SouthEast Asia: Myanmar the tale of two Tour Operators

Last year, I went a little crazy with the idea that if I was going to SouthEast Asia, I should go to as many countries as possible.   During that period of time, I reached out to two tour operators, Santa Maria and Myanmar Shalom.

According to Fodor and Trip Advisor forums, both operators are very good.

Based on my experience Santa Maria was better at understanding what you wanted and pricing it.

Myanmar Shalom began the experience by sending me a tour meant for someone else. It continued with multiple emails all with some type of mistake and none that represented what I asked for.

As we know, I did not go on the tour but based on my experience organizing it, I would be concerned choosing Myanmar Shalom.

The cost for a 8 day/7 night tour  as detailed below from Santa Maria tours for a solo traveler was $2710

The cost for a 8 day/7 night tour  as detailed below from Shalom Myanmar tours for a solo traveler was $1990

Included:

• All hotel accommodation including breakfast

• All modes of transportation such as:

o Air-conditioned car for all transfers and sightseeing programs

o Private boats for Mingun excursion and Inle Lake sightseeing

o Ferry boat and horse cart for Inwa visit o All domestic flights using private airlines only (Air KBZ, Yangon Airways, Asian Wings, Air Mandalay, Air Bagan)

• English Speaking Guide service for sightseeing tours only (no transfer guide service) as mentioned in the Itinerary

• All entrance fees, excluding museum admission fees • Current Domestic Airlines fuel surcharges

• All Prevailing taxes

Excluded: • Other meals • Any increases in domestic airline fuel surcharges with or without prior notice • Myanmar Visa, Insurance and services not mentioned herein

 

Itinerary 

Day 1: Yangon

 Upon your arrival in Yangon, welcome by our tour guide and transferred to your hotel for check-in. Enjoy private tour and drive through downtown to explore the city centre and its fabulous mix of architecture and sites. The streets are filled with historical buildings many of which have a faded colonial charm not seen elsewhere in Asia. You’ll start at the post office – a lovely historic building, passing by Strand Hotel, Mahabandoola Garden and Independence Monument along the way. Then visit famous Chauk Htat Kyi, home to a 70-meter long reclining Buddha. The feet of the statue carved with traditional symbols and often many locals gathering to pay homage and pray. Photo stop at the Karaweik Hall royal floating barge. Nothing will prepare you for Shwedagon Pagoda, with its glittering gold stupa. At the pagoda observe local pilgrims and monks offering their devotions and enjoy the amazing sunset view at Shwedagon pagoda.

Hotel: KandawGyi Palace Hotel

Day 2: Yangon – Bagan

Early morning flight to Bagan. Begin our exploration by visiting a busy local market and gain an insight into the bustling market atmosphere in Bagan. You will spend the day exploring the architectural masterpieces of this amazing town by visit to a diverse selection of the most important pagodas and temples. In the late afternoon climbing to the top of the Temple for sunset views. Sit back relax and be amazed by the beauty of Bagan as you watch the sun slowly set behind the ancient Pagodas.

Hotel: Aye Yar River

Day 3: Bagan & Villages

More than just temples, our tour introduces you to provide a great overview of Bagan’s history, culture and local lifestyles. Today see the real way of life for most Myanmar people by visiting villages near Bagan to view the local lifestyle. Then you will explore Bagan from a different perspective as you explore the area by Pony cart. The cart can explore areas that cars are unable to enter giving a different feel of Bagan. In the late afternoon transfer to jetty where a private wooden river boat is waiting. Sitting under the shade or on the open-deck you’ll be treated to fabulous views as you cruise down the Irrawaddy River to Shwezigon Pagoda. A private boat tour on the river during sunset time will hopefully show you a spectacular sunset. Relax and enjoy the scenery.

Hotel: Aye Yar River

Day 4: Bagan – Mandalay – Amarapura

Transfer to the airport for your flight to legendary Mandalay, a city of great cultural importance. This morning visit the second most sacred image in Myanmar next to the Shwedagon Pagoda is the Mahamuni Pagoda. Visit local artisan’s workshops of gold leaf making, woodcarving and marble carving. Next visit Golden palace Monastery famous for its intricate woodcarvings. Continue to the Kuthodaw Pagoda, which is known as the world largest book due to the Buddhist scripture carved on 729 marble slabs. Before sunset visit a 200-year-old teak bridge, the most photographic site in Myanmar.

Hotel: Sedona Hotel

Day 5: Mandalay – Irrawaddy River – Mingun

After breakfast you’ll board a private local boat for a trip up the Irrawaddy to Mingun (45 min each way). Visit the Mingun Bell which weighs more than 87 tons and being the world’s largest intact bronze bell, the unfinished Mingun Paya (built with the intention of being the world’s biggest pagoda). Mingun’s other highlight is the Hisnbyume Pagoda, a white-washed temple built to resemble Mount Meru. Throughout Mingun there are small neighborhoods crafting traditional basketry and other artistic items and there is plenty of time to stop and interact with the craftsmen and friendly locals. After returning to Mandalay in the afternoon continues sightseeing and visits the ruined remains of the Royal Palace. This evening, enjoy a commanding overview of the city from the Mandalay Hill.

Hotel: Sedona Hotel

Day 6: Mandalay – Heho – Inle Lake

After breakfast, fly to Heho, gateway to Inle Lake. From Heho drive to NyaungShwe where we pick our boat & transfer to your hotel for check in. Enjoy the full day tour by private boat in Inle lake. Visit the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, the most holy religious site in southern Shan State. Be amazed by the local handicrafts, silk weaving, wooden handlooms and traditional blacksmith methods along the way. Visiting Inle Lake is not just about being on the water but also about discovering the Shan and Intha villages on the banks of the river. Pass the endless floating gardens, houses, monasteries built on stilts on the lake. Stop at Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery then proceed to Nampan village and see local cheroot factory (where the Burmese cigars are made) and canoe carving.

Hotel: View Point Lodge

Day 7: Inle Lake – Indein

Begin your day with a visit to the market, which rotates locations every five days and where hill tribe people dressed in colorful, traditional outfits — as they barter for goods and produce. We continue our sightseeing in Inle Lake, maneuvering by boat though long, scenic channnels.  We will visit the fascinating village of Indein, with its complex of ancient shrines and stupas and walk though exotic colonnades of stairways and shop stalls.  We’ll visit the “long neck” tribal women, and weaving and craft villages perched on stilts. See the lake’s unique “leg rowers” – the Intha people row standing up with one leg wrapped around an oar. It is a feast for the senses and a photographer’s dream.

Hotel: View Point Lodge

Day 8: Inle Lake- Yangon Departure

After breakfast, Flight back to Yangon. When arrived Yangon, Day at leisure until transfer to airport for International departure flight

 

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