Monday (October 21) was one spent mostly on the ship except for a 1 ½ hour shore excursion to the village of Thayetmyo. This had been a frontier post town in the early years before all of Burma was under British rule so we were now in the Lower Burma of old. The fort is no longer here and there is no real evidence of its former importance.
Our primary reason for the stop was to visit a middle school with an enrollment of 300 children. As we approached the school the kids (all in green and white uniforms except for about a dozen in traditional Burmese dress) formed two long lines between which we passed. As we walked into the main hall of the school the children bowed and said – in excellent English –“Hello; welcome to our school; we are glad you are here”, a chant that they repeated in unison until everyone was seated.
We were then given a performance by about twenty of the children; two traditional dances and one rather Western-style mime of a boy trying to court a young lady – and eventually succeeding! The traditional dance, with the girls in long dresses with “tails” was very good – better than a similar performance that we had seen earlier on the trip by “professionals”.
It is amazing to see how well educated the children are and how clean and well-dressed they are. In a country where there are few paved roads and mud and/or dust is underfoot at all times, and where bathing in the river is commonplace, it is humbling to see just how well they present themselves.
Although we have one more night after this on board, tonight was our farewell dinner at which we were encouraged to dress in traditional Burmese fashion and learn some Burmese dancing. It was more fun than it sounds!
On Tuesday morning we had our final shore excursion in the town of Pyay. We visited the Shwe San Daw pagoda which was probably the most spectacular we have seen. There are 160 steps to the terrace (or an elevator is available) and the pagoda and its surrounding buildings are a mass of gold. Once again, we were amazed at the obvious expense of these places of worship, especially in surroundings that are far less opulent.
We then drove to and archaeological site recently designated a UNESCO Heritage Site (Srikrettara). Here was a brick pagoda from the 5th century (Payagyi Pagoda), indicating a good deal of engineering skills in the country at that time. The actual “dig” site is unearthing a huge complex with surrounding brick walls – sometimes as many as three walls between the compound and the outside world. This had been a walled palace for a very rich king between the first and eighth centuries and the associated museum contained many artifacts from the period. Again these indicated a good deal of sophistication in terms of artisan and engineering skills with materials from gold and silver to stone and iron.
Then it was back to the ship for the final time. Tomorrow we drive to Yangon for our final two nights in Myanmar.