08/09/2009 08:48 | By By Victoria Mitchell

The Orient-Express way to Burma

Choose a stunning way to see Burma


Novice monks at the temple in Mingun.

© PA Photo/Handout

After a stunning early morning trip through the second gorge, the green hills shrouded in a thick mist, the ship docked at Bhamo, barely 80 kilometres from the Chinese border.

Bhamo itself is a bustling village with a busy market, shops, bakeries and beer stations where locals can enjoy a small refreshment. A large Chinese contingent owns many shops and businesses, while the fire station has old vehicles reminiscent of 1950s Britain.

Another day trip included a train journey into the teak jungle to see working elephants shift tonnes of teak logs for transportation down river. Tourists eagerly feed them small bananas and pat their thick trunks, discoloured by the constant pressure of the logs.

No visit to Burma is complete without visiting a Buddhist temple where student monks study religion and carry out daily chores. Almost every boy in Burma becomes a Buddhist monk at some stage - almost like our old national service.

Another day took in the market places of Katha, made famous by George Orwell in his Burmese Days. The smell of dried fish, which locals use to flavour food, filled the air. In a downpour, shoppers nonchalantly produced umbrellas while tourists ran for cover.

Back onboard, we set sail on our journey back south to Bagan where the adventure ends.

Interactive History

A working elephant deep in Burma's thick teak jungle pushing a log with its trunk which will eventually be transported down the Irrawaddy River.

© PA Photo/Handout

A full day in Mandalay, the last royal capital of Burma and the second biggest city, produced an interactive history lesson like no other.

Finally, we visited ancient sites around Bagan, with a horse-drawn cart helping us to explore on our own. Then it was on to Mount Popa, legendary sacred home of the 'nats' or spirits, with an impressive summit monastery.

Each detail of the trip is planned by the Orient-Express logistics team, which travels up the side of the river by jeep to see all goes smoothly ashore.

The trip provides a unique glimpse of life in Burma. After saying our farewells, we flew from Bagan to Yangon and onto Bangkok for another night at the Oriental Hotel, with each room overlooking the Chao Phraya River.

As we headed to the bright lights and bustle of Patpong - the Bangkok quarter with a multitude of lap-dancing bars and markets of fake designer bags and sunglasses - the tranquility of our voyage suddenly felt a million miles away.

Villagers winding their way down a country road with small pagoda in background.

© PA Photo/Handout

Of course, some fear tourism puts more money into the hands of Burma's military government, which refuses to tolerate opposition and allows forced labour, human trafficking and child labour.

It was in 1885 that Burma became a province of British India and was given as a New Year present to Queen Victoria. It was overrun by Japan during World War II.

Now renamed the Union of Myanmar, it is slowly emerging from 40 years of isolation. There's little evidence of solid infrastructure and arriving there is like stepping back in time.

Meanwhile the sad spectre of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the 1990 election, hovers in the background. Power was never handed over to Suu Kyi, despite her Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her peaceful, non-violent struggle with military dictatorship.

She remains under house arrest in the capital Yangon - while tourism brings a little more wealth to her fascinating country.

Travel Facts

Victoria Mitchell was a guest of Orient-Express Hotels and Eva Airways and her 16-night Bhamo package from £2,540 per person includes all transfers, two nights at The Oriental Hotel Bangkok, return flights Bangkok-Yangon, all domestic flights, two nights at The Governor's Residence Yangon and 15 nights aboard The Road To Mandalay.

She flew Eva Air, which offers flights from Heathrow to Bangkok start from £533 (Economy) or £1,600 (Premium Laurel). Reservations: 020 7380 8322 and www.evaair.com

Currency in Burma is the kyat, but locals take American dollars.

Visitors to Burma need a tourist visa from the Myanmar Embassy, London.

The Road to Mandalay makes three special 'Bhamo' journeys in 2007, in August/September. At all other times it operates three to seven night voyages between Bagan & Mandalay.

Orient-Express Hotels reservations: 0845 077 2222.

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