Mesmerized by MyanmarBy Tessa Prieto-Valdes
Philippine Daily Inquirer
From its majestic temple grounds and astonishing natural beauty to its extraordinary cultural attractions and exotic ambience, Myanmar doesn’t fail to move and awe. The country formerly known as Burma is only now emerging from many years of isolation, and is finally open to tourists.
So I was thrilled to be invited by Malu Duenas, district sales manager of Thai Airways, to join a media tour to the famed “Land of Golden Pagodas.” Visiting this mysterious and evocative destination for the first time was an exciting experience. My seatmate onboard the Royal Silk Class of Thai Airways was Christine Dayrit of Philippine Star. This being both our first time to Myanmar, we were both very excited.
Flying “Smooth as Silk” daily to Yangon via Bangkok from Manila, Thai Airways utilizes its wide-bodied A330-300 aircraft. Our quick stopover in Bangkok was just long enough to buy some Thai goodies and meet our other sponsor, Khun Kate Kritwutikon, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Myanmar is the last frontier of discovery for cultural travellers in Southeast Asia. In my traveling world, that only means cultural shopping for Burmese gems and accessories. Upon landing, we headed to the moneychanger at the airport before checking in at the Park Royale Hotel.
Our tours included Yangon’s colonial-era architectural buildings, temples and trishaws and bustling markets. Our tour guide Khun Pyiu Pyiu also brought us to the town of Bago to see more impressive Buddha temples.
The former capital of Yangon offers a lot of attractive sights like the reclining Buddha at Chauk Htat Gyi Temple and the majestic Shwedagon Paya, the largest golden temple in the world. Who knows how many pagodas there are in Myanmar?
Most impressive was the hauntingly spectacular Shwedagon Pagoda that was glowing from all angles. Its golden spires tower over the city. Although I am a devoted Catholic, I made sure to make wishes and ask for blessings from as many Buddha statues as I could. There are over 6,000 statues of different sizes, and most are in solid gold.
The Karaweik Royal Floating Barge is another attraction; it includes a hearty buffet with a cultural show. The foodies in the group like Marbee Shing-Go and Raul Manzano were the ones enjoying the Burmese dishes, which had similar flavors and spices to Thai cuisine.
My Instagram partner Jude Bacalso and I were busy painting our faces with thanaka, a cosmetic paste that acts like a potent sunscreen with beautifying effects.
Our Yangon tour included an afternoon of city market shopping in Bogyoke or Scott market. This open stall market sells fashion, handicrafts, antiques and gems. Christine, a gemologist and owner of Miladay Jewelry, assisted me by pointing out the different qualities of the precious stones.
Known as the jewel of Southeast Asia, Myanmar’s rich natural resources include several precious and semiprecious gems. We had a visit to one of the jewelry shops selling loose stones like rubies and sapphires and finely crafted jewelry pieces. But my jewelry shopping will have to wait for another trip when I return to Yangon with my husband, Dennis.
With all its colonial architecture, the city has several buildings that are well-preserved. The Strands Hotel has excellent colonial details and a charming lobby. The Governor’s Residence, an Oriental Express property in Yangon, was a lovely part of the city tour. Verdant lotus gardens surround an impressive Burmese solid teak two-story mansion built in 1920. The 48-room hotel has spacious verandas overlooking its relaxing pool.
Myanmar is so complex and peculiar. It would take more than a single trip to discover all beauty of the temples and monasteries.
Thai Smile, a sub-brand of Thai Airways operates flights to other Myanmar cities like Mandalay as another destination aside from Yangon.
Stefanel’s flagship store
Fresh from my wonderful trip, I hosted the opening of Stefanel in its flagship store in the new SM Aura at the Fort. Together with its local partner Nuovo Moda, Stefanel is now available for local fashionistas to enjoy the Italian fashion brand.
Guests walked into a grove of trees and flowers beautifully set up in front of the new shop. Huge blowups of Stefanel’s international Spring/Summer ad campaign were on display as well. This amazing campaign is a collaboration between international photographer Mario Testino and our very own Filipino creative talent Stephen Gan from Harper’s Bazaar, Visionaire, V and V Man.
The setting was an explosion of roses and peonies that Jonathan Matti and Patrick Apacible conceptualized to match the very stylish Stefanel collection.
Flown in just for the opening were Stefanel big boss himself, Giuseppe Stefanel and the outstanding members of Stefanel’s international team led by Daniela de Piccoli. The new Italian Ambassador Massimo Roscigno and his gorgeous Filipino wife Agnes graced the special launch.
The Spring/Summer Collection was presented in a relaxed fashion show where the models mingled among guests so they could get a better view of the stylish pieces. Stefanel’s wonderful fabrics and quality really set this fashion brand apart.
It was indeed a really fun evening of La Dolce Vita with endless glasses of bubbly from Fifi l’Amour poured throughout the night. Head to SM Aura and do check out this quintessentially Italian chic brand, Stefanel.