Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
In Mandalay, Myanmar, sun sets behind U Bein Bridge, said to be the longest and oldest teak bridge in the world

Click on title to view photo in large format: In Mandalay, Myanmar, sun sets behind U Bein Bridge, which bisects Taungthaman Lake and is said to be the longest and oldest teak bridge in the world. The bridge was completed in 1851, using teak wood reclaimed from a former royal palace. Not only is the bridge popular with tourists, it is in constant use by locals who save a great deal of transit time by being able to walk across the lake rather than go around it. Unfortunately, many of the 1,086 pillars that support the bridge have begun to Read More

During monsoon season, sailing the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar is easy, as the river is high and wide. In the dry season, however, the river shrinks and sailing becomes much more difficult. The captain on my Viking River Mandalay Explorer cruise explained that the portion of the river between Mandalay and Bagan is the shallowest, and that it is not uncommon for the boat to scrape bottom. As long we were moving slowly, he assured us there was no reason for concern, however we were advised to hold onto railings when climbing stairs or walking the deck. Indeed, we bumped bottom or scraped submerged rocks several times without causing damage to the boat.

To lessen the potential for damage and ensure safety of the crew and passengers, the depth is monitored continuously when sailing shallow stretches of the Irrawaddy River. Crew members thrust long bamboo poles into the water on both sides of the ship’s bow, calling out Read More

Girl from Ohn Ne Kyaung fishing village near Bagan, Myanmar, sits next to a drum made by her family, which specializes in making percussion instruments from locally available materials

Click on title to view photo in large format: Girl from Ohn Ne Kyaung village near Bagan, Myanmar, sits next to a handmade drum. The main occupations in this tiny village are farming and fishing, with the main crops being peanuts and palm sugar, however this family has taken a departure from the traditional occupations. They specialize in Read More

The sprite of a girl stood half hidden behind the bamboo gate leading to her family home. “Bye bye,” she said, waving and giggling. “Mingalaba,” I replied, using one of only two Burmese words I learned during my tour of Myanmar.

This was not the first time I had felt welcomed during my two week Viking River Myanmar Explorer Cruise and tour. We were repeatedly invited into local homes; made an impromptu stop at a wedding reception, where the bride’s mother invited us to enjoy pink ice cream; and descended unannounced upon a temple in a tiny village, where a new golden umbrella was being installed on the top of a pagoda. Though we were the subject of some curiosity, we were always met with a combination of sweet shyness and broad smiles.

Viking River Mandalay Explorer Cruise boat on the Irrawaddy River near Mandalay

Viking River Mandalay Explorer Cruise boat on the Irrawaddy River near Mandalay

Undoubtedly, I would have come away with the same impression of the people of Myanmar had I been on my own, especially since I spent an additional 10 days traveling independently following the Viking River tour. However the depth of knowledge I gained with Viking was nothing less than astounding. Having been raised in Bagan, the cultural and artistic center of Myanmar, and endowed with a degree in English, our guide Mu Mu was well equipped to answer our questions. And question we did. Every few minutes, someone would call out, “Mu Mu, can you tell us…” Whether she was eating lunch, giving directions to our bus driver, or taking notes about tasks to do for guests, she stopped, listened, and then provided us with deep background about the culture and customs of Myanmar. Read More

Interior of Shwenandaw Monastery Palace in Mandalay, Myanmar is covered in real gold foil

Click on title to view photo in large format: Interior of Shwenandaw Monastery, also known as Golden Palace Monastery, in Mandalay, Myanmar. The structure was originally part of the royal palace at Amarapura, before it was moved to Mandalay, where it became part of the king’s royal apartments. Both the exterior and the interior were once heavily gilded. Although the interior is still covered with gilt, most of the gold has worn off the exterior surfaces. The outside, however, Read More

Women from Yandabo pottery making village near Mandalay, Myanmar, carry freshly fired pots down to the riverbank in preparation for shipping

Click on title to view photo in large format: Women from Yandabo pottery making village near Mandalay, Myanmar. The entire village is involved in the business of making clay pots, from throwing them on the wheel, to decorating the outside with various designs, to firing thousands in giant piles of ash and straw. After cooling, the final product is carried down to the riverbank in preparation for shipping to locations all over Myanmar. Though it initially appeared that women were doing the bulk of the work while the men sat around gossiping, we later realized Read More