Seeing Asia on Seabourn: Days 5 and 6

(CruiseMates contributing editors Richard and Barry Wright are also performers who have sung their way around the world aboard the finest cruise ships.)

Today is the day everyone has been waiting for: We arrive in Myanmar (or as we have known it for generations, Burma). The name of Burma rings an exotic bell in the far reaches of our minds, conjuring up stories of the Road to Mandalay and visions of ancient kingdoms.

The fact that there are enough automobiles in the capital city of Yangon (Rangoon) to have a traffic jam doesn't spoil the ambiance. The city is teeming with people and commerce, and there's a constant flow of cars, bicycles, motorbikes and cyclos (three-wheeled bicycle rickshaws) interwoven with groups of pedestrians. Everyone dodges vehicles with surprising dexterity.

Combine this with fact that both men and women here traditionally cover their legs with an ankle-length wrap, and the ship's tour becomes quite a visual happening. In spite of all the hustle and bustle, the Burmese display a friendly nature and a relative indifference to our presence. (But in a matter of time it will surely change, like the rest of Southeast Asia.)

The ship's shore excursions offer many variations on a theme. The downtown cyclo ride is a unique and relaxing way to see the city's colonial buildings and landmarks. The hardy cyclo drivers take you past Independence Park, past the government offices on Pansodan Street, and into the Indian and Chinese quarters before returning to the ship. Seabourn also offers a Yangon sightseeing tour on an air-conditioned bus, visiting all the familiar landmarks including the Strand Hotel and historical sites. A drive past the Sule Pagoda and a trip to Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda with its huge reclining Buddha -- one of Asia's largest -- is included.

We continued on to view the Lion's Throne and other historical treasures at the National Museum, and made a shopping stop at the famous Bogyoke (Scotts) Market. There we wandered through aisles of mousetraps and brooms, antiques and lacquer ware, hand-beaded wall hangings, Burmese silk fabrics, mother-of-pearl in all sizes and shapes and of course, rubies and sapphires, and a myriad of local handicrafts. Shoppers: Plan to spend some time here! The line also offers a dedicated shopping tour.

On the final morning of our lengthy port call in Yangon, we took a tour to the spectacular, one-of-a-kind Shewedagon Pagoda. With its many statues of Buddha, it glows in the morning light with an ethereal presence. Visitors are free to wander the expanse of the Pagoda to meditate and explore. (There are lots of photo ops here.)

You approach the Shewedagon by four walkways up a hill to the platform on which the pagoda stands. When you touch the first step, you must remove your shoes and socks (as in any pagoda, temple or shrine). Vendors line the steps selling flowers, ceremonial umbrellas, Buddha images, golden thrones, ivory combs, books and incense sticks. Despite all this, the atmosphere is subdued on the shaded walkway.

Emerging from the calm, we entered a dazzling Technicolor world. Surrounding the main structure is an incredible assortment of smaller pagodas, statues, temples and shrines. The brilliance of the golden stupa makes everything seem brighter and more dramatic than life. Proceeding in a clockwise direction around the holy precinct, we admired the decorated buildings and statues, witnessing devout Buddhists in various attitudes of offering and prayer.

The evening festivities usually are onboard -- but not for our evening in Yangon. All the passengers were invited to cocktails and hors d'oeuvres at the oldest, most traditional hotel in Myanmar, The Strand. With musicians playing traditional tunes and servers in native garb, we felt like we had been transported back to the colonial days of British rule. The cocktails and food just kept coming and we wished this evening would not end.

But eventually the party came to a close and we went back to the ship for a fabulous barbecue on deck under the stars. With the entire kitchen transported to the deck and the band playing for dancing and dining, we had the time of our lives. The waiters dished up giant prawns, lobster, spareribs, filet mignon, chicken breasts, hamburgers, hot dogs and every condiment know to man, as well as salads of every description, tropical fruits and a capacious dessert table. Seabourn really knows how to throw a party.

To cap off the evening, cruise director Jill and assistants Stuart and Steve put on a high energy Rock n' Roll Show that was loved by all.

Back in our suite, half-dead from all the activities, we fell into those beds with the silky sheets and comforters.

To be continued...

Click here to read Days 1 and 2 Click here to read Day 3 Click here to read Day 4

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