Mum & I went for a two week trip organised by Noble Caledonia to cruise up the Irrawaddy river to Mandalay. Our group of 12 was very fortunate that due to timing of the release of required government permits for the new ship we were on Pandaw 4 for her maiden voyage. With the ship only 30% full we had excellent service from the crew. On shore trips our group was small enough not to intrude too much in the villages we visited - and they were the most interesting part of the voyage.
Pandaw 4 belongs to the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company who have recreated the river vessels of the early 20th century but with modern equipment - and air conditioners !
I have three pages of pictures arranged as
We were driven from Yangon to Prome to join the ship - passing the immaculately kept Commonwealth cemetery for the 1939-45 war - and enormous areas of rice paddies. From Prome we cruised up river for 10 days covering 333 miles and making shore trips each day to villages, forts, and of course pagodas, temples and monasteries.
Myanmar is ruled by a military junta, but we saw no military presence after leaving Yangon and the few police we saw did not carry firearms. We were traveling up the centre of the Burman area as opposed to the large tribal states on the borders where disputes continue. All the people we saw were healthy and well fed and did not appear oppressed. Their health was surprising as we saw many drinking directly from the river - even when well water is available many prefer to drink from the river as they say they like the taste of the river !
For a very poor country it seemed that excessive amounts of gold are being lavished on the many stupas and temples. Each village and town has a monastery of monks who daily collect food from the people of the area. How much of the village output is taxed in that way I don't know but it appeared significant.
The shops and commercial activity in Myanmar's towns reminded me more of the Philippines than Thailand - which reflects poorly on Philippines but perhaps they have more in common than I expected. Although the Philippines has a form of democracy real power and ownership is held by some dozen families and the economy always underperforms.