With a line stretching out the door and continuing more than 100-metres up the street, people had been queueing for three hours to get inside.
They were waiting to taste Kentucky Fried Chicken for the first time.
For better or worse, this was another symbolic step in Myanmar’s steady journey toward opening up to the world that began in 2012.
The country’s largest city, Yangon, has been the epicentre of the significant and rapid changes occurring in the Republic.
Emerging from the country’s military-rule from 1962 to 2011, Yangon is growing and modernising at a rate seen in few other metropolises in the world.
It’s not just international trade that has surged as a result of the change – tourism continues to swell with new hotels, attractions and preservation projects of historic sites, welcoming an increasing flow of foreign visitors.
Although Myanmar has taken on some western influences, the lure of visiting a country that was all but off limits for so long has attracted many curious travellers.
Sites such as the awe-inspiring religious complex that surrounds Myanmar’s most significant temple, Shwedagon Pagoda, give a beautiful and spectacular insight into a fascinating past.
Donning a longyi, a sarong-style dress that covers the legs, the mood inside the temple had been solemn, its grounds near-silent as worshippers knelt in prayer, incense smoke wafting above their heads towards the pagoda’s immense golden stupa.
Heading back downtown, I stand admiring Yangon’s Sule Pagoda, a striking religious monument believed to be more than 2000 years old. Next to me, a monk dressed in a traditional orange robe was capturing the stupa’s ancient facade on his smart phone.
While social media is often derided in western countries as a time-wasting curse, it is viewed as a thrilling and empowering movement in emerging nations such as this.
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Destinations along the Irrawaddy and beyond
As the economic centre and a former capital, Yangon combines British colonial architecture, wide boulevards and tranquil lakes with bustling street stalls.
Its main attraction is the dazzling, gold leaf covered Shwedagon Pagoda.
Best navigated by long-tail boat, the tranquil waters of Inle Lake are charming and serene.
Observe the local fishermen with their unique one-legged rowing technique, floating gardens, ethnic tribes, sunken pagodas and water-based temples.
Bagan’s famous central, arid plain is scattered with over 2,000 surviving ancient temples and pagodas in various states of repair, reflecting the golden age of the powerful Bagan Dynasty between 1044 and 1287.
Mandalay & Amarapura
Situated at the foot of Mandalay Hill, Mandalay is a Buddhist centre and home to over 700 pagodas.
Amarapura is home to the famous U Bein Bridge, the world’s longest teakwood bridge at 1,208 metres.
Pyay was once the Head Quarters of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company.
Located close by is the World Heritage Listed Sri Ksetra, whose 1,500-year-old stupas and temples are among the earliest Buddhist monuments in the world.
Inwa (Ava) & Sagaing
For over 600 years, Inwa was the Burmese capital – longer than any other city.
As the spiritual capital of Myanmar, Sagaing has more than 554 monasteries and is located on the opposite bank to Inwa.
Myanmar visa information:
Australian citizens must get a tourist visa before arriving in Myanmar.
The country recently introduced an easy online visa- application system. Tourist visas cost $US50 (about AUD$70) and allow guests to stay in Myanmar for 28 days. Apply online at www.evisa.moip.gov.mm
Experience Myanmar with Scenic
In 2016, Scenic launched its first custom-built ship for the Irrawaddy River – Scenic Aura. The beautiful ship has the largest one-bedroom suites on the river, each with its own private Scenic Sun Lounge balcony, including butler service.
With Scenic, you can expect all-inclusive luxury that includes:
- Luxury suites with private balconies fitted with revolutionary Sun Lounges
- A personal butler for every guest
- All meals, and a choice of dining venues, from a-la-carte to casual dining
- Unlimited complimentary beverages
- A pool deck with swimming pool and bar
- Open-air cinema
- An almost 1:1 guest-to-staff ratio
- Free use of on board guest laundry facilities
- Luxury bathroom amenities, produced using local ingredients
- Scenic Freechoice – the innovative program that enables you to select the sightseeing, activities and dining experiences that suit you, handpicked to allow for every taste and pace
- Scenic Enrich – a range of unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experiences, expertly planned and exclusive to Scenic guests
- On board entertainment, showcasing the distinctive cultures of the regions you pass through
- In-suite room service
- Wi-Fi internet with streaming to your Mac mini infotainment system via your in-suite TV, enabling you to stay connected in comfort
- Fitness and wellness centre, massage, beauty salon, boutique and library
- Personal airport transfers regardless of what time you arrive or depart
- All tips, gratuities and porterage
Enrich experiences are programs that are not available to the general public and have been handcrafted exclusively for Scenic guests.
In Yangon, engage in the tradition of ‘oil lamp lighting’ at the exquisite Shwedagon Pagoda – the country’s most famous temple, before preparing a vegetarian lunch with Buddhist nuns.
As you travel throughout the country, help create the gold leaf that adorns a multitude of sacred structures.
Scenic Freechoice activities
Extra activities in select destinations, included in your fare, allow you to personalise your tour to your liking.
There are visits to World Heritage-listed sites, insights into local cultures, and revelatory journeys to hidden pockets of paradise that only the locals know about.
You’ll also enjoy a wide array of dining options through Scenic Freechoice Dining. These sumptuous culinary highlights give you the opportunity to choose where to dine during certain parts of your journey. And they’re all included in the one price you pay up front.
The purpose-built Scenic Aura features luxurious one-bedroom balcony cabins throughout, with an almost 1:1 staff-to-guest ratio.
Your time on board will be one of world-class indulgence, with private views of the ever-changing scenery.
With only 44-guests onboard, expect a high-level of service and luxury.
The ship features a pool and open-air cinema, while the quiet libraries, beauty salons and tranquil wellness centre offer a range of places to escape for a little privacy – or even an indulgent treatment (treatments incur additional cost).
For added convenience, you can enjoy free use of on board guest laundry facilities.
Scenic Aura Suites
Each suite offers a private balcony and river view. At the press of a button, the oversized windows lower to bring the outside in, converting into your Scenic Sun Lounge.
Downy pillows, Egyptian cotton sheets, plush bathrobes and complimentary shoe-shine serve to enhance the ambience of an opulent 5-star, floating boutique hotel.
There is a choice of four suites available:
- Royal Panorama Suite – 70m2/861ft2
- Grand Deluxe Suite – 40m2/430ft2
- Deluxe Suite – 32m2/344ft2
- Balcony Suite – 24m2/258ft2
Three exclusive cruises to choose
Scenic offers a choice of three different cruises along the Irrawaddy. To extend your journey, why not combine your Myanmar cruise with a Mekong River cruise in Vietnam for one extraordinary lifetime experience.
Luxury Irrawaddy – 11-days – Mandalay to Yangon
- Day 1 – Mandalay > Irrawaddy Cruise
- Day 2 – Mingun > Mandalay > Amarapura
- Day 3 – Sagaing > Inwa (Ava)
- Day 4 – Myinmu > Monywa
- Day 5 – Yandabo > Schwe Pyi Thar
- Day 6 – Bagan
- Day 7 – Bagan > Salay
- Day 8 – Magwe
- Day 9 – Thayetmyo
- Day 10 – Pyay (Prome)
- Day 11 – Irrawaddy Cruise > Yangon
Priced from: $6,096pp
Departs: Sep to April
Mystical Myanmar – 18-days – Yangon return
- Day 1 – Yangon
- Day 2 – Yangon
- Day 3 – Yangon > Pyay (Prome) > Irrawaddy Cruise
- Day 4 – Pyay (Prome) > Sri Ksetra
- Day 5 – Thayetmyo
- Day 6 – Magwe
- Day 7 – Salay > Bagan:
- Day 8 – Bagan
- Day 9 – Bagan > Schwe Pyi Thar
- Day 10 – Yandabo
- Day 11 – Sagaing > Inwa (Ava)
- Day 12 – Mingun > Mandalay > Amarapura
- Day 13 – Irrawaddy Cruise > Mandalay
- Day 14 – Mandalay > Inle Lake
- Day 15 – Inle Lake:
- Day 16 – Inle Lake
- Day 17 – Inle Lake > Yangon
- Day 18 – Yangon
Priced from: $12,585pp
Departs: Sep to March
Mystical Irrawaddy – 14-days – Mandalay to Yangon
- Day 1 – Mandalay
- Day 2 – Mandalay > Irrawaddy Cruise
- Day 3 – Mingun > Mandalay > Amarapura
- Day 4 – Sagaing > Inwa (Ava)
- Day 5 – Myinmu > Monywa
- Day 6 – Yandabo > Schwe Pyi Thar
- Day 7 – Bagan
- Day 8 – Bagan > Salay
- Day 9 – Magwe
- Day 10 – Thayetmyo
- Day 11 – Pyay (Prome)
- Day 12 – Irrawaddy Cruise > Yangon
- Day 13 – Yangon
- Day 14 – Yangon
Priced from: $9,190pp
Departs: Sep to March
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ARE YOU READY TO CRUISE MYANMAR?