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Day by Day Itinerary

For years, travelers have longed to come to Burma, an enticing destination of gilded temples, verdant landscapes, and passionate, deeply spiritual people. In recent history, this nation has been shut off from the world by an autocratic military junta, causing democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to declare in 1996, “Burma will be here for many years, so tell your friends to visit us later.” But democracy is on the rise in Burma—the junta is out, Suu Kyi’s house arrest is over, and her “later” has finally come. Burma’s warm, welcoming people are ready to meet you, and to show off the country that they have worked so hard to build. Join us on this enchanting Burma river cruise and experience its many treasures, from the myriad shrines and pagodas of Bagan, to the discovery-rich banks of the Irrawaddy River, and more.

    Depart the U.S. on an overnight flight across the Pacific and cross the International Date Line.

  • Land in Bangkok late tonight and meet your Program Director, who will help you transfer to your hotel, along with your fellow travelers joining you after their Vientiane & Luang Prabang, Laos or Phnom Penh & Angkor Wat, Cambodia pre-trip extension.

  • Today, you begin your exploration of Bangkok, Thailand's capital, a metropolitan city where the colorful extravagances of the modern age exist side-by-side with relics and monuments from centuries of Thai historical tradition. Join your Program Director this morning for an included tour of Bangkok's past, starting with its most defining landmark, the Grand Palace. The palace is a sprawling complex of gilded, ornate architecture where Thai kings made their home and ruled the kingdom for 230 years. Today, the Grand Palace is Bangkok's spiritual heart, and is an inspiring destination for any visitor.

    View the Grand Palace while touring Bangkok

    The Grand Palace is also the location of Thailand's most sacred spot: Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha is a highly revered statue, a one-and-a-half-foot representation of the Buddha in a meditative pose carved from a single block of jade. The statue is set on a pedestal that nobody may approach, save for the Thai king (or a royal representative) who changes the Buddha's clothing three times a year to herald the coming of summer, winter, and the rainy season with an elaborate golden cloak draped over the statue's shoulders.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, you’ll get a colorful glimpse of daily life in Bangkok during a visit to a flower market and a gem workshop, offering you the opportunity to interact with the city's residents and delve deeply into its modern culture. You’ll have a few hours this afternoon to do as you please before joining your fellow travelers for a Welcome Dinner aboard a rice barge, cruising gently down the Chao Phraya River, Thailand's “River of Kings,” as you dine.

  • Discover the floating markets of Damnoen Saduak Canal

    Today is yours to make your own discoveries in Bangkok. Or you can join an optional tour to the floating markets of Damnoen Saduak Canal, located 75 miles west of Bangkok in Ratchaburi province. Here you can witness the unique and lively parade of merchants paddling along the canals in sturdy canoes peddling fresh produce, tropical fruits, and even meals and snacks cooked right on the boats. After a stop at a palm sugar workshop to see how this staple of Thai cuisine is made, and to discover some of the many uses of the palm tree, you’ll enjoy a walking tour of the floating markets.

    Afterward, travel to Sampran Riverside, a cultural center dedicated to preserving and showcasing traditional Thai culture, in contrast to the hectic pace of modern life in cities such as Bangkok. Here, you'll take a relaxing stroll through a lush botanical garden, and visit a Thai village, where you'll learn about village culture from four different from regions of Thailand and meet with local craftsmen, taking the opportunity to observe them at their trade. You'll have lunch at the park, and then take in a Thai cultural performance, featuring dancing, music, and more, before meeting back up with your fellow travelers at your hotel.

  • This morning, fly to Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city and its capital until 2005, with a population of seven million and a history stretching back for thousands of years. Also known as Yangon, Rangoon is a city where the old exists alongside the new, as the city renovates for the modern age while taking care to preserve its history, which can be seen in its millenia-old temples, as well as in old buildings from the city's colonial past and ages prior.

    You’ll take a walking tour of downtown Rangoon, where you’ll see the Sule Pagoda, an ancient gilded stupa that occupies the city center, standing out as a conspicuous contrast from the modern offices and government buildings that otherwise make up the city's downtown area. Later you’ll stop for an included lunch at a local restaurant.

    See the 2,500-year-old temple Shwedagon Pagoda

    Your final stop is Shwedagon Pagoda, a 2,500-year-old temple that is widely considered to be the most renowned and sacred site in all of Burma. The history of Shwedagon Pagoda is entwined with that of Rangoon itself. Rangoon was not always the bustling city that it is today—once a small town known as Dagon, the town's fate changed forever one day when, according to legend, the king was approached by two merchant brothers with eight strands of hair belonging to Siddhartha Gautama, the current incarnation of the Buddha. The king enshrined the strands at the top of a hill, where relics from three previous Buddhas were also located. Over the centuries, the hilltop shrine grew and grew, while the city of Rangoon sprang up around it.

    The pagoda itself is a 300-foot stupa that is said to be sheathed with more gold than is contained in all the vaults of the Bank of England. The hilltop shrine is a legendary spiritual icon for Burma’s Buddhist population, and has been maintained and rebuilt over the millennia, surviving wars and natural disasters alike. Shwedagon Pagoda is awe-inspiring at any time of day, but your itinerary takes you here at sunset, when the temple's golden skin takes on a magical crimson and orange hue, giving it a truly mystical appearance.

  • Today, enjoy a glimpse into the spiritual life of Burma. This morning, your discoveries here begin at the Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda, home of a more than 200-foot-long statue of the Reclining Buddha. The statue you see here is not the original—the first was built in 1907, but fell into disrepair from earthquakes and poor climate conditions. Rather than repairing the statue, it was rebuilt anew, the current incarnation being finished in 1966. The impressive statue is adorned with a crown of diamonds, and his feet are engraved with the 108 auspices of the Buddha.

    Later that morning, we visit Kalaywa Tawya Monastery, home to more than 1,000 Buddhist novices and nuns. We visit the Nunnery, the women's dormitory quarters renovated in part with funding from the Foundation. Then we’ll enjoy a roundtable discussion of the nuns' everyday life late this morning before observing the monks practicing this tradition before the noon meal—their last of the day.

    After your visit, you'll head to Bogyoke Aung San Market (sometimes still referred to as Scott Market, its former moniker during British rule), where an array of antiques, handcrafts, and other local goods are available for sale.

    We return to our hotel this afternoon for time at leisure to further explore this ancient city. Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • View the skyline of Rangoon

    Take the day to explore Rangoon on your own, or join an optional half-day tour to discover Rangoon: Past & Present. You’ll start with a visit to the National Museum, which hosts an impressive collection of artifacts from Burma's royal dynasties, allowing you to gain perspective on Burma's ancient history as you browse the exhibits on display.


    Please note: The National Museum will be closed on Mondays and public holidays.

    Then tap into the pulse of modern life and delve into Rangoon's cultural diversity with a visit to Chinatown, where you’ll interact with the locals, browse the wares on display in the colorful gold shops.

    Your optional tour ends with an included dinner at a local restaurant.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    View Shwezigon Pagoda while touring Bagan

    Early this morning, fly to Bagan, an archaeological wonderland that Marco Polo hailed as “a gilded city alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sounds of monks’ robes.” Bagan is the result of the religious fervor of the old kings of Burma, who, over a period of just 230 years between the eleventh and 13th centuries, constructed approximately 4,400 temples in an effort to prove their devotion to the principles of Theravada Buddhism. Not all of the temples have survived, unfortunately—over the years, many fell to neglect, while a massive earthquake in 1975 leveled much of the city. The more than 2,000 temples that dot Bagan's 26-square-mile-plain are nonetheless an incredible sight to behold today. You’ll get a bird’s eye view of this mystical landscape from Nan Myint Watch Tower.

    Before beginning your temple tour, you’ll explore Nyaung-U, a bustling town on the Irrawaddy River which is a popular travel hub for those seeking to explore the temples of Bagan. Here, you’ll immerse yourself in local culture at a fresh food market, mingling with the locals as they go about their business.

    Next, explore some of Bagan’s countless temples, starting with the Shwezigon Pagoda, an important spiritual center, and considered by some to be the most beautiful temple in Bagan. At the four cardinal points of the temple, you'll find shrines containing four large, bronze Buddha statues, constructed in the early twelfth century. The temple also holds the 37 nat (spirits), a relic from Burma's pre-Buddhist religion.

    Then, embark your privately chartered river ship, the RV Paukan, which will be your home for the next seven nights as you set sail on your Burma river cruise the Irrawaddy River. Enjoy lunch onboard and then, following a short cruise, step out to discover Tan Kyi Mountain, where you'll ascend to the peak by minivan to find a gilded stupa at the top of the mountain. Spend some time exploring the temple, which marked one of the original borders of the old city of Bagan, and then turn to admire the panoramic view of the field below and the pagoda-studded plain.

    Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner onboard the Paukan.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    Enjoy breakfast this morning as you cruise the Irrawaddy River toward Salay, a small village with just 7,000 residents, whose religious devotion is demonstrated with an impressive display of about 50 monasteries. You’ll visit one of these monasteries, Youqson Kyaung, a large, well-decorated 19th-century wooden structure. The monastery's exterior is decorated with authentic woodcarvings depicting scenes from life in the Burmese royal court as well as scenes from the Jatakas, tales of the previous incarnations of the Buddha.

    Next, set out on a walking tour of the village, admiring Salay's blend of Bagan-style and well-preserved British Colonial architecture, a living record of Salay's history.

    Return to your ship and resume cruising late this morning. As you cruise the Irrawaddy, your Program Director will lead you in an exclusive Discovery Series event, as you are introduced to the Burmese language, allowing you to make more meaningful connections with the people you'll meet during your trip.

    Upon arrival in Bagan this afternoon, you’ll enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride around the Bagan Archaeological Zone, for an intimate tour of the area’s many religious sites. Enjoy dinner onboard tonight.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    Explore Burma aboard the RV Paukan River Ship

    Early risers can join an optional hot-air balloon ride this morning, for a spectacular sunrise view of Bagan’s plain. Toast your ride with a glass of sparkling wine before joining your main group for breakfast and an included tour of Bagan.

    You’ll begin this exploration at at Dhammayangyi Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in all of Bagan, and then also discover Ananda Pahto, a beautifully-preserved temple decorated in the Early Bagan style, with a whitewashed facade and gilded spires. The temple is impressively well-proportioned and symmetrical, and contains four gilded Buddha statues at points facing in the four cardinal directions.

    Next, you'll stop at a local lacquereware workshop where you can admire the work of local artisans. Painstakingly crafted and painted with intricate designs, you will see why Burma is famous for these beautiful handcrafts.

    Return to your ship for an onboard lunch. As you sail, enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series event—a longyi and thanakha demonstration. The longyi is a traditional sari-like garment tied around the waist and worn by men and women alike. Thanakha is a creamy-yellow face cream, unique to Burmese culture, made from ground tree bark and used as both sun protection and decoration.

    You’ll cruise this afternoon and evening, with dinner onboard, and stop en route to moor overnight on the Irrawaddy.

    Please note: This balloon tour is not available between April and October. You must reserve this optional tour at least 30 days prior to your departure, and fill out and return a brief medical form.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    This morning, your Burma river cruise arrives in the village of Yandabo. In 1826, the British and Burmese signed a treaty here which ended the First Anglo-Burmese War, the first in a series of three which would result in British colonization of the entire country until 1948. Today, the peaceful village is known for its pottery. Craftsmen use clay from the nearby Irrawaddy River to make pots for buyers from the surrounding cities. We’ll visit a local home for a cooking demonstration of fish curry prepared in one of these famous clay pots. During your walking tour of the village, you'll visit several workshops, getting to know the artisans who make their living there. Return to the ship to enjoy lunch onboard as you sail.

    This afternoon, you’ll disembark at the village of Setpagone to visit the post-primary school supported by Grand Circle Foundation’s World Classroom.  Then that evening, you’ll sail to Myin Mu, where you'll travel to the home of a local family for an intimate look at local culture as you join them for an exclusive Discovery Series event, a Home-Hosted Dinner.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    View Buddha statues while touring the temples of Monywa

    This morning a motorcoach will take you to Monywa, a relatively untouristed town situated on the banks of the Chindwin River that is an important center of trade for the surrounding region. From here, you'll explore the elaborate temple complex of Sambodhi Kat Kyaw Pagoda. Buddha statues can be found in most Buddhist temples in Burma and the world at large, and with a staggering 500,000 images in various shapes and sizes, Sambodhi Kat Kyaw is certainly no exception.

    Within the complex is Bodhi Tahtaung Pagoda whose name means "1,000 Bodhi Trees." It certainly lives up to its name, as a serene Buddha statue sits beneath each umbrella-like tree.

    Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before driving to Thanlar Boys Orphanage School for a visit. Later, you’ll return to the Myin Mu jetty this evening for dinner aboard your ship before turning in for the night.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    Enjoy breakfast this morning as you sail to Sagaing Jetty. Enjoy the view of the pagodas and monasteries that crowd the numerous hills along the ridge running parallel to the Irrawaddy River, and the central pagoda, Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, connected by a set of covered staircases that run up the hill.
    View the U Bein Bridge at sunset
    After lunch onboard, enjoy free time on your own in Sagaing, or take our optional half-day tour to Amarapura, one of Burma’s former royal capitals. Your tour begins at a bronze-casting workshop, where you'll watch the local craftsmen at work, and have the opportunity to chat with them about their trade. Then you’ll arrive at the U-Bein Bridge, which has stood for more than 200 years and at a length of three-quarters of a mile, is the largest teak bridge in the world. Float upon the waters of Thaungthaman Lake below on a leisurely sampan ride and watch the sunset before rejoining the rest of your fellow travelers for dinner onboard the ship.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    Explore the unfinished pagoda in Mingun

    The ship arrives this morning in the town of Mandalay. Founded in 1857, Mandalay is one of Burma's younger cities, but it nonetheless enjoys a reputation as one of Burma's cultural capitals. In fact, Rudyard Kipling wrote his famous poem, The Road to Mandalay (the titular “road” actually referring to the Irrawaddy River) without ever having set foot in the city. Mandalay is a city on the rise, enjoying the fruits of an economic boom, but visitors nonetheless tend to appreciate its village-like charm, with its friendly residents and charming streets.

    In Mandalay, you’ll explore Kuthodaw Pagoda, often referred to as “the world’s biggest book” due to its surrounding marble slabs inscribed with the entire collection of early Buddhist writings. Then you'll visit Golden Palace Monastery, or Shwenandaw, the only remaining major structure of the original wooden Royal Palace, built in the 19th century from teak. Buddhist myths adorn its walls and roofs.

    Later, visit a gold leaf workshop where you'll meet with local artisans who produce the ubiquitous gilded decoration you can find at so many shrines and temples in Burma. Then, continue to Mahamuni Pagoda, where you'll find a 13-foot Buddha statue that is so venerated, it is believed to be covered in a six-inch layer of gold leaf, applied to it over the years by Buddhist devotees. Other rituals are observed here as well—every morning at 4am, a team of monks pay their respects to the Buddha by brushing the statue's teeth.
     
    Afterward, board your ship and enjoy lunch while you cruise to Mingun, where you’ll explore the “unfinished pagoda.” The temple was commissioned by an eccentric king in 1790, who wanted to build the largest pagoda in the world. At a height of almost 500 feet, the finished temple would have handily accomplished that goal. Unfortunately for the pagoda (but fortunately for the laborers being forced to build it) the king died before the project could be finished—as few people apart from the king had any interest in completing the temple, construction halted shortly after. In 1839, an earthquake etched a crack into the temple's stony facade, sealing its fate as a half-finished project. Even in its current state, the pagoda is still an impressive sight, and provides a scenic view of the Irrawaddy River from its top.

    Spend one final night aboard the RV Paukan, sharing a Farewell Dinner with your fellow travelers accompanied by a traditional dance show.

  • Enjoy breakfast onboard this morning, before disembarking to explore the rural village of Paleik. Here, you’ll explore the village and visit the nearby Snake Pagoda, where local monks care for several large pythons make their home within the temple. The snakes attract pilgrims from around the country, who come to visit and pay respect to the holy serpents.

    After your visit to the temple, you’ll explore the surrounding grounds to discover a rustic and tightly-packed arrangement of ancient stupas and pagodas in a nearby park, partially overgrown by the jungle and rarely visited by tourists. You’ll also visit a cotton-weaving workshop for a taste of local village life.

    Then, depart for Mandalay Airport, where you’ll board a flight to Bangkok after an included lunch.

    Alternatively, travelers who are continuing on their post-trip extensions will make their transfers today. If you’re joining our extension to The Hill Station of Maymyo & Inle Lake, you’ll fly there today.  Travelers joining our Chiang Rai & Chiang Mai, Thailand extension will board a flight to Bangkok today, and fly to Chiang Rai the following morning.

    • Meals included:

    Transfer to the airport this morning for your flight home.

    Depart the U.S. on an overnight flight across the Pacific and cross the International Date Line.

  • Land in Bangkok late tonight and meet your Program Director, who will help you transfer to your hotel, along with your fellow travelers joining you after their Vientiane & Luang Prabang, Laos or Phnom Penh & Angkor Wat, Cambodia pre-trip extension.

  • View the Grand Palace while touring Bangkok

    Today, you begin your exploration of Bangkok, Thailand's capital, a metropolitan city where the colorful extravagances of the modern age exist side-by-side with relics and monuments from centuries of Thai historical tradition. Join your Program Director this morning for an included tour of Bangkok's past, starting with its most defining landmark, the Grand Palace. The palace is a sprawling complex of gilded, ornate architecture where Thai kings made their home and ruled the kingdom for 230 years. Today, the Grand Palace is Bangkok's spiritual heart, and is an inspiring destination for any visitor.

    The Grand Palace is also the location of Thailand's most sacred spot: Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha is a highly revered statue, a one-and-a-half-foot representation of the Buddha in a meditative pose carved from a single block of jade. The statue is set on a pedestal that nobody may approach, save for the Thai king (or a royal representative) who changes the Buddha's clothing three times a year to herald the coming of summer, winter, and the rainy season with an elaborate golden cloak draped over the statue's shoulders.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, you’ll get a colorful glimpse of daily life in Bangkok during a visit to a flower market and a gem workshop, offering you the opportunity to interact with the city's residents and delve deeply into its modern culture. You’ll have a few hours this afternoon to do as you please before joining your fellow travelers for a Welcome Dinner aboard a rice barge, cruising gently down the Chao Phraya River, Thailand's “River of Kings,” as you dine.

  • Discover the floating markets of Damnoen Saduak Canal

    Today is yours to make your own discoveries in Bangkok. Or you can join an optional tour to the floating markets of Damnoen Saduak Canal, located 75 miles west of Bangkok in Ratchaburi province. Here you can witness the unique and lively parade of merchants paddling along the canals in sturdy canoes peddling fresh produce, tropical fruits, and even meals and snacks cooked right on the boats. After a stop at a palm sugar workshop to see how this staple of Thai cuisine is made, and to discover some of the many uses of the palm tree, you’ll take a walking tour of the floating markets.

    Afterwards you'll enjoy lunch, and then take in a Thai cultural performance, featuring dancing, music, and more, before meeting back up with your fellow travelers at your hotel.

  • This morning, fly to Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city and its capital until 2005, with a population of seven million and a history stretching back for thousands of years. Also known as Yangon, Rangoon is a city where the old exists alongside the new, as the city renovates for the modern age while taking care to preserve its history, which can be seen in its millenia-old temples, as well as in old buildings from the city's colonial past and ages prior.

    You’ll take a walking tour of downtown Rangoon, where you’ll see the Sule Pagoda, an ancient gilded stupa that occupies the city center, standing out as a conspicuous contrast from the modern offices and government buildings that otherwise make up the city's downtown area. Later you’ll stop for an included lunch at a local restaurant.

    See the 2,500 year old temple Shwedagon Pagoda

    Your final stop is Shwedagon Pagoda, a 2,500-year-old temple that is widely considered to be the most renowned and sacred site in all of Burma. The history of Shwedagon Pagoda is entwined with that of Rangoon itself. Rangoon was not always the bustling city that it is today—once a small town known as Dagon, the town's fate changed forever one day when, according to legend, the king was approached by two merchant brothers with eight strands of hair belonging to Siddhartha Gautama, the current incarnation of the Buddha. The king enshrined the strands at the top of a hill, where relics from three previous Buddhas were also located. Over the centuries, the hilltop shrine grew and grew, while the city of Rangoon sprang up around it.

    The pagoda itself is a 300-foot stupa that is said to be sheathed with more gold than is contained in all the vaults of the Bank of England. The hilltop shrine is a legendary spiritual icon for Burma’s Buddhist population, and has been maintained and rebuilt over the millennia, surviving wars and natural disasters alike.

    Tonight, return to your hotel for an included dinner.

  • Today, enjoy a glimpse into the spiritual life of Burma. This morning, your discoveries here begin at the Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda, home of a more than 200-foot-long statue of the Reclining Buddha. The statue you see here is not the original—the first was built in 1907, but fell into disrepair from earthquakes and poor climate conditions. Rather than repairing the statue, it was rebuilt anew, the current incarnation being finished in 1966. The impressive statue is adorned with a crown of diamonds, and his feet are engraved with the 108 auspices of the Buddha.

    Later that morning, we visit Kalaywa Tawya Monastery, home to more than 1,000 Buddhist novices and nuns. We visit the Nunnery, the women's dormitory quarters renovated in part with funding from the Foundation. Then we’ll enjoy a roundtable discussion of the nuns' everyday life late this morning before observing the monks practicing this tradition before the noon meal—their last of the day.

    After your visit, you'll head to Bogyoke Aung San Market (sometimes still referred to as Scott Market, its former moniker during British rule), where an array of antiques, handcrafts, and other local goods are available for sale.

    We return to our hotel this afternoon for time at leisure to further explore this ancient city. Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • View the skyline of Rangoon

    Take the day to explore Rangoon on your own, or join an optional half-day tour to discover Rangoon: Past & Present. You’ll start with a visit to the National Museum, which hosts an impressive collection of artifacts from Burma's royal dynasties, allowing you to gain perspective on Burma's ancient history as you browse the exhibits on display.


    Please note: The National Museum is closed Mondays and public holidays.

    Then tap into the pulse of modern life and delve into Rangoon's cultural diversity with a visit to Chinatown, where you’ll interact with the locals, browse the wares on display in the colorful gold shops.

    Your optional tour ends with an included dinner at a local restaurant.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    Explore the unfinished pagoda in Mingun

    Early this morning, fly to Mandalay. Founded in 1857, Mandalay is one of Burma's younger cities, but it nonetheless enjoys a reputation as one of Burma's cultural capitals. In fact, Rudyard Kipling wrote his famous poem, The Road to Mandalay (the titular “road” actually referring to the Irrawaddy River) without ever having set foot in the city. Mandalay is a city on the rise, enjoying the fruits of an economic boom, but visitors nonetheless tend to appreciate its village-like charm, with its friendly residents and charming streets.

    After arriving, you'll visit Mahamuni Pagoda, where you'll find a 13-foot Buddha statue that is so venerated, it is believed to be covered in a six-inch layer of gold leaf, applied to it over the years by Buddhist devotees. Other rituals are observed here as well—every morning at 4am, a team of monks pay their respects to the Buddha by brushing the statue's teeth.

    This afternoon, you'll embark the RV Paukan to begin your Burma river cruise. Enjoy lunch and free time before exploring the “unfinished pagoda.” The temple was commissioned by an eccentric king in 1790, who wanted to build the largest pagoda in the world. At a height of almost 500 feet, the finished temple would have handily accomplished that goal. Unfortunately for the pagoda (but fortunately for the laborers being forced to build it) the king died before the project could be finished. Because few people apart from the king had any interest in completing the temple, construction halted shortly thereafter. In 1839, an earthquake etched a crack into the temple's stony facade, sealing its fate as a half-finished project. Even in its current state, the pagoda is still an impressive sight, and provides a scenic view of the Irrawaddy River from its top.

    This evening, enjoy a Welcome Dinner onboard, followed by a Burmese cultural performance.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    View the U Bein Bridge at sunset

    Enjoy breakfast this morning as you sail to Mandalay Jetty. Enjoy the view of the pagodas and monasteries that crowd the numerous hills along the ridge running parallel to the Irrawaddy River, and the central pagoda, Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, connected by a set of covered staircases that run up the hill.

    Arrive in Mandalay and enjoy a city tour, beginning with Kuthodaw Pagoda, often referred to as “the world’s biggest book” due to its surrounding marble slabs inscribed with the entire collection of early Buddhist writings. Then you'll visit Golden Palace Monastery, or Shwenandaw, the only remaining major structure of the original wooden Royal Palace, built in the 19th century from teak. Buddhist myths adorn its walls and roofs.

    Later, visit a gold leaf workshop where you'll meet with local artisans who produce the ubiquitous gilded decoration you can find at so many shrines and temples in Burma. Afterward, board your ship and enjoy an included lunch as you sail to Sagaing.

    Enjoy a free afternoon to explore Sagaing at leisure upon arrival, or take our optional tour to Amarapura, one of Burma’s former royal capitals. Your tour begins at a bronze-casting workshop, where you'll watch the local craftsmen at work, and have the opportunity to talk to them about their trade. Then you’ll arrive at the U-Bein Bridge, which has stood for more than 200 years and at a length of three-quarters of a mile, is the largest teak bridge in the world. Float upon the waters of Thaungthaman Lake below on a leisurely sampan ride and watch the sunset before rejoining the rest of your fellow travelers for dinner onboard the ship.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    This morning you'll visit Pon Nya Shin Pagoda, on one of Sagaing Hills' 37 picturesque hilltops. Built in the 14th century by a palace courtier, it is a relic of one of the small kingdoms that arose in the days preceding the Innwa Dynasty. The Burmese believe the hill resembles a frog, but you can decide for yourself when you visit this 96-foot pagoda.

    Then enjoy lunch onboard, and an exclusive Discovery Series language session taught by your Program Director. Later this afternoon, you’ll disembark at the village of Setpagone to visit the post-primary school supported by Grand Circle Foundation’s World Classroom. 

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    View Buddha statues while touring the temples of Monywa

    This morning a motorcoach will take you to Monywa, a relatively untouristed town situated on the banks of the Chindwin River that is an important center of trade for the surrounding region. From here, you'll explore the elaborate temple complex of Sambodhi Kat Kyaw Pagoda. Buddha statues can be found in most Buddhist temples in Burma and the world at large, and with a staggering 500,000 images in various shapes and sizes, Sambodhi Kat Kyaw is certainly no exception.

    Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant then drive to Thanlar Boys Orphanage School for a visit. Later, you’ll return to the Myin Mu jetty this evening for a Home-hosted Dinner with a local family.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    Explore Burma aboard the RV Paukan River Ship

    This morning, your Burma river cruise arrives in the village of Yandabo. In 1826, the British and Burmese signed a treaty here which ended the First Anglo-Burmese War, the first in a series of three which would result in British colonization of the entire country until 1948. Today, the peaceful village is known for its pottery. Craftsmen use clay from the nearby Irrawaddy River to make pots for buyers from the surrounding cities. We’ll visit a local home for a cooking demonstration of fish curry prepared in one of these famous clay pots. During your walking tour of the village, you'll visit several workshops, getting to know the artisans who make their living there. Return to the ship and enjoy lunch as you sail.

    This afternoon, you’ll disembark at the village of Setpagone to visit the post-primary school supported by Grand Circle Foundation’s World Classroom.

    Return to your ship. As you sail, enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series event—a longyi and thanakha demonstration. The longyi is a traditional sari-like garment tied around the waist and worn by men and women alike. Thanakha is a creamy-yellow face cream, unique to Burmese culture, made from ground tree bark and used as both sun protection and decoration.

    Upon arrival in Bagan this afternoon, you’ll enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride around the Bagan Archaeological Zone, for an intimate tour of the area’s many religious sites. You’ll enjoy dinner onboard, with your evening at leisure.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    Rise early this morning for an optional hot-air balloon ride, offering spectacular sunrise views of Bagan, an archaeological wonderland that Marco Polo hailed as “a gilded city alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sounds of monks’ robes.” Toast your ride with a glass of sparkling wine on the ground before joining your main group for breakfast and your tour of the city.

    View Shwezigon Pagoda while touring Bagan

    Bagan is the result of the religious fervor of the old kings of Burma, who, over a period of just 230 years between the eleventh and 13th centuries, constructed approximately 4,400 temples in an effort to prove their devotion to the principles of Theravada Buddhism. Not all of the temples have survived, unfortunately—over the years, many fell to neglect, while a massive earthquake in 1975 leveled much of the city. The more than 2,000 temples that dot Bagan's 26-square-mile-plain are nonetheless an incredible sight to behold today.

    Before beginning your temple tour, you’ll explore Nyaung-U, a bustling town on the Irrawaddy River which is a popular travel hub for those seeking to explore the temples of Bagan. Here, you’ll immerse yourself in local culture at a fresh food market, mingling with the locals as they go about their business.

    Then explore some of Bagan’s countless temples, starting with Shwezigon Pagoda, an important spiritual center, and considered by some to be the most beautiful temple in Bagan. At the four cardinal points of the temple, you'll find shrines containing four large, bronze Buddha statues, constructed in the early twelfth century. The temple also holds the 37 nat (spirits), a relic from Burma's pre-Buddhist religion.

    Next, you'll stop at a local lacquerware workshop where you can admire the work of local artisans. Painstakingly crafted and painted with intricate designs, you will see why Burma is famous for these beautiful handcrafts.

    Return to the ship for a lunch break, and then enjoy an excursion to Tan Kyi Mountain. There, you'll ascend to the peak by minivan to find a gilded stupa at the top of the mountain. Spend some time exploring the temple, which marked one of the original borders of the old city of Bagan, and then turn to admire the panoramic view of the field below.

    Please note: The optional balloon tour is not available between April and October. You must reserve this optional tour at least 30 days prior to your departure, and fill out and return a brief medical form.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    View Shwezigon Pagoda while touring Bagan

    Cast off this morning to the village of Salay, a small town with just 7,000 residents, whose religious devotion is demonstrated with an impressive display of about 50 monasteries. You’ll visit one of these monasteries, Youqson Kyaung, a large, well-decorated 19th-century wooden structure, by Dyna truck. The monastery's exterior is decorated with authentic woodcarvings depicting scenes from life in the Burmese royal court as well as scenes from the Jatakas, tales of the previous incarnations of the Buddha.

    Next, set out on a walking tour of the village, admiring Salay's blend of Bagan-style and well-preserved British Colonial architecture, a living record of Salay's history.

    Return to your ship for lunch before disembarking to visit Ananda Pahto, a beautifully-preserved temple decorated in the Early Bagan style, with a whitewashed facade and gilded spires. The temple is impressively well-proportioned and symmetrical, and contains four gilded Buddha statues at points facing in the four cardinal directions. Here you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of Bagan from the Nan Myint viewing tower. On your last night aboard the Paukan, enjoy a Farewell Dinner.

  • Enjoy breakfast onboard this morning, before disembarking to explore the rural village of Paleik. Here, you’ll explore the village and visit the nearby Snake Pagoda, where local monks care for several large pythons make their home within the temple. The snakes attract pilgrims from around the country, who come to visit and pay respect to the holy serpents.

    After your visit to the temple, you’ll explore the surrounding grounds to discover a rustic and tightly-packed arrangement of ancient stupas and pagodas in a nearby park, partially overgrown by the jungle and rarely visited by tourists. You’ll also visit a cotton-weaving workshop for a taste of local village life.

    Then, depart for Mandalay Airport, where you’ll board a flight to Bangkok after an included lunch.

    Alternatively, travelers who are continuing on their post-trip extensions will make their transfers today. If you’re joining our extension to The Hill Station of Maymyo & Inle Lake, you’ll fly there today.  Travelers joining our Chiang Rai & Chiang Mai, Thailand extension will board a flight to Bangkok today, and fly to Chiang Rai the following morning.

    • Meals included:

    Transfer to the airport this morning for your flight home.

Extensions

Traveler Reviews

There's no better way to learn what a trip is like than from the firsthand experiences of your fellow travelers, and our Traveler Reviews are the real deal—unbiased and unedited—giving you an honest appraisal of the experiences that await you on this trip.

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Striving for Excellence

Read about our goals >

Our #1 commitment is delivering the best travel experience at the best value, so we take feedback from our travelers seriously as we strive to improve what we do. And one of the best ways for us to measure how travelers have rated our trips—including their experiences and the value we offer—is from our post-trip surveys, sent in by travelers.

Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

Ship Excellence
98%
Program Director Excellence
91%
Overall Trip Excellence
64%
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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

  • This program features a fair amount of walking over uneven surfaces. The RV Paukan does not have an elevator onboard. For your comfort and safety, we recommend this trip only to individuals in good physical condition. If you have difficulty walking or are wheelchair-bound, please ask your Travel Counselor about choosing another Grand Circle Cruise Line vacation.
  • We reserve the right for our Program Directors to modify participation, or in some circumstances send travelers home if their limitations are impacting the group's experience.
  • Due to the varied geography of the regions we visit on this program you will experience a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions. We recommend that you bring a rain jacket and sun-block regardless of the time of year you travel.

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • Thailand: No visa required.
  • Burma: Visa required.
  • Laos (optional pre-trip extension only): Visa required.
  • Cambodia (optional post-trip extension only): Visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this vacation will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • RV Paukan

    Uncover one of the most unspoiled corners of Asia—Burma, now known as Myanmar—aboard the R/V Paukan, an intimate 34-passenger vessel designed and constructed in 2012 to navigate the waters of the Irrawaddy River, and the newest member of the Paukan fleet. This vessel offers features like both traditional and modern decor, and comfortable private cabins and spacious common areas for you and your fellow travel companions to unwind in after a day of discovering the beauty and cultural treasures that unfold before you in Burma.

Main Trip

  • Montien Bangkok Hotel

    Bangkok, Thailand | Rating: Superior First Class

    The Montien is ideally situated in downtown Bangkok, within walking distance of both the skyrail and underground metro. After exploring the city, enjoy the hotel fitness center and outdoor pool, or pause for a bite in one of five restaurants and cafes. Each of the 465 rooms features air-conditioning, a safe, cable TV, and telephone, as well as Internet access.

  • Sedona Hotel Yangon

    Rangoon, Burma | Rating: Superior First Class

    The Superior First-Class Sedona Hotel Yangon is situated near the shores of scenic Lake Inya, and serves as a convenient base of exploration for your discoveries in Rangoon, including Shwedagon Pagoda and the city center. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, floodlit tennis courts, and a number of on-site restaurants serving a variety of cuisine, from Chinese to Italian. Each air-conditioned room includes satellite TV, a minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

Extensions

  • Best Western Premier Amaranth

    Bangkok, Thailand

    With a location convenient to the airport, the Best Western Premier Amaranth is well-situated for your stay in Bangkok. The modern hotel has 278 rooms equipped with private bath, air conditioning, telephone, wireless internet, and coffee-and tea-making facilities. The on-site restaurant, swimming pool, fitness center, and spa add to the leisure opportunities.

  • Salana Boutique Hotel

    Vientiane, Laos

    Centrally located on the corner of Chao Anou Road and within sight of the Mekong River in Vientiane, the Salana Boutique Hotel offers 41 rooms with private bath, hair dryer, wireless internet, a safe, and tea-and coffee-making facilities. The light-filled Salana Corner cafe serves European and Asian fare, while the fourth floor offers cocktails and city views.

  • Le Palais Juliana Hotel

    Luang Prabang, Laos

    Located in a scenic green location about ten minutes from Luang Prabang's city center, Le Palais Juliana offers a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. The hotel features a swimming pool, poolside bar, and on-site dining options with Laotian and international cuisine. Each room includes air-conditioning, a private balcony, wireless Internet access, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Sunway Hotel

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Situated around the corner from the popular Wat Phnom Pagoda, the Sunway Hotel features a fitness center, spa, restaurant, deli, and lobby lounge. There are 138 guest rooms, each with air-conditioning, minibar, complimentary coffee- and tea-making facilities, cable TV, high-speed Internet access, and private bath.

  • Royal Angkor Resort

    Siem Reap, Cambodia

    While in Siem Reap, you'll stay at the Superior First-Class Royal Angkor Resort, which is located just miles away from the magnificent ancient temples of Angkor. The hotel's amenities include a spa, bar, multiple restaurants, and a swimming pool. Your air-conditioned room features cable and satellite TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, an in-room safe, and a private bath with hair dryer.
  • Hotel Pyin Oo Lwin

    Maymyo, Burma

    The Hotel Pyin Oo Lwin is located conveniently near the Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens, and consists of 20 semi-detached bungalow-style accommodations, each including wireless Internet access, air-conditioning, outdoor veranda, and spacious private bath with hair dryer. The hotel features a swimming pool, bar, and indoor and outdoor dining areas.

  • Inle Resort

    Inle Lake, Burma

    A purple-roofed beacon on Inle Lake, the eco-boutique Inle Resort blends traditional architecture with a modern flair for the dramatic. All 54 air-conditioned cottages and bungalows, each with pond or lake views, offer private bath, satellite TV, in-room safe, and coffee- and tea-making facilities. Hotel amenities include a restaurant serving Eastern and Western fare, as well as a spa featuring holistic treatments.

  • Legend Chiang Rai Resort & Spa

    Chiang Rai, Thailand

    The Legend Chiang Rai Resort & Spa boasts lush grounds and views of the neighboring mountains. Hotel amenities include a pool, restaurant, and spa. Each air-conditioned room is equipped with satellite TV and coffee- and tea-making facilities.

  • Centara Duangtawan Hotel

    Chiang Mai, Thailand | Rating: Moderate First Class

    The Centara Duangtawan Hotel is a larger hotel with 507 rooms located in downtown Chiang Mai, just steps from the Night Bazaar. It offers a variety of restaurants and bars, as well as a pool and fitness center, and in-room amenities including air conditioning, minibar, hair dryer, satellite TV, and wireless Internet.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle Cruise Line vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $3995
w/ standard air $5395

The Nonviolent Struggle of Aung San Suu Kyi

Burma’s beacon of hope for a democratic future

by Rung Chatchaloemwut, Vice President of North and Southeast Asia

In the years since Suu Kyi was freed, Burma has been moving towards political reform ...

On May 2, 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi was sworn in as a member of Burma’s parliament, marking a remarkable victory in her 25-year struggle for peace and democracy in her homeland.

Born in 1945, Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, who is credited as the father of modern Burma. Aung San negotiated the country’s independence from Great Britain in 1947, but was tragically assassinated shortly thereafter. Suu Kyi lived in England and the United States until 1988, returning to Burma as the country’s longtime military government was dissolving.

Suu Kyi helped to lead what was known as the 8888 Uprising (it began on August 8, 1988) calling for democratic governance. Unfortunately, the movement was violently repressed and a new junta took power in September of 1988. Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest and told she could have her freedom if she left Burma. She refused.

In 1990, the military junta held a general election. The party Suu Kyi helped to found—the National League for Democracy (NLD)—won 80% of the popular vote, assuring it the majority of parliament’s seats. The junta threw out the results and continued to hold Suu Kyi in captivity, resulting in an international outcry. That same year, Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to political change through nonviolent means.

For 15 of the past 21 years, Suu Kyi was held under house arrest, with her longest stretch in captivity occurring from May 2003 to November 2010. She was released two years ago after concerted pressure from the American, Japanese, and many European governments, urging democratic reforms. The junta held a general election (in which Suu Kyi was not allowed to participate) a month before her release.

In the years since Suu Kyi was freed, Burma has been moving towards political reform. Suu Kyi met with the government and negotiated the release of some political prisoners and the legalization of trade unions. The NLD was allowed to re-register as a political party and run in elections for 48 parliamentary seats in 2012. Suu Kyi won her first-ever public office, a seat in the parliament’s lower house, along with an NLD landslide in 45 of 48 contests.

Suu Kyi joined a parliament where a quarter of the seats are reserved for the military, with the vast majority of other seats held by the government-backed ruling party. Still, NLD participation in government is a major step towards democracy in Burma.