Published on August 9, 2019
River cruises are the epitome of the “slow travel” trend. In the digital, hurly-burly world of high-speed everything, this trend urges us to slow down to take in and reflect on what we’re seeing.
In the case of Myanmar, a country that teems with waterways and aquatic culture, that means cruising into the very heart of its history and vibrant hinterlands. Expect to see such slices of daily life as fisher-folk casting their nets, farmers ambling past with their livestock, children playing and bathing, monks robed in burgundy red and nuns in pink, village ladies sauntering past with urns on their heads, and craftspeople engaged in the handiwork of their vocations.
And you can experience all this while cruising in style down river aboard vessels that are comfortable, safe and luxuriously appointed with all the teakwood and brass trimmings from a bygone era of riverine travel that stretches from the 19th century into the new millennium.
These are not mass-market cruises with hundreds of people on board. Some of the smaller vessels may only have room for 14 passengers, which makes for a more intimate experience and a chance to bond with other travelers and crew. It also means that cabins have plenty of living space and come with such amenities as en-suite bathrooms, air-conditioning, hot showers and electricity around the clock.
The safety standards are also very high. On board are smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, life jackets and dinghies. So leave your worries back on shore and enjoy all the cultural, historic and culinary immersion.
The companies represented here are the crème de la crème. All of them offer golden opportunities to take in the country‘s main rivers and backwaters for a few days or a couple of weeks. Included on many of the itineraries are stopovers at the U-Bein Bridge, perhaps the longest and oldest such structure made of teak wood, the heritage-rich former royal capital of Ava, and the temple-studded plains of Bagan.
But that’s just stirring the surface of these cruises. Many of them also include visits to local villages and monasteries, onboard performances of traditional music, dance and puppet shows, as well as the chance to spot the elusive Irrawaddy dolphin.
Myanmar’s topography is as rich as its culture and, in a country where much of the population dwells in three main river valleys, these cruises will reveal the country’s true art and soul.
This company has built up an enviable portfolio of river cruises throughout Laos, China, Vietnam, and Thailand, but they started in Myanmar, which set the high water mark for all their future forays and it’s also the place where their boats were built.
Pandaw offers a number of different cruises that will appeal to a wide array of visitors. The “Mandalay Bagan” cruise, linking these two capitals, is only a single night, while the “Irrawaddy Cruise,” running from Yangon to Mandalay, is a full two weeks.
In between these two extremes, you could opt for the seven-night “Voyage to Nagaland,” a remote area in the north renowned for its colorful quilt of ethnic villages, its soaring cliffs and its Naga warriors.
Aboard these beautifully outfitted riverboats, all done up with brass and teak in colonial style 19th century designs, you can really get a first-hand view of a country where much of the population dwells in three main river valleys sustained by the bounty of waterways.
For a real backwater adventure try the seven-night tour of the Chindwin River, the Ayeyarwaddy’s main tributary, which begins in the picturesque Hukawng Valley in Kachin State. As the cruise begins, a tapestry of daily life unfolds, with villages, fishermen and pagodas materializing out of the distance.
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