This is a very different Burma cruise. Sailing through the heart of ‘Middle Myanmar’ we pass through a varying landscape – from the lush teak plantations around Prome to the desert country south of Pagan. We visit a number of small villages and towns and see local agriculture and manufacturing at first hand. These places are remote from the modern world and offer a glimpse of a timeless, lost Myanmar far from the usual tourist track. We also visit a number of old monasteries and temples of art historical interest in this the cultural heartland of old Myanmar.
YOUR SHIP –
> RV KATHA PANDAW
Cruise Price Includes: Coach transfer Yangon-Prome (for upstream itinerary only, no bus transfer needed for downstream itinerary), entrance fees, guide services (English language), gratuities to crew, main meals, locally made soft drinks, local beer and local spirits, jugged coffee and selection of teas and tisanes, mineral water.
Cruise Price Excludes: International flights, port dues (if levied), laundry, all visa costs, fuel surcharges (see terms and conditions), imported beverages such as wines, premium spirits and liqueurs, fancy soft drinks like Perrier, espressos and cappuccinos at bar and tips to tour guides, local guides, bus drivers, boat operators and cyclo drivers.
Meet at the Sule Shangri La Hotel in Yangon and transfer by coach to Prome. Visit the 5th-8th century archaeological site of Thiri-ya-kittiya, former centre of the Pyu civilization. We cross jungle and countryside to visit monumental Pyu stupas and the excavations of the former palace-city in this walled early centre of Buddhism.
This pleasant colonial town once guarded the border between Royal Burmah and British Burmah following the 2nd Anglo Burmese War of 1855 and many of the buildings including the covered market date from this period. We visit the market, see the colonial houses and ride out by horse and cart to see the countryside and golf links.
In Minhla and Gwechaung we visit the two Italian built forts constructed to keep the British at bay from Royal Burmah. We climb the Gwechaung hill for the view. In the afternoon we cruise on to Magwe where we climb the river bank and wend our way through a labyrinth of passages and paths to reach the magnificent Myat-thalon Pagoda.
We visit a number of teak monasteries including the Yout-saun-kyaung with its spectacular wood carvings. We also explore an area of splendid colonial houses.
We tour a selection of the 3,000 listed monuments at this World Heritage Site, Pagan.
Cruise all day through the great Lower Chindwin plain.
Arriving in the busy port town of Monywa will be a bit of a shock after the peace and remoteness of the Chindwin. We will explore the town and time permitting make a quick trip to the Thanbodi Temple with its million Buddha images – a sort of Buddhist Disneyland! Beyond Monywa we enter the Upper Chindwin. The river narrows and the forested hills fall away to farmland we pass a number of attractive villages like Kin or Kanee where we can stretch our legs.
Mingkin was rediscovered by Paul Strachan in 1987 and described in some detail in his book Mandalay: Travels from the Golden City. It remains for Paul the most art historically interesting site in Myanmar (more so than the now spoilt Pagan) with its Konbaung court style teak monasteries sumptuously decorated. Mingkin may be described as the Luang Prabang of the Chindwin.
Mawlaik replaced Kindat as the administrative capital but ironically the Myanma refused to move there from upstream Kindat. It was mainly settled with the company houses of the by the Scottish owned and run Bombay Myanmarh Trading Corporation in the 1920s and 1930s. There are many splendid ‘Dak Bungalows’ set around a verdant golf course. Mawlaik and the other towns of the Upper Chindwin can only be reached by boat so cars are few. There is a dreamy otherworldly quality to such places and truly one feels that one has travelled there in the Pandaw time machine!.
Pantha was an important oil refinery belonging to the Indo-Myanmar Petroleum Co (Steel Brothers). We pass the mouth of the Yu River which drains the Kubu valley that provided the route for a Lieutenant Grant to march to the relief of the Manipur garrison when the chief commissioner of Assam was massacred in a local rebellion. Sitthaung was the final resting place of a number of IFC steamers scuppered there in 1942 in an ‘act of denial’ from the advancing Japanese who were a matter of hours behind. We hope to find remains of these ships as we have in the past at Katha on the Irrawaddy. It was from here that the survivors of the Japanese invasion marched out to Tamu on the India border.
Toungdoot or Hsawng-hsup in Tai, is an ancient Shan enclave which in British times still had a ruling sawbwa complete with palace and court. It will be interesting to see what has become of the royal family and their home and to see these Shan people so far from their Tai-Shan homelands.
We pass the Uyu River worked by gold washers on the way to Homalin, the furthest navigable point on the Chindwin for vessels of our size. Alister McCrae wrote of his visit there 1935 ‘I loved the atmosphere of quiet and peaceful living there. At night I could hear greylag geese as they came in to the flooded land around us from far away north’. Bird in 1897 says little other than that Homalin is the headquarters of a township, but has very little trade’. Until we get there and explore the place there is not much we can say!
All day cruising downstream.
All day cruising downstream.
Travel 20 miles from Kalewa to Kalemyo the gateway to the Chin State. Your cruise includes a flight Kalay 12.10 to Yangon 13.55 (K7 227). Please note that flight timing is subject to change.
Finished in brass and teak, the main and upper deck rooms are very spacious at 168 square feet (15.6 sqm). Much loved by all our passengers we have ensured that with each ship we build the stateroom remains the same. Our cabins do not have mini-bars, satellite TV’s, internet or phones.Pandaw passengers usually want to escape from the tiresome features found in international business hotels.
Many passengers describe life on board a Pandaw more like being a guest on a private motor yacht than a cruise ship. Where we go and what we see is intrepid in extreme. What you come back to is a floating base of discreet comfort, caring service and all the good things one looks for in life. All our cabins have the same size and Pandaw signature amenities. Choose from Main Deck, Upper Deck or Premium Upper Deck (Mekong only).
The Road to Mandalay
Well, actually it was the road from Mandalay, but that’s not really important. Annie and I travelled with two other friends on the wonderful 10-day Golden Land cruise from Mandalay to Yangon in December 2014. There were only 15 guests aboard, which makes for a very special experience. In fact , our three Pandaw cruises (down the Mekong from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, up and down the Rajang River in Borneo and now our Myanmar adventure) have all involved small numbers aboard, and we have always been spoiled and pampered!
The staff on board were outstanding, without exception. The standard of food on offer is amazing, with an Asian option always available (although as Pandaw’s clientele has broadened, the chilli zing has gone a little bit out of the food, but a word to the ever-efficient Chantelle and we were always asked whether we would like ‘spicy’). We had an unfortunate accident with a shaft or a propeller or something that makes the boat go, and needed a tug to push us down river for 7 of the 10 days. While there was some apprehension about noise and disturbance, the tug seemed to leave its noise behind us, and really the only time we were aware of it was when we were moored for the night, when it was alongside the boat. The Ayeyrwaddy is treacherous and shallow in the dry season, with ever-changing sandbanks and sudden shoals, and we were often forced to go really slowly, with a deckhand up front using a long bamboo pole to check depth – this all added to the excitement and adventure.
The level of service on a Pandaw boat is always exemplary, and this trip was no exception. The bar staff and the wait staff could not have been more helpful, and there were a couple of people on board with dietary restrictions, who were looked after with every attention to detail.
The shore excursions were wonderful, and we were privileged to be involved in a number of very special experiences. Our guide San Lwin is without a doubt the very best person with whom to share Myanmar. His knowledge and experience are extraordinary, and he was responsible for transforming our trip from a typically wonderful Pandaw experience into the very best Pandaw experience. Because of him, and because Buddha was smiling on him and us, we were invited into a private home in Sale (or Salay), a house all the Pandaw passengers walk past on their tour of this lovely town with an array of beautiful colonial architecture. According to San, there hasn’t been an invitation to enter before. The lovely lady of the house showed us all over her magnificent mansion. What a magical moment! And another magical moment: in Danubyu, I think, while we were having our trishaw ride around the town, we passed a wedding in a large hall, and before we knew it, we were all invited in and asked to share the wedding feast with the guests – all because San asked if we could just take photos. We were also very privileged to experience a special elephant dance on the banks of the river after our wonderful day in Bagan.
As always, we were sad to leave. As return travellers with Pandaw, we always feel as though we are being greeted by family when we embark, and as though we are saying farewell to family when we disembark. Pandaw occupies a very special place in our lives, and we intend to return again and again … we are booked on the new Red River cruise in Vietnam in September, and we can’t wait!
Thank you Pandaw.
Denzil O’Brien and Annie Shepherd (December 2014)