|November 14 2020||14 nights
|Yes||$7800 pp||add $1900|
This journey has grown out of our longevity in Burma. Since 2001 we have been escorting small groups of just 15 guests across this majestic country. I wanted to see the deep south, that thin piece of land that borders Thailand to the east and the Bay of Bengal to the west. It is the home of the Mon people, the on and off rulers of Burma and the custodians of Buddhism. In more recent times the Australian POWs, along with local indigenous people and other captured allies had been forced to build a railway in 1942 from Thanbyuzayat to Kanchanaburi in Thailand.
On this trip we explore the ancient Mon history, and further south see the remnants of the old railway on the Burmese side, along with the Commonwealth War Cemetery where over 1000 Australians rest. Only recently has the border crossing between Myanmar and Thailand opened, so now we can take a dusty road through remote countryside from the pristine sea port of Dawei to Kanchanaburi. Here we board our splendid river boat and spend three nights exploring the River Kwai and the vestiges of the old railway including Hellfire Pass.
This is a new journey that is sure to become another Goddard & Howse classic.
Yangon was established in the 10th century as a small fishing village nearby the Shwedagon Pagoda. It grew in prominence from the 17th century until 1823 when the city was taken by the colonial interests of Great Britain.In due course the British did return the city to the local administrators however they found the pronunciation of Yangon difficult and by way of spoonerism the name became Rangoon until 1989 when the city returned to its original name. During the colonial time Yangon was called the garden of the east with its mix of wide streets, colonial architecture and picturesque lakes. We will explore these buildings and vistas by foot then board the local circular train to see daily life.
Heading north east of Yangon we travel to Bago the ancient capital of the Mon people who dominated the southern coast of Myanmar for 1000 years. Our drive takes us via the Taukkyan commonwealth war cemetery where thousands of allied soldiers made their final stand against the invading Japanese forces in WW2. We visit the 1000 year old Shwemawdaw Pagoda and the four seated Buddha images at Kyaikpun Pagoda both remnants of the Mon civilisation who were the first to practice Buddhism in Myanmar.
A little further to the east is one of Myanmar’s most famous landmarks the Golden Rock Pagoda (Kyaiktiyo) famous for both its religious significance as much as its precarious position balancing on the edge of a cliff.
To reach the pagoda we must transfer to a smaller vehicle and take a winding road for some 11 kilometres to the summit – an adventure in itself. Our reward is a stunning view of the surrounding landscape and a close up view of Golden Rock which is sure to be busy with pilgrims, aesthetics, street sellers and inquisitive travellers like us.
The conquering British built their main administration centre at Mawlamyaing in 1826 at the mouth of the Salween River. Here we discover a spectacular setting as rivers converge into a delta with limestone Mountains providing a shimmering backdrop. The city was immortalized by Rudyard Kipling who penned his poem the Road to Mandalay as he sat gazing at the lazy sea from the vantage point of Kyaikthanlan pagoda.
There is much for us to discover including the bustling harbour side market and the colonial past of this tranquil town where many Baptist churches were established in the 1840s. A short drive from Mawlamyaing is the village of U Nar Ouk named after a local entrepreneur from 100 years before who gained recognition for his wealth and generosity. His donations allowed the construction of the Kawnat Pagoda with its ornate carvings and unique architectural features unseen in other parts of the country.
Our journey continues in a southerly direction edging into stands of rubber trees with mountains rising to the east and the Andaman Sea to the west. Our destination is Set Se located by the ocean with a sprawling sand beach and little habitation other than a local village. We visit the small town of Thanbyuzayat where in 1942 the infamous death railway or Japanese Thai- Burma Railway began construction travelling 120 kilometres to the Thai border at Three Pagoda Pass. It was here that the Burmese section of the railway met with the Thai section, the railway being built concurrently from both sides of the border. There is a small museum and some remnants of the railway to visit and also a commonwealth war cemetery where 1335 Australians are remembered, now lying in peace amongst pristine grounds.
We spend the night comfortably by the Andaman Sea and watch the sun set to the west. There is a small fishing village near our hotel, the odd local shop and very little else. This is rarely visited part of Myanmar.
We continue due south for the old seaport of Dawei. The road winds through coastal plains then across hills where the Shan Mountain Range tumbles down from the north to the coast. We leave the Mon State and cross into Tanintharyi State variously populated by Burmese and Kayin people. Golden stupas appear regularly glistening above a green canopy of vegetation where well kept wooden dwellings are busy with local people going about their day. We reach Ye a small provincial town and take the opportunity to taste some noodle soup and stretch our legs before continuing to Dawei.
Located at the mouth of the Dawei River this delightful old town has a history dating to the 13th century where it was established under the court of Pagan. Here we find a bustling streetscape of teak wood buildings with layered rooves amongst colonial administration buildings from the British time. The town is set amongst coconut and beetle nut palms with many cottage industries including a cashew processing factory where everything is done by hand and a weaving workshop run by the Kayin indigenous group.
It is hard to drag yourself away from Dawei, such enchanting place, however the road to the Thailand border lies ahead and a fascinating drive is in store. The road is just 180 kilometres and the first 60 kilometres is sealed before we reach a well maintained dirt road for the remainder of the journey. We travel through largely uninhabited country hugging a river bank with spectacular views all around. This route has only recently been open to the travelling public so there is very little traffic. By midafternoon we reach the Thai border and after clearing customs we find ourselves in Thailand and a new world. The road instantly becomes wide and sealed; there are advertising hoardings by the side of the road, service stations and small hamlets .We reach the town of Kanchanaburi and rest in the delightful surrounds of the Dheva Mantra Hotel.
Today we meet our cruise ship the RV River Kwai and our home for the following three nights. With just ten private cabins the RV River Kwai was the first inland river boat in Thailand. Built in a colonial style and similar to those of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company in Burma the boat is well appointed with a dining area , sun deck and lounge. After our time in Myanmar and travels by dusty road we have a chance to relax and soak up the stunning countryside as our boat cruises along the Kwai Noi.
Our cruise boat provides opportunities for excursions into the area around Kanchanaburi most notably to the Japanese – Thai Burma Railway at the so called hellfire Pass and the wooden viaduct constructed by Australian POWS in WW2. The memorial at Hellfire pass is a moving experience and we will take some time to visit the museum here and walk to the cutting that was completed under enormous duress and suffering by not only Australian POWs but a large work force of indigenous labourers. Thousands perished of disease, depravation and cruelty by their captors.
Back aboard our River Boat we will continue to cruise the Kwai Noi .Here in the far south west of Thailand we also find remnants of Khmer influence from the Angkor period some 800 years before. The extensive ruins of Prasat Muang Sing are a great discovery and indicate how extensive the Khmer empire was in its heyday from the 10th century until collapsing the 13th century.
Our journey almost complete we visit the famous bridge on the river Kwai then take the 3 hour drive to Bangkok.
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It symbolizes the end of the old and beginning of the new. During the “Tet” New Year festival in Vietnam a family will visit a Pagoda after midnight to remember their ancestors. Australians go to parties and watch the Sydney Harbour Bridge go off in millions of dollars worth of fireworks. And the Burmese, well, they just throw water at each other! This 'dampening' process symbolizes cleansing of the soul or washing away the sins of the past year so that an individual can move into the New Year with a clear conscience. more
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