Cruise Lines in Irrawaddy River Cruises
Most of the boats that ply the Irrawaddy are bilevel; some are cruise ships while others are colonial steam-ship style. Each ship has between five and 30 cabins, accommodating 10 to 60 people. The cruise lines stop in different places, but all cover Bagan and Mandalay. Unless otherwise indicated, all prices listed are per person for a double cabin during high season.
Abercrombie and Kent. Abercrombie and Kent is best known for its luxury excursions, and its 10-night, 11-day Myanmar's Burmese Heritage cruise (from $6,995) ensures guests' every whim is catered to. The tour meets in Bangkok, starts in Yangon, and ends with the reverse. In between, travelers cruise the Irrawaddy on luxury liner the Road to Mandalay, visiting Inle Lake, Mandalay, and Bagan. Day 5, between Mandalay and Bagan, is spent almost entirely on the water save for a brief stop in Sagaing, an important center of Buddhism. 1411 Opus Pl., Downer's Grove, IL, 60515. 001/888–611–4711 weekdays 8 am–7 pm, Sat. 9 am–1 pm CST. www.abercrombiekent.com.
Amara River Cruise. Amara's two boutique boats, the Amara I and II, are built of strong, gleaming teak and have just seven and five rooms, respectively. Because the boats are so small, the service is extremely personalized and the entire boat can be chartered if a party so wishes. Amara offers three-night, four-day Mandalay–Bagan and Bagan–Mandalay cruises (€580/I, €690/II) and six-day, seven-night Mandalay–Bhamo and Bhamo–Mandalay (€1,200/I, €1,540/II). Bhamo is a town in Myanmar's northernmost state, Kachin, and is 40 miles from the border of Yunnan province, China. Visited by few tourists, it offers a real look at how Burmese villagers live along the river. 6 Tayza Rd., Yangon (Rangoon). 01/652191. www.amaragroup.net.
Orient Express. Orient Express is the British group that manages Yangon hotel The Governor's Residence, and their cruises are just as luxe. In a nod to Rudyard Kipling, the massive ship is called the Road to Mandalay; there are 51 cabins, a spa, and two places to order a Pegu Club cocktail that would make proud The Jungle Book author. Tours are three, four, and seven nights long. All go to Bagan and Mandalay; the shorter trips also stop in Sagaing, an important center of Buddhism and the longer trip also brings you to Mt. Popa and Pyin-U Lwin (referred to as Maymo). Note that the boat does not run every month, particularly when water levels are too low. Fountain Valley, CA. 001/800–524–2420. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.orient-express.com.
Pandaw River Expeditions in Asia. Singaporean-owned Pandaw has eight Irrawaddy River cruises. The shortest is seven nights—Prome to Mandalay with a stop in Bagan (from $2,452) or Mandalay to Katha (the setting for Orwell's Burmese Days) and back (same price). Visit Prome, which has a collection of 7th-century stupas, Thayetmyo, a former British Burma border town with a handful of old colonial buildings, and Minlah Fort, which were built by the Italians to keep the British out of what was then Royal Burma. Pandaw's longest cruise is a whopping 20 nights on the water, starting in Yangon and ending in Mandalay (from $7,056). It makes many stops in rural Myanmar, to tiny villages along the river, and to Katha, made famous by Orwell. Pandaw has a 10% discount for those who book early. Ten custom-built colonial steamship-style boats make up the fleet. The Pandaw Charity is the cruise operator's nonprofit arm, based in the U.K. and working mostly in Myanmar to build schools, an orphanage, and a hospice. A portion of the cruises' annual profits is donated to the charities; in 2012, this was more than $250,000. 044/203–287–6113 U.K. office; 061/280–067–013 Australia office. www.pandaw.com.
Paukan Cruises by Ayravata Cruise Company. Paukan's fleet of three is made up of a lovingly restored 1947 Scottish-built steamship and two newer vessels, the 2007, which looks much like the 1947 outfit, and the sleek, teak 2012 model. Paukan is one of a few operators who have short cruises; there's a one-night trip from Mandalay to Bagan and two night trip that runs both the Bagan–Mandalay and Mandalay–Bagan routes (all from $780 double). One of the most popular tours is the four night Royal Myanmar (from $1,920), which starts in Bagan and ends in Mandalay following stops at Yandabo (a pot-making village, where the peace treaty for the First Anglo-Burmese war signed; we know how that ended), Monywa (caves with hundreds of Buddha statues), Ava (teak monastery and 88.5-foot watchtower), and Amarapura (penultimate capital city). Paukan also offers 5-, 6-, and 10-night cruises. 25 38th St., Yangon (Rangoon). 01/380877. www.ayravatacruises.com.
Value World Tours. This 14-day Golden Myanmar cruise (from $4,000) starts with a tour of Yangon before moving on to Mandalay, where passengers will board the 16-cabin, steamship-style boat and set off. This cruise makes the standard stops in Mandalay and Bagan, but also brings passengers to Yandabo Village, where the people specialize in making pottery, Minhla Fort, built by the Italians to keep the British out of upper Burma, and Prome and Pyu, home to ancient Buddhist artifacts dating from the 5th century. The village is also the site of a school and medical dispensary built by donations from cruise passengers. The cruise fees include not only all meals but also free-flow tea, coffee, bottled water, soft drinks, and even alcohol. On board are lectures, cooking lessons, and other optional activities. 17220 Newhope St., Suite 203, Fountain Valley, CA, 92708. 001/800–795–1633 in California. www.rivercruises.net.
Viking River Cruises. American cruise behemoth Viking has its own slice of the Myanmar river cruise pie with the 16-day Memories of Mandalay excursion. This Irrawaddy cruise kicked off in 2002 and the ship underwent refurbishment in 2013. The $5,000 tour starts and ends in Bangkok. Travelers spend two days in Yangon before heading to river town Pyay and boarding the luxury liner. From there, it's off to Thayetmyo, once the border between upper and British Burma and still home to a handful of colonial structures. Next is Minhla Fort, which the Italians built to keep the British out of upper Burma (things did not go according to plan). Before Bagan, the group stops at the Salé Monasteries, teak monasteries, one of which was built in 1882. The tour winds down in Mandalay before passengers fly back to Bangkok. Yangon (Rangoon). 001/800–706–1483 in California. www.vikingrivercruises.com.
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