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)