Theo Osborne explores Burma for The Steeple Times
Today, our new contributor Theo Osborne introduces his firm, the Parnassus Travel Group, before taking readers deep into to Burma.
Theo Osborne and the Parnassus Travel Group
As the founder of Parnassus Travel Group (Parnassus Luxury Travel, Parnassus Corporate Travel and Parnassus Lifestyle), I have been fortunate enough to visit the most incredible hotels in the most far-flung corners of the world. Through experiences such as working for a luxury hotel group in Las Vegas, I saw guests treated like royalty, with every aspect of their trip taken care of – including the things they may not have even thought of themselves.
Parnassus has expanded rapidly and is now a preferred partner of the best luxury hotel brands in the world as well as tour operators, safari camps, private aviation companies and yacht brokers. We have a team of worldwide travel consultants who know their specialist areas inside out. We offer our superior rates and VIP amenities to our clients on every reservation.
Utilising our network of contacts, we have privileged access to some of the most exclusive members-only establishments around the world. We pass these benefits on to our clients through our invitation only service, Parnassus Lifestyle. I am looking to share my wisdom on the best properties worldwide, the hottest destinations, exclusive events and hidden gems with the readers of The Steeple Times.
As a bit of an introduction to the company I founded around three years ago, Parnassus Luxury Travel creates bespoke and unique travel experiences all around the world. I hope that we can share our findings of new hotels, hot destinations, exclusive events and hidden gems with you in the coming months.
We have found that people like to combine their holidays with something a little different, so we work exclusively with exciting events all over the world to provide a unique experience. Parnassus Lifestyle also enhances our travel service through providing worldwide lifestyle support to our clients including access to member’s only establishments.
The topic that has been resounding over the last few years is the worldwide recession. However despite this, there is one area of tourism that is continuing to expand rapidly and that is the luxury travel market which is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry. The international growing middle classes are becoming wealthier and exotic destinations are becoming more accessible through new airplane routes. As a result, a new wave of luxury hotels are opening up in destinations previously untouched by mass tourism.
Theo Osborne’s foray into Burma
Our hot destination this month, after a long period of inaccessibility, is Burma. It is a place that has been left untouched and one that is fast becoming popular with tourists from all over the world.
London to Burma is now reachable easily flying from London to Burma via Bangkok with Thai Airways and from New York via Seoul with Korean Air. Alongside this, two modern internal airlines have upgraded and expanded their networks thus meaning that new destinations off the beaten track can now be reached, from mountain trekking and rafting in the far north, to world-class diving in the 800 islands of the Myanmar’s Mergui archipelago.
Myanmar’s department of Civil Aviation is planning to upgrade Yangon International airport from its present capacity of 2.7 million passengers a year to 3.7 million a year in 2013 and 5 million when the upgrade has been completed in 2015 to handle this sudden popularity and increase of international passengers.
I visited the hidden world of Myanmar for the first time early this year, a world virtually untouched by mass tourism, with pristine white beaches, sparkling blue lakes, serene Buddhist architecture and vibrant cities. Spanning a rich and glorious heritage of over two thousand years, the ancient cities attest to a culture which is home to 125 different ethnic groups.
From my arrival at the airport, I was immediately immersed into the vibrant culture, crossing men in skirt like longyi, women smothered in thanakha and taking in the distinct scent, a combination of citrus, incense, and tanakha. A taste of Asia lost in time, in many ways it has changed so little since British Colonial times, yet to be overwhelmed by Western clothing and home to many mythical landscapes, ancient treasures and incredible sights. This once isolated nation at a cross roads of India and China has finally opened its doors and imbues any traveller with a sense of awe and wonder.
Starting my trip in the bustling former capital of Yangon, I was greeted with warm hospitality and friendliness which made it apparent why this is a destination that people want to come back to time after time.
I spent my second morning taking a hot air balloon at dawn over Bagon, where I listened to the early Morning Prayer call, and took in the colorful cultures, the gold robed monks and dramatic landscapes of thousands of temples and pagodas glistening in the morning sun. I then took a visit to Shwedagon Paya, perhaps one of Burma¹s most famous and certainly most iconic structure, towering over the city, I learnt about the history of the unique and incredible architecture.
Rudyard Kipling’s words in Letters From the East still resound: “This is Burma and it will be quite unlike any land you know about”.
I took a trek through Kalaw, being taken through lush jungle clad hills and clementine groves, stopping off in Shan state villages where the locals had only ever met a handful of foreigners. I felt like I was the only person that had explored the place.
Ending my trip I took my pick of one of the stunning beaches on the idyllic palm fringed stretch of coast, placed amongst the tiny fishing villages of the Andaman coast.
This is a country of breath taking beauty and vibrancy that will continue to impress and intrigue you, exuding vibrancy, culture and hospitality; it is easy to see what the appeal is of going on such a journey.
There are many variations of trips to Burma, but listed below is one of our favourites:
Day 1 – London/Yangon
Board your overnight Thai Airways flight from Heathrow to Yangon, via Bangkok.
Day 2 – Yangon
Arrive in Yangon and transfer to the Governor’s Residence Hotel for two nights.
Day 3 – Yangon
This morning, visit Chaukhtatgyi Reclining Buddha and the National Museum. After lunch at The Governor’s Residence, you will have the opportunity to explore Bogyoke Aung San (Scott) Market, the largest in Yangon. Finish the day at Shwedagon Pagoda, shimmering above the city, for an unforgettable sunset.
Day 4 – Yangon/Heho/Inle Lake
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight to Heho. On arrival, drive to Nyaung Shwe and check-in to the Inle Princess Resort for two nights. Enjoy lunch at the hotel before visiting Phaungdaw U Pagoda, one of the three principal shrines of Burma, and the Jumping Cat Monastery. Return to the hotel via the floating garden, where you can see traditional cottage-industries.
Day 5 – Inle Lake
Set off for the bustling local market, where along with your guide and a host family you will stock up with fresh fruits and vegetables. Head back to the family’s house by private longtail boat for a cooking lesson in typical Shan-style food. After cooking the food, you can sit down with the family and enjoy the fruits of your labour. In the afternoon, cruise to the lakeside village of Indein. Walk up a beautiful stairway, lined with wooden columns, to old Shwe Inn Dein, an impressive collection of ancient Shan-style stupas, with stunning views of the lake.
Day 6 – Inle Lake/Heho/Mandalay
This morning, return to Heho airport for your flight to Mandalay. Check-in to the Sedona Hotel for one night. After lunch, visit Shwenandaw Monastery and Kuthodaw Pagoda, which is often described as “the world’s biggest book”. Finish the day at Mandalay Hill, rising 236 metres above the surrounding countryside.
Day 7 – Mandalay/Mingun
Today, visit U Bein Bridge, a long and rickety teak bridge crossing Taungthaman Lake. You will also observe around a thousand monks having their main meal of the day at Mahagandayon Monastery. Continue to Maha Muni Paya, home to the image of the Maha Muni Buddha, an object of devotion for pilgrims around the world. Transfer to the jetty and board RV Paukan to cruise upstream to Mingun. As you float along, gain a wonderful glimpse into river-life on the Ayeyarwady. After lunch on-board, tour Mingun by ox-cart. Visit Mingun Bell (the world’s largest ringing bell), the Unfinished Pagoda and Myatheindan Pagoda. Enjoy dinner on-board.
Day 8 – Mingun/Sagaing/River Village
Wake early for sunrise over Sagaing Hill. After breakfast, go ashore to visit Sagaing. Once the capital of the Shan kingdom, it is now a religious centre that supports dozens of Buddhist monasteries, nunneries and a monastic hospital. The silversmiths in the village of Ywataung are renowned for their engraving skills and you will have the opportunity to visit a workshop. Enjoy lunch on-board, before stopping at Yandabo, a village specialising in pot-making, where the peace treaty of the First Anglo-Burmese war was signed in1826.
Day 9 – River Village/Bagan
The ship continues to Bagan for sunrise near the city. After disembarking in Bagan, explore Nyaung U Market and Shwezigon Pagoda. Continue to the Wetkyi-in Gubyaukgi, a 13th century ‘cave temple’, and Htilominlo Temple. Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before visiting Ananda Temple, constructed in 1091 and a masterpiece of Mon architecture. In the late afternoon, you will visit a nunnery to observe the nuns’ daily life. You will also be given a brief instruction into the Buddhist art of meditation. Return to the Thiripyitsaya Sakura Hotel for two nights.
Day 10 – Bagan
This morning, enjoy a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of the ancient capital and surrounding areas from a hot air balloon. After breakfast at the hotel, visit Mt. Popa (an extinct volcano), stopping en route at a toddy-palm climber’s hut. At Mt. Popa, climb the covered stairway up ‘Taungkalat’, a steep-sided rocky volcanic plug. Enjoy the panoramic views of Bagan Plain, dotted with stupas and temples. After lunch at a local restaurant, return to Bagan and visit Manuha and Nanpaya Temples. Finish the day at Shwesandaw Pagoda, in time for a memorable sunset across the plains of Bagan.
Day 11- Bagan/London
Transfer to the airport for your homeward flight, via Yangon and Bangkok. Alternatively extend your stay and enjoy this wonderful land for a little longer.
Parnassus insider tips
Where to stay
Authentic Myanmar: Feel
French: Kandagwgyi Palace
French Idochine: Le Planteur
What to read before you go
Finding George Orwell in Burma, by Emma Larkin (2004): Stories of the year this American writer spent tracing the steps of Orwell, who lived in British-ruled Burma (Myanmar) in the 1920s.
For more information on Parnassus Travel click here.
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