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Ancient Kingdoms: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia 2015

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Trip Extensions

Pre-trip: Burma & the Irrawaddy River

Burma, currently known as Myanmar, is a forest-clad country of mountain ranges and river systems, with an abundance of golden pagodas. After a period of isolation, it has again opened itself to visitors, while remaining one of the least Western-influenced countries in Southeast Asia. Travel to Burma to experience Asia as it once was.

It's Included:
Roundtrip airfare between Bangkok and Rangoon, plus 3 internal flights
Accommodations for 1 night in Bangkok, 2 nights in Rangoon, 2 nights in Bagan, and 2 nights in Mandalay
13 meals—7 breakfasts, 4 lunches, and 2 dinners
14 small group activities
Services of a resident English-speaking OAT Trip Leader
NEW for 2015: Gratuities for local guides, drivers, and luggage porters
All transfers
  • Fly overnight from the U.S. to Bangkok, losing one day en route as you cross the International Date Line over the Pacific.

  • Arrive in Bangkok late in the evening. You are met at the airport by your OAT representative and escorted to your hotel.

  • After breakfast, we depart for the airport to catch a flight to Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar). Lunch will be on our own today.

    Tonight, gather with your fellow travelers for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

  • After breakfast, we will set out to explore the city. We'll start at Shwedagon Pagoda, often called the Golden Pagoda. Shwedagon is the most sacred pagoda in Burma, housing relics of the past four Buddhas—namely the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Konagamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa, and eight hairs of Gautama. The pagoda dominates the city’s skyline with its grandeur.

    We'll continue to the city center, where we'll disembark to enjoy a walking tour around the area of Sule Pagoda, the City Hall, and the Independence Monument in Mahabandoola Park. We'll walk along Strand Road, where we'll find remnants of old colonial-era buildings as well as modern architecture.

    Then we’ll visit the Kalaywa Tawya Monastery, where more than 1,000 novices and nuns examine the purity of Buddhist scripture and also conduct modern academic studies.

    After lunch on your own, you have free time at leisure, or you can join an optional Rangoon: Past & Present tour. We'll visit The National Museum, a five-story building on Pyay Road that displays Burma’s history, culture, literature, and people. We'll witness the splendid Lion Throne of Burma’s last monarch, King Thibaw, on the ground floor.

    Our optional tour continues along Rangoon’s busy waterfront, where we walk along the jetty, and see the local people going about their daily lives. We'll continue to Chinatown to stroll in its bustling market and explore side alleyways.

    Tonight, we'll enjoy dinner at a local restaurant, included in this optional tour.

  • Early this morning, we’ll transfer to the airport for a short flight to central Burma. Our destination is Bagan, also known as the “City of Four Million Pagodas.” Many of the pagodas and temples are small and simple—but the number of them is staggering. Although Bagan’s centuries-old shrines, pagodas, and stupas do not actually total in the millions, there are well over 2,000 of them scattered along the remote 26-square-mile plain, flanked on one side by the Irrawaddy River. This qualifies Bagan as the largest temple city on the planet, as well as one of the most important archaeological areas in all of Asia. The majority of ruins in Bagan were constructed between the eleventh and 13th centuries, a time when Bagan was the capital of the First Burmese Empire.

    We take a brief tour of Shwe Sandaw Pagoda, before we head to a village market in the town of Nyaung-U: a great opportunity to mingle with the locals and wander among stalls that feature locally-grown crops, rattan items, tea leaves, and colorful traditional clothing.
    Then, we pause outside the gold-domed Shwezigon Payaon our way to witness the beauty of Ananda Pahto, a terraced temple peaked in shimmering gold that is considered a symmetrical masterpiece. Built around 1090 by a Burmese king inspired by tales of visiting Indian monks, Ananda’s perfection qualified it to serve as a prototype for successive Burmese temples. Inside its whitewashed walls are four large statues of Buddha, each with a different facial expression.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll check into our hotel (set on the banks of the Irrawaddy River), followed by some time at leisure. Then we’ll visit a lacquer ware shop to learn about this local tradition before heading to a nearby jetty. Here, we’ll board a boat to gain a new vantage of the Irrawaddy (also called the Ayeyarwady). The people and the country’s economy depend on this natural resource, as you will undoubtedly observe by the countless number of barges, bamboo rafts, and fishing boats that ply the waters around us. From on board, we will be able to observe how everyday life plays out along the riverbanks.

    We dine as a group at a local restaurant this evening.

  • You may wish to rise early this morning for an optional hot-air balloon ride, a memorable opportunity to enjoy a bird's-eye view of the sun rising over the ancient temples of Bagan. Afterwards, enjoy a Champagne toast and return to the hotel for breakfast.

    Then we gain another unique perspective of Bagan by traveling by horse-drawn carriage ride through the archaeological zone. Witnessing the morning sun illuminating the ancient temples of Bagan is an unforgettable experience. We’ll see Damayangyi Temple and visit Khayminga Temple for a panoramic view of our surroundings. We'll also make a diversion to a local village to see how palm sugar is made. Then we’ll return to the hotel for lunch on our own.

    After a busy morning, enjoy time at leisure this afternoon and dinner on your own. Or perhaps you’ll join our optional tour to discover Ancient Bagan. Travel to the Bagan Archaeological Museum for a tour of the relics here, including dolomite plaques and bronze lotus flowers. Then continue to the Nanmyint Viewing Tower for a breathtaking view of Bagan plains, studded with ancient pagodas. Afterwards, we’ll visit a nearby village to learn more about local life. Then enjoy dinner and classical Burmese performance at a nearby restaurant, all included with the tour. Please note: On Mondays and Tuesdays, the Bagan Archaeological Museum visit will be replaced with a guided tour of temples in the Bagan plains.

  • We have an early breakfast this morning and transfer to the airport for a half-hour flight to Mandalay. When we land, we’ll visit a gold leaf workshop where sheets of gold are beaten into gossamer-thin pieces. Placing gold leaf on a Buddha image brings great merit to the faithful, so there is a steady growth of gold layers on Buddha images throughout Burma. We’ll have a chance to witness the results of this practice as we stop at by the Mahamuni Buddha, the most sacred shrine in upper Burma, covered with so much gold leaf that its body has lost all proportion.

    We break for lunch, taking an orientation drive along the way, and then explore more of Mandalay, including Shwenandaw Monastery and Kuthodaw Pagoda. Time permitting, we’ll also visit Mandalay Hill for a panoramic sunset view.

    We return to our hotel, and dinner this evening is on your own.

  • This morning after breakfast, we board a boat for a ride upriver to the village of Mingun. Here, we get a glimpse of the local culture and stop to see one of the world’s largest ringing bells, still un-cracked and weighing in at 90 tons. Bells are a common feature used in many of Burma’s religious rituals. It is said that people ring this bell after performing a good deed so they can share with others the merit they earned. Burmese Buddhists consider it one of the world’s sweetest sounds.

    Following lunch, we’ll visit the longest wooden bridge in Burma. The U Bein footbridge stretches almost three-quarters of a mile over the shallow Thaung Thaman Lake. It is constructed of teak planks and has withstood the elements for more than two centuries.

    We return to our hotel, and dinner is on your own again this evening.

    • Meals included:

    This morning, we fly to Rangoon, where we’ll enjoy a visit to Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda—which houses an enormous reclining Buddha, extending more than 225 feet—followed by lunch in a local restaurant. After lunch, we'll browse the Scott Market.

    Late this afternoon, we’ll fly to Bangkok to begin our Ancient Kingdoms: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia adventure.