MyanmarOne of the best ways to experience Myanmar is by cruising the Irrawaddy River, but that’s only part of the adventure, writes KERRY VAN DER JAGT.

THIS is Burma”, wrote Rudyard Kipling. “It is quite unlike any place you know about.” More than a century after Kipling penned these words, Myanmar is still astonishing, from riding in a horse-drawn cart past ancient temples to witnessing the one-legged fishermen of Inle Lake, it will spin you around and turn everything you thought you knew upside down. It’s all raw and real and delightfully offbeat, an entire nation emerging from the harsh conditions imposed by the previous ruling military, but now on the cusp of great change.

So now is the time to visit, while the country still wears its time warp charm and its people are buoyed and confident for the future.

PADDLE INTO A SUNSET – Burma is home to some really big things – the World’s Biggest Book, the gravity-defying Golden Rock, the 90-tonne Mingun Bell – but it’s the U Bein Bridge that will test the panorama function on your smart phone. Spanning Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura, the 1.2-kilometre bridge is the world’s longest and oldest teak bridge. Walk across the footbridge one way, then, as the sun slowly melts into the lake, return by paddleboat, cocktail in hand.

RIDE IN A TRISHAW – you haven’t experienced Myanmar until you’ve squeezed your western-sized butt into a Burmese-sized sidecar (and then successfully extricated yourself back out again). A cheap and cheerful form of local transport trishaws are now being used to ferry visitors around some of the quieter neighbourhoods. One of the best tours is to Dala, a multicultural township across the river from Yangon.

HIT THE STREETS – YANGON – the former colonial capital once called Rangoon – is the perfect walking city. Stroll past elegant buildings, some beautifully restored, others crumbling and awaiting their next reincarnation. Pause at the former government offices where Aung San Suu Kyi’s father was assassinated in 1947, pick up a book at an open-air stall and salute Rudyard Kipling with a G&T at The Strand Hotel. For jade, textiles and antiques head to the Bogyoke Aung San Markets and finish the evening at the Shwedagon Pagoda, the holiest site in the land. Guests of Scenic have the opportunity to learn about the ritual of ‘oil lamp lighting’ before joining in with this local tradition.

ENTER A NUNNERY – while it is expected that most males in Myanmar will spend some time in a monastery, less than four per cent of girls are given the equal opportunity. Those that do are generally escaping poverty or trying to get some education. As part of Scenic’s cruise between Mandalay and Pyay, guests are invited inside one of the nunneries that Scenic supports, not simply for a visit, but to join the pink-robed women and girls for their midday meal.

EXPLORE BY HORSE-DRAWN CART – Between 1365 and 1842 Inwa (Ava) served as Burma’s royal capital – not once, not twice, but five times. Today, this rural backwater is best enjoyed by pony trap, the open-sided carts and plodding pace the perfect way for viewing the crumbling stupas and monastic ruins spread across the countryside.

TAKE TO THE SKIES – Bagan has long been synonymous with hot-air balloons, as that really is the best way to appreciate the World Heritage-listed site of more than 2,000 religious monuments spread across the dusty plains. While hot air balloon flights are an optional tour for Scenic cruise passengers, all guests are invited for sunset drinks at Clay Pot Mountain, a little-known hilltop location far away from the crowds.

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