In this hyper-speed, social media-run world it is nice to know there is still a place where you can turn it off and take things slow. No, this does not refer to the bank or doctor’s waiting room, or phone queue to the airline desk. This refers to a place where urban troubles stay behind, far behind, and the pace of the ages takes over. You are on a river in Asia now. Go with the flow.
Few small vessel cruises in Asia quite come up to the thrills and exotic intrigue to be experienced on an Orient-Express river cruise through Myanmar. Many travelers may know the Road to Mandalay, the O-E cruise along the Irrawaddy, offered in three- to 11-night journeys between Mandalay and Bagan.
The 43-cabin river ship has been sailing the Irrawaddy for 17 years and remains popular with its recently refurbished staterooms, dining styles and tours into this newly opened destination – so popular, in fact, it is launching a new ship next month.
The Orcaella, named for the dolphins known to inhabit the Irrawaddy, makes its inaugural cruise on July 22 from Mandalay on an 11-night maiden voyage up the Irrawaddy and onto the Chindwin River into the foothills of the Himalayas. The cruise will venture as far north as Homalin, just 36 miles from the Indian border.
The 200-foot Orcaella’s more compact draft and length means it can reach lesser visited destinations, providing guests with the opportunity to engage with rarely seen and visited communities in the forests and backwaters of Myanmar.
Orcaella is a traditional Irrawaddy Flotilla ship built by local craftsman in Yangon with stylish, contemporary interiors by known international architects and local craftsman. There are 25 air-conditioned cabins (some interconnecting) and suites on board Orcaella, all featuring floor to ceiling sliding glass doors with Juliet balconies opening onto the river. Cabins break down into two Balcony Suites, 15 State Cabin suites and eight Deluxe Cabins across two decks, all facing the river, air-conditioned and with private bathrooms. Other onboard amenities include a restaurant, lounge area, bar, boutique, swimming pool, fitness and spa center, yoga classes and an onboard physician.
The Orcaella’s Itinerary
The ship’s schedule includes cruises on two different Myanmar rivers.
Gorges of the far North: is an 11-night cruise of over 682 miles from Mandalay to Bhamo, to the foothills of Yunnan, finishing at the plain of temples at Bagan.
The Jewels of the Irrawaddy: is seven-night cruise from Yangon to Bagan, with a visit to the Pyi Taw Pyan Pagoda, known as the “Retuning Home Pagoda”, which houses the famous bronze Buddha once stolen by the British Army and later returned by order of Queen Victoria.
The Orcaella’s initial voyage will be the “Discovering the Chindwin River” itinerary below:
Day 1: Yangon-Mandalay-Chindwin Confluence
Arrive in Mandalay and enjoy a sightseeing transfer to the ship. Visit Mandalay city for a look at the revered Mahamuni Temple and the Kuthadaw Pagoda (or “golden palace”) before continuing to the ship mooring at Shwe Kyet Yet village. Ship sets sail for the Chindwin confluence.
Day 2: Confluence-Monywa
Bus journey to Monywa and the colorful, carnival-like Thanboddhay Pagoda, a temple from the mid 12th Century with walls covered in tiny images of Buddha. Continue on to Bodhi Tataung, the site of “1,000 Buddhas” and the magnificent 424 ft Standing Buddha.
Day 3: Monywa-Moktaw
Sail from Monywa to Moktaw, a very typical agricultural village. Walking tour of the village and a visit to the Monastery housing the Shwe Moktaw Buddha. Watch traditional Noviciation Ceremony, regarded as a very important moment for the young Burmese boys and believed to bring great honor to the family.
Day 4: Maukkadaw-Kalewa
Early morning ‘tea-shop’ experience in Maukkadaw and a visit to the local school. This town is known as teak port with many houses built using solid teak in the traditional style. Sail towards Kalewa, enjoy lunch and the amazing scenery through jungle thick gorges.
Day 5: Kalay-Mawleik
Early morning excursion by local bus to the town Kalay, the trade gateway to India. An interesting town with a lively market and many old Baptist churches. This tour will give an insight into a different aspect of Myanmar religion and lifestyle. Continue to Mawleik for a late afternoon tour of this historically important town – once the Administrative centre for the Bombay Burmah Trading Company in the 1920s and 1930s. Take a local tuk tuk truck and drive past the remnants of the old wooden colonial houses and the impressive Administrative Building.
Day 6: Mawleik-Sittaung
Full day of sailing.
Day 7: Sittaung-Midriver
Optional early morning trek in Sittaung, a small village surrounded by a patchwork of brilliant-green paddy flats, once known as the “short-cut to India.” The road to India still exists (36 miles to the Border). Beautiful view from the small village pagoda.
Day 8: Homalin
This is the furthermost destination on the Chindwin River, the bustling town of Homalin. Excursion by local tuk tuk to the Buddha Lotus Garden and Pagoda.
Day 9: Homalin-Midriver
Full day of sailing.
Day 10: Mingin-Kani
Morning tour in Mingin, a very important town during the reign of King Mindon. Visit the impressive Mahar Minkyaung Monastery built in 1912 in a distinctly European style (including Italian glass windows). The monastery houses the ‘Shwe Sagar’ Buddha, one of 10 Buddhas carved from a single trunk of wood around 1000 years ago. Continue to Kyidaung, typical quaint Burmese village, and Kyidaung Oo Monastery. Visit the 300-year-old monastery at the centre of village life. Afternoon visit to Kani, which was made famous as the home of the Nat spirit, “Lord of the White Horse.” Visit the Nat Shrine, experience a real NatPwe that pays homage to the Nat of Kani. Watch the sunset over the Chindwin from a cliff-top vantage.
Day 11: Kani-Bagan
Arrive in the ancient capital Bagan and visit important historical sites.
Day 12: Bagan-Yangon
Flight to Yangon and onward travel.
Prices start at $5,610, per person, double. Prices include all table d’hôte meals and accommodations on board, plus domestic economy class flights, transfers and sightseeing in Myanmar according to the itinerary.