram cred required the panoramic setting on my iPhone. The bungalows are easily 800 sq.ft., set on stilts within the lake. Although we arrived after dark, this is what the morning sun revealed on our patio…
Hope to see you back here for the next article. Cheers to Adventure,
My Voyage Report from Viking River Cruises’ Myanmar Explorer continues in the next article as we spend a full day exploring Inle Lake, Myanmar! Be sure to come back and keep reading. You’re also invited to follow along with adventurer Gail Jessen on Twitter or Instagram.