Holidays for Couples Holidays for Couples Apr-Sep 2017 - Page 73

myanmar // asia Previous pages: The photogenic U Bein Bridge and Buddhist monks in their distinctive saffron-red robes. From left: Some of the 730 shrines at Kuthodaw Pagoda; the huge Buddha inside the Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda; the exterior of the Pagoda; the inviting top deck of Sanctuary Ananda; our luxurious, all-suite home on the Irrawaddy River As the sun begins to go down we make our way to the famous U Bein Bridge. One of Myanmar’s most photographed sights, it’s believed to be the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world, stretching 1.2km across Taungthaman Lake. It may be old and rickety, but locals and tourists still stream across it every day. It’s best viewed at dusk, when the orange glow of sunset provides a glorious backdrop for the bridge’s distinctive silhouette. It makes for a brilliant view, especially if you’re in one of the colourful little boats – operated by equally colourful locals – that ply these waters. As you drift past fellow cruisers and other boat-going tourists, exchanging pleasantries as you go, it’s like an old-fashioned promenade. Only on a lake. Then, just as you’re thinking ‘The only thing that could make this better is a drink,’ another boat magically appears and a glass of Champagne is placed in your hand, courtesy of Sanctuary Ananda. This is how you do a sunset. The next day we sail to Sin Kyun, a quaint, remote village sponsored by Sanctuary Retreats Philanthropy, where farming and hat-making sustain some 1,000 inhabitants. It’s a fascinating insight into rural life in Myanmar, but on this particular day all farm work has ceased in preparation for an extraordinary event: Shinbyu. It’s customary for every boy in Myanmar to enter a monastery as a Buddhist novice for at least one “The five-day cruise that will take us from Mandalay to Bagan, the ancient temple site that’s home to a thousand spires” week, and the initiation day that precedes this is one of the most important in their lives. Boys as young as five can become a novice, but most go home again and re-enter when they’re a bit older, at which time some will stay on permanently to become ordained monks at the age of 19. As total outsiders we’re surprised and deeply honoured to be invited to attend the initiation ceremony. We watch as older monks deftly shave the heads of the young novices-to-be, before a sacred ceremony during which the boys change from their everyday clothes into miniature versions of the red robes worn by every monk. As they receive blessings we realise how privileged we are to have witnessed something so very special. Later, after exploring the farm, we head back to the boat where a fresh juice and shoe-cleaning service awaits. Yep, you heard right. Every time we board the ship a drink is proffered and our shoes are whisked away (replaced with locally made flip flops), returned to our cabins once the dust of the day has been removed. It’s this level of service that elevates the cruise to seriously special levels. There’s a meaningful gift waiting on our bed ٕ䁹а́ݕ́ɕ)͕ͥѥ٥ѥ̰ѡѥɅ䁥Ց)ɅѥɅѥ ɵ͔)͙ɍ̹Ʌٕ