Pakokku

After breakfast we are treated to a cooking demonstration with Chef Sumet. He has a full-house, and he teaches us how to make Tom Yum Goong, a spicy prawn soup. Samples are tasted and recipes demanded!

Arriving near Pakokku late morning, we disembark to find Koko, a local trouser seller we met last year! He's obviously been awaiting our return, and he starts to sell his colourful trousers straight away. Today we're heading to the town of Pakkuko and its busy market. The local cosmetic Thanaka is available here, and the market also boasts a vast array of fruits, vegetables, dried fish, spices and chillies, plus numerous other products and supplies. Markets are always a really fascinating insight to local life. Our excursion also includes a visit to a cheroot (cigar) making factory. Workers sit crossed legged on the floor and hand-make these small cigars. These folk are extremely skilful, producing perfect cheroots time after time without even looking closely at what they are doing. If they make 1,000 per day, they are paid approximately £5.

After lunch we visit Shwezigon Pagoda, a prototype of Burmese stupas, consisting of a circular gold leaf-gilded stupa, which is currently being renovated so it’s covered in a bamboo jumper! The renovation is scheduled to take about a year and is funded by donations from local visitors. Our final task today is to find a suitable spot to view the sunset. There are over 2,000 pagodas on the Bagan Plains on the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy, and some tourists clamber up a pagoda to watch the view. However, our local guides recommend the mound, a hillock which avoids the dangers of sitting on unstable brick pagodas! Seems like ma good idea, and we're rewarded by an excellent sunset. The photographers amongst us use up a digital card or two.

After our evening briefing in the ship's lounge, we're treated to a surprise entertainment of traditional Burmese song and dance. This is performed by a father, mother and son team. The father plays a xylophone, the son plays a Burmese harp and dances (not at the same time!), and the mother dances, sings and plays small cymbals. The costumes are elaborate. You must have to practice a lot to perform the dances ... in the first position, the knees are bent into an almost crouching position, and the body is forward with the arms supporting the small of the back. From this “spring-like” tensed position, the dancer rises from time to time, preserving, however, the S-shaped bending of the body. The feet only touch the ground lightly, sometimes kicking the long train of the costume backwards. Sharp neck movements accentuate the head movements that follow the rhythm of the music, and the eyes are trained to follow the movement. Many dances, or at least parts of them, are performed in a crouching position; sometimes the dancer is nearly lying on the floor. The dances express respect for a ruler, spirits or the Buddha. Fascinating to watch, but thankfully there's no audience participation.