Silversea Makes Exploring Myanmar Easy
Of all the ports of call on this Silversea cruise through Southeast Asia, it is this one that I have looked most forward to. For the next three days, Silversea’s 382-guest Silver Shadow will be docked in Yangon, Myanmar – one of the world’s most remote and mysterious countries, and one of my absolute favorite places in the world.
I first came to Yangon last year, as part of a river cruise down the Irrawaddy. Since then, I’ve always wanted to return – I just didn’t expect it to be quite so soon. Part of my reasoning for choosing this itinerary aboard Silver Shadow was because of this exciting opportunity to be in Yangon for three straight days.
Now, Silver Shadow can’t dock right in Yangon. The river further upstream isn’t navigable by ships even half our size. Instead, we’re docked outside of town at Myanmar International Terminal’s Thilawa container terminal in the township of Kyauk Tan. It’s a very industrial port surrounded by large tanker ships, refineries, and a steady stream of gasoline trucks that queue to fuel up at the depot next to us.
My previous experiences in Myanmar taught me that this is a very difficult country to get around on your own in. If I were here on another cruise line, getting from the port into Yangon – a drive that can take an hour on the best of times – would be an ordeal. But even if you don’t want to take any of the optional excursions here, Silversea is offering guests a complimentary shuttle bus service into town from 9:00 am until 9:00pm every day for three days.
This is the kind of thing that must be costing the line a small fortune – and Silversea does it to make life easier for you, the guest. After six years of sailing with the line, I’m still amazed at how all of Silversea’s small gestures add up to a remarkable guest experience. The line just makes everything easier than you’d expect.
To make the most of my time today, I booked the massive, nine-hour long Yangon Delights (RGN-B1) excursion. At $159 per person, it is only offered today, and includes stops at some of the city’s must-see sights, like the famous Shwedagon Pagoda; the Scott Market; the National Museum; and the massive reclining Buddha at the Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda. It also includes a lunch of local Burmese specialties at The Strand Hotel. Recently renovated, the colonially-themed Strand is still ten days away from its official re-opening. However, the Hotel opened its doors and its gorgeous restaurant exclusively for Silversea guests today.
I remember describing Yangon’s traffic as ‘diabolical’, and today did nothing to change that opinion. Right out of the gate, a gasoline truck ahead of us got stuck in the mud outside the port, so our coach had to reverse about a kilometre back down the dirt road in order to turn around and go ‘the long way’ into Yangon. When I say the coach had to back up, what I’m leaving out is the absolutely insane amount of vehicles it had to negotiate to do this: tanker trucks on either side of us, motorcycles zipping in and out, and cars that were trying to get to and from administrative offices in the Port.
It took us nearly two hours to reach the Shwedagon Pagoda instead of the single hour advertised in the brochure. Here again, Silversea does a great job of managing expectations: in the daily Silversea Chronicles and in the shore excursion descriptions, Silversea notes that the roads between the port and the city are ‘inferior’ and states that traffic jams can and do occur.
You might know Yangon better by its former name, Rangoon. The ruling military government changed the name back to Yangon in 1989, and it was stripped of its status as Myanmar’s capital in 2005 when the new capital city was formed in Naypyitaw to the north.
But there are still signs of Yangon’s former splendour, both ancient and colonial. Near the Strand Hotel, crumbling colonial-era buildings that have been in a state of disrepair for decades are slowly beginning to be restored. These are interspersed with a hodgepodge of utilitarian concrete highrises built during the 1950’s and 60’s, surrounded by darkened narrow alleyways filled with vendors hawking their wares.
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