The Pandaw fleet pays homage to the glory days of river cruising in colonial Burma, when the Irrawaddy River was known as The Road to Mandalay and the landscapes inspired writers such as George Orwell and Rudyard Kipling.
Today, the fleet resembles upscale versions of the ships of the past, decked out in teak and brass. Steamer chairs on the sun deck are the perfect spot to settle in with an afternoon G&T and watch the world float by.
Cruising hard-to-reach stretches of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers in Myanmar, the RV Kalaw Pandaw offers an adventurous, yet luxurious, way to enjoy the golden land of pagodas and temples. The seven-day Bagan to Mandalay cruise is a leisurely way to take in the essence of what Myanmar has to offer; a shortened four-day itinerary is also offered.
With a maximum of just 36 passengers, the double-decked ship doesn't feel crowded. An easy rapport develops with the local crew, who are exceptionally kind and attentive. Food is very good, and the free-flow of local beer and spirits is well-received.
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Excursions and enrichment activities are focused on engaging with the local culture, religious monuments and village life. It is an eye-opening trip and one that will leave passengers thinking about Myanmar's past, present and future, long after they disembark.
Pandaw's cruises in Myanmar tend to attract an over-50 demographic, with passengers coming mainly from the UK, Australia, the US and a few from Europe. Passengers on the seven-night cruises are time-rich, with an interest in exploring the culture of Myanmar's towns and smaller villages. Those who choose the shorter four-night itinerary are looking for a short break on an interesting river with plenty to see and do.
English is the official onboard language.
With its generous policy of waiving single supplements on several select sailings throughout the year, the RV Kalaw Pandaw is popular with solo passengers, as well as those travelling in groups of odd-number size (for instance, a couple travelling with a friend or family member in a separate room). Some couples even like to take advantage of the 'no single supplements' offer to travel together, in separate cabins.
During the school holidays, families with children are encouraged to take advantage of the 'kids travel free' promotion. During these times, the onboard demographic skews younger.
Passengers are free to dress as they please onboard this ship, with a relaxed, informal atmosphere at all times. It's rare to see anybody dress up for dinner.
The only exception is 'temple dress' required for the frequent excursions to pagodas, temples and other religious sites. At these times, it is requested that men and women dress modestly, covering shoulders and knees. It is acceptable to wear shorts and tank tops if a sarong or longyi is used to cover up.
Shoes must be removed during temple and pagoda visits. For convenience, it's a good idea to wear thongs/flip flops for these outings. Bare feet end up very dirty after walking around the dusty temples.
The sun can be punishingly hot in Myanmar, so do pack an adequate sun hat and sunscreen. Early mornings can be surprisingly cool, even well into March, so bring along a warm jacket, jeans and a wrap.
It would be entirely possible to not spend a cent onboard this ship. Tips are included in the cruise fare, as are shore excursions, Wi-Fi, all meals and most drinks (soft drinks, local spirits, beer, tea and coffee).
Although gratuities are included, many passengers choose to give a bit extra to the hard-working Burmese crew and freelance guide who travels with the group. A dollar or two is appreciated by shore excursion drivers (coaches, tuk tuks, horsecarts).
The currency onboard is US dollars, Burmese kyat or credit cards for amounts over US$30 (Visa works best, Mastercard works most of the time).
Add-ons such as pre- or post-nights in Yangon or Inle Lake, as well as domestic flights, can be arranged and paid for directly through Pandaw or your travel agent.
Fascinating, if at times fraught, cruise through over 2000 years of history.