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From Siam to Saigon: Thailand & Vietnam Revealed 2015

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Trip Extensions

Pre-trip: Burma & the Irrawaddy River

Before you travel to Thailand, visit Burma, currently known as Myanmar, a forest-clad country of mountain ranges and river systems, with an abundance of golden pagodas.  After a period of isolation, Burma has again opened itself to visitors, while remaining one of the least Western-influenced countries in Southeast Asia. Come experience its magical sights, friendly people, and its own distinctive culture.

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

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    You arrive in Bangkok late in the evening. You are met at the airport by your Trip Leader and escorted to your hotel.

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    Today we depart for the airport to catch a flight to Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar). When we arrive, we proceed to Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda, which houses a 225-foot reclining Buddha. Next, we enjoy an included lunch and take time to browse the craft stalls of Scott Market. Following some free time, we gather for a Welcome Dinner at a restaurant in town.

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    After breakfast, we will set out to explore the city in a private coach with our local guide. We'll start at Shwedagon Pagoda, often called the Golden Pagoda for its glittering spire that dominates the city's skyline. 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.

    We'll continue by coach 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 colonial-era buildings, as well as modern architecture. Then we'll proceed to the Kalaywa Tawya Monastery, where the Buddhist Scripture is still studied and taught today.

    After lunch on your own, you have free time at leisure. Or you can join an optional Beyond the Rangoon River tour, which features a visit to Dala, a rural village on the banks of the Rangoon River.

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    • Meals included:

    Following an early breakfast this morning, we transfer to the airport for a brief flight to Bagan, known as Burma's “City of Four Million Pagodas.”

    Although Bagan's pagodas are not actually numbered in the millions, there are literally thousands of them scattered over this remote plain—qualifying 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 it was the capital of the First Burmese Empire.

    After a brief stop at Shwe Sandaw Pagoda, 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.

    Next, we 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, followed by some time at leisure. Then we'll visit a lacquerware 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.

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    • Meals included:

    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, watch locals making palm sugar, and visit Khayminga Temple for a panoramic view of our surroundings. 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 the Lives Behind Bagan's Ancient Pagodas. First, we'll visit the Nanmyint Observatory Tower for a breathtaking view of Bagan's pagoda-studded plains. Afterward, we'll visit a nearby village to learn more about local life before enjoying dinner and a classical Burmese dance performance at a nearby restaurant, all included with the tour.

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    We have an early breakfast this morning and transfer to the airport for a 45-minute flight to Mandalay. We'll explore several highlights of Mandalay, which briefly served as capital of the last Burmese kingdom in the mid-19th century. We first visit the Mahamuni Paya, home to a highly venerated Buddha image, one of the most sacred in Burma. Over the centuries, devout Buddhists have been applying gold leaf to the 13-foot-high seated Buddha; that gold surface is now estimated to be about six inches thick.

    We'll then see 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.

    Following lunch at a local restaurant, check into our hotel and enjoy some free time. Later, we 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.

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    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 uncracked 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.

    We'll pause for lunch, then enjoy some free time. In the late afternoon, 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.

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    • Meals included:

    Today, we enjoy free time in the morning before our flight to Bangkok. After checking in to our hotel, we join our fellow travelers on our Discover Thailand adventure. Dinner tonight is on your own.