Upon arrival in Mandalay we met our Vantage Travel program manager by the name of Soe. From the airport we were immediately taken on a tour of a silk weaving factory in the old part of Mandalay that is known for making fine silk fabrics for wedding gowns. Many of the folks in our group made purchases of the local longe; a cylindrical piece of fabric wrapped around your waist and tucked in. You see many of the locals (men and women) wearing these, although most of them are made of cotton and not a fancy silk. The fancier hand-made silk fabrics are used for ceremonial occasions like a wedding.
After the silk factory we were taken to Amarapura, the last Burmese royal capital, where we embarked on a small sampan (with two other guests) on Taungthaman Lake just in time to catch the sunset as it washed over the famous U-Bein Bridge. The bridge is about 3,967 feet in length and was built in 1850. It is believed to be the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world. It features about 1,086 pillars and four wooden pavilions at equal intervals along the bridge. The bridge was once painted in gold and was very elaborately decorated, but today the bridge is in a state of disrepair. The gold is gone and most of the support posts are in some state of disrepair, and there are no hand rails. Even so, the bridge is very busy with tourists and locals alike, fishing, walking, watching the sunset and visiting with friends. Along the roadside there are many small stalls selling a variety of souvenirs as well as local foods.
Our home for the next nine nights was the RV Irrawaddy Explorer built in 2014 with a capacity of 56 guests in 28 cabins on three decks. There was a crew of 34 to see to all of our needs. The river boat is beautifully decorated in a style that I might expect during the time of British Occupation. Teak wood floors, dark cabinetry, high ceilings, traditional furnishings and gilded mirrors. Out cabin is the largest we have had on a river boat and is very tastefully decorated and comfortable. There is a large bathroom with a huge shower. The water from the tap is not safe to drink but they provide us with unlimited bottled water in our cabin.
The bar area and main public room on the boat is called the Writer’s Lounge and is very comfortable with upholstered sofas and chairs, dark wood tables and a large bar area. The dining room is comfortable with upholstered chairs, linen table cloths and elegantly decorated. Our dinner consisted of four courses; an appetizer, a soup, an entrée and dessert. Each category had several items to choose from, including local flavors and some western style dishes. The lamb dish with rice I had was excellent. Kent had a local white fish.
By dinner’s end we were exhausted and ready to collapse at the dinner table. By the time my head hit the pillow I was out.