|Azamara Club Cruises focuses on “going local”…
and so does Goldring Travel!
My Asian Adventure on the Azamara Journey starts out with two and one half days at sea, and then a late day arrival in Yangon, Myanmar followed by a full day plus another morning. I cannot believe that I have been fortunate enough to visit Myanmar from the very south (with Silverseas Expeditions in 2016), the Irrawaddy River (with Avalon Waterways in 2017) and now, Azamara Club Cruises, in 2018.
|Azamara Journey Pool Deck
Lots of lounges available
due to 106 degree temperatures in Yangon, Myanmar!
Because of the intial days at sea and my limiting my off-the-ship time while in Myanmar, I thought I would first chat a bit about the very good initial impression of this upscale cruise. My initialimpressions of my Azamara Club Cruise experience on the Azamara Journey:
|One of two stages setup for the AzaMazing Evening in Yangon|
Azamara Club Cruises has a number of hallmark events on each cruise. One of them is an AzaMazing Evening. Our first night in Myanmar was my chance to experience this again. It was about a 1.5 hour drive from the ship to Yangon proper (the Yangon River is just too narrow for cruise ships to get closer to the city and the traffic is world-class…another topic that I will discuss) departing at 6:30 p.m. and heading to the People’s Park which is a lovely place in the shadow of the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda. (You can read more about Yangon and the Swedagon Pagoda here from my 2017 visit to Yangon.)
We arrived to a beautiful and elaborate stage with a path leading to a complimentary local beer and house wine garden (with numerous Western items to eat…for the more conservative tastes) and then a pathway over a bridge to a secondary stage and a large contained area with about 30 tables with a wide variety of complimentary Myanmar culinary offerings and a few with souvenirs for purchase.
|My friend and guide extraordinare Myo Min Zaw and I
in Azamara Journey’s Mosaic Cafe
I had been looking forward to the next morning when I would be meeting up with my friend, Myo Min Zaw, who was my guide during my Avalon Waterways Irrawaddy River cruise in March 2017; something I highly recommend for a true in depth Myanmar experience. We had a great morning together. Azamara Club Cruises was excellent in assuring Myo could come to the ship and spend some time with me. But then again Myo seemingly knows everyone so – even with the layers of bureaucracy in Myanmar – somehow I think he would have made it to the ship, if not on it.
|The Republic of the Union of Myanmar
National Races Village
This, in turn, led to Myo’s suggestion that we might visit a sort of Epot Center created by the Myanmar Government known as Republic of the Union of Myanmar National Races Village. It is a park that is, most certainly, off the “tourist trail”. It has model homes from various regions with examples of kitchens, furnishings, etc. and some plaster dolls representing the dress of the region. On the other hand, as there are very few Westerners that visit the Races Village, I felt I was a bit on display as well, though everyone was, of course, extremely polite.
|A model home typical for the Rakine province|
A Myanmar person’s ethnicity is determined back to their great grandparents, so in a country where birth records (among others) are not exactly accurate…if they exist. Myanmar’s census records are notoriously inaccurate. Me being me, I quietly began to think how this gives the government a way to exclude many from being of a particular ethnic group, even where there are no records to support the exclusion.
|A Myanmar Culinary Experience!|
After our visit to the National Races Village, Myo took me to a very popular local restaurant, Pwint Myanmar Restaurant; again off the “tourist trail”. Before sitting (and we were lucky to get a table at 11:20 am) we made our selections: hilsa (fish), river prawns, eggplant, spicy vegetables, and my favorite, mutton offal. I also “needed” a large ice cold beer after our tour in 100 degree plus heat!
I was very interested in hilsa, which is a ubiquitous fish in Myanmar and India. I have, in fact, been reading a book, Following Fish, which is about “the food and culture of the Indian Coast”. The author has gone on for pages about hilsa, yet I had no idea what it tasted like. I only knew it lives in brackish water (so the Yangon River as we cruises up it is filled with nets seeking hilsa), is famous for its bones and it served dozens of different ways. I took a bite and just as I was about to say “sardine!”, Myo said, “Doesn’t it taste like sardines?” And I love sardines!
Sadly, after lunch, and with Myo needing to get back to Yangon and to prepare for the annual Water Festival that starts the next afternoon…which is also when many young boys are celebrated into being Buddhist monks, as is Myo’s nephew…it was time to say goodbye until the next time. And, as I do find the regular people of Myanmar to be kind and gentle and their cultures so rich, I am very confident I will return yet again.
|A trip around Asia on a single Azamara Journey plate
(Vietnamese, Indonesian, Korean, Indian and more)
One niggling point (and it is just that): I know most of the guests were off on day-long tours, but by noon they started to set up for the event by taking away most of the lounges, tables and chairs and setting up serving areas with wines being set out hours in advance. While it really did not adversely affect the use of the pool area by the guests present, it could have been done in a couple of hectic hours leaving the area more “guest friendly” for the afternoon. Little things like this, to my mind, define the difference between a luxury and premium product. It most certainly would not make me hesitate as the end product was fantastic, but it is worth a mention.
Having now experienced the Azamara Club Cruises experience over a number of sea days and in Myanmar, I can say that there is much to like…and more to explore.