Julie Sturzy was both excited and a little apprehensive about her luxury trip to Burma (Myanmar). She'd heard so much about it from friends and colleagues – that it was an intriguing and mysterious land with amazing landscapes, as well as the turbulent politics, limited communications coverage, power shortages and unreliable transport! However, she went with an open mind. She's glad that she did because, the impressions she formed of Mandalay were so completely vivid and so entirely her own – sultry days, lingering blood-orange sunsets, dusty paths, mysterious relics dotted across vast plains and people working with ox and horse carts, in contrast to the hectic city of Yangon (Rangoon).
Escorted from Burma's international airport in a relatively modern vehicle (a bonus in a country where vehicles are subject to a massive import tax), off she travelled along the busy airport road, passing vans laden with goods and people hanging off overcrowded buses and coaches. Continuing to her first stop her eyes were bombarded with unusual sights: men wearing skirt-like ‘longyi’ and ladies faces covered with a pale yellow powder called ‘thanakha’; barefoot monks and nuns in pink robes carrying parasols; children precariously balanced on bicycles, crouching street-sellers and red-stained teeth from Betel-chewing. Sugar plantations, teak, gems, oil and silver all form part of Burma’s naturally rich resources that over the years have attracted many races (not only the British), their migration resulting in a cultural mixing pot, exemplified in the Indian and Chinese Quarters. The crumbling architecture of Yangon, echoing the country’s Colonial past and hinting at its troubled history, sat in stark contrast to the newly placed, large advertising boards for western-style products and brands, including one for Daks Clothing which, given the surroundings, made Julie laugh out loud.
Julie arrived at Belmond Governor’s Residence , an impressive teak residence set within beautiful, peaceful gardens with lily ponds, dancing dragonflies, butterflies and giant parasols, for her stay. A calm oasis within the Embassy Quarter and only ten minutes from the city centre, the luxury hotel features traditional ceiling fans, walls adorned with modern art, stylish boutiques, generously sized rooms, and an outside courtyard with pool, a luxury no other hotel in Yangon has. She was treated to a half-day city tour followed by an evening visit to the impressive Shwedagon Pagoda. Over two-thousand years old, it contains many religious relics, including strands of Buddha’s hair, making it a place of pilgrimage for many Buddhists and should be considered essential viewing for everyone. Nothing could have prepared her for the disparity between the outside chaos and the serenity of the interior with its lakes, villas, gold leaf and diamonds.
When Julie's stay in Yangon came to an end, she flew to Bagan (about an hour-and-a-half), where she joined the Belmond Road to Mandalay .
To Read Julie's 'Sentimental Journey - Part 2', click here