Burma (renamed Myanmar since 1989), bordered by five countries, namely Laos, Thailand, China, India and Bangladesh, is a calm land of mythical rivers, glistening lakes, emerald forests, centuries-old villages and warm people. Its glittering stupas and temples, ancient monasteries and shrines, vibrant festivals and colourful markets, makes Burma a fascinating destination for travellers. One of the best ways to discover, uncover and explore the best of Burma is on a river cruise on the Ayeyarwady River.
The majestic Ayeyarwady River (or Irrawaddy River) is Burma’s largest and the most central commercial waterway that traverses over 1,300 miles, dividing the nation from north to south. The river meanders serenely from its glacial origins in the towering Himalayas through rampant jungle highlands and sun scorched plains to its mangrove delta at the Andaman Sea. The Burmese economy and people are completely dependent on its essential natural source. Bamboo rafts, ferries, fishing boats and barges, all perform their trade on the river, making it Burma’s cultural, historical and economic lifeline.
Renowned as the “Road to Mandalay,” the Ayeyarwady River is a gateway to Burmese Buddhist civilisation that is over millennium old. The legendary Mandalay, ancient cities with elegant monasteries perched above canopied trees, the stunning temple city of Pagan, ruined ancient temples, untouched villages, captivating panoramas and remarkable culture; all are accessible via the magnificent Ayeyarwady River. If you cruise north of Mandalay, you catch scenic views— cruising past teak forests, traditional riverside villages, lavish shrines, and a host of animal and bird life.
Burma has remained unchanged and isolated by foreign influences since 1962, when the British left. If you want to go back in time and experience being part of Asia in colonial times, as very little has changed since then, you must take a river cruise along the Ayeyarwady and its mysterious tributary, the Chindwin to understand Burma’s unique history and gain a unique sight into this intriguing country’s way of life.
The cruise ships running on Ayeyarwady are like floating hotels, offering spacious suites, comfort, luxury, impeccable service and guided excursions. The best time to take a river cruise on the Ayeyarwady River and Chindwin River is between November and February as the weather is mild and the rainfall is the least at this time.
A typical itinerary covers:
The capital and the largest city of Burma (Myanmar), Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is one of the best attractions of the country. As over 90% of the Burmese people practice Buddhism, you will discover that elegant pagodas are present as a natural part of the scenery. When here, begin your exploration with a visit to the stupefying Swhwedagon Pagoda – believed by many to be the world’s oldest pagoda. It is embellished with 5448 diamonds, 1485 silver and gold bells and 2317 rubies and numerous other precious stones; in the centre there is a huge emerald that captures the first and the last rays of light, and on the very pinnacle is a golden orb that seizes an unbelievable 76-carat diamond. Next, walk through the meandering city streets; behold the British-colonial architecture and explore the golden Sule Pagoda. Following it, visit the Chinese and Indian quarters and get an insight into city’s local life.
Next make a stop in Bagan and see some of the most significant pagodas in Burma, one of them being the golden Shwezigon. At present there are about 2,300 monasteries, pagodas and temples standing tall in the plains surrounding the city, out of the estimated 13,000 that were built between the 9th and 13th centuries, making Bagan one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites. When here, do visit the Dhammayangyi temple, which is one of the best preserved monuments of Bagan Archaeological Zone. Following it, see the splendid Ananda temple that is said to have been constructed as a replica of a celebrated Himalayan cave temple. Other than the temples, soak in the truly stunning sunrise and sunset view and stroll in the local handicrafts market and lacquer workshops where craftsmen use ancient techniques to create sensational works of art.
House to over 3,000 nuns and monks, Mandalay is widely considered as the spiritual centre of Burma. When here, tour across Ava, the old capital, and visit the ancient, wooden Bagaya Monastery; visit the Shwenandaw Monastery, the only existing construction from the original royal palace complex, and marvel at the intricate carvings; behold the exquisite Buddha statue that is covered over 6 inches of gold leaf housed in the revered Mahamuni Pagoda; and do see the ‘World’s Largest Book’, which has over 700 stone slabs inscribed with Buddhist teachings. Don’t miss out an unforgettable sampan ride at sunset at U Bein Bridge in nearby Amarapura.
While you will be awe-inspired by Mandalay’s top sights, it is the people who will win your heart. When here, visit the lively Jade Market; catch a glimpse of the lives of locals; get monks perspective of this charming country; interact with children and farmers and learn more about their life and work. Learn how people earn their living by selling fresh produce at local markets, by making candy from toddy palm tree sap, or by making the famous 50-gallon Martaban pots.
If you have more time available, do visit the Inle Lake, surrounded by fog-shrouded mountains. Meet people from different tribes at the morning market; visit the lake’s main sanctuary – Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda; learn about local crafts by visiting silversmith or at a weaving village; and discover how classic Burmese cigars are created by hand. The lake is the lifeblood for thousands of Burmese who earn their livelihood off of it. Admire the stilted houses dotting the shoreline; observe the local Intha tend their floating gardens of cucumbers, aubergine, tomatoes, and more and see them fish using the popular one-legged rowing technique. Just rest and relax in this picturesque setting.
Tour Duration: 14 days (Cruise From Pyay to Mandalay)
Day 1: YANGON, MYANMAR
Arrive at Yangon and check-in to your hotel for. Rest of the day is at your leisure.
Day 2: YANGON
Today explore the city. Visit Sule Pagoda, the city centre, Kandawgyi Lake, the Shwedagon Pagoda and the enormous reclining Buddha at Chaukhtautgyi Temple. Do shop for clothing, local delicacies and handicrafts at Bogyoke Aung San Market (Scott’s Market).
Day 3: PYAY
After breakfast board a motor coach for your drive to Pyay (Prome). On the way, see a Buddha statue that is said to have healing powers. Embark your cruise ship and tour this former capital city. See the highly revered Shwesandaw Pagoda. At night, meet and mingle with your fellow travellers at dinner.
Day 4: THAYETMYO
Ship will make a stop at Thayetmyo. Behold numerous well-preserved colonial-style buildings and houses dating from the mid-1800s. Explore the covered market as well.
Day 5: MINHLA – MAGWE
Today, the ship will make a stop at Minhla, place where great battle occurred during the second Anglo-Burmese War. Here take a local boat and visit Minhla Fort and Gwechaung Fort, built by Italian engineers in 1860. Later visit Magwe and walk up to the hilltop Myathalun Pagoda.
Day 6: SALAY
Today the ship will cruise to Salay (Sale), house to over 50 monasteries built of teak. Here, visit Yokesonekyaung, the region’s oldest wooden monastery. Also see the largest lacquer Buddha housed in the magnificent 13th century Man Pagoda.
Day 7: THANTKYI – BAGAN
Today, go for an excursion up Thantkyi Mountain and visit the Thantkyi Pagoda. Later, the ship will stop at Bagan. Here visit the Ananda Temple and the golden Shwezigon Pagoda.
Day 8: BAGAN
After a stopping at the Nyaungoo Market, take an excursion trip to Mt. Popa, fabled home of animist spirits. Later, take a guided tour of the Bagan Archeological Zone, packed with thousands of temples, pagodas and stupas. Visit some of the most unique pagodas and Gubyaukgyi Temple that has frescoes portraying scenes of Buddha’s life. Finally, stopover at a nearby village and a lacquer ware workshop before returning to the ship,
Day 9: YANDABO
Today the ship will depart for Yandabo, a peaceful village renowned for its delicately crafted terracotta wares. Here, see local artisans giving pottery-making demonstration as well as catch glimpses of typical village life.
Day 10: INWA
Today, the ship will make a stop at Inwa (Ava), the former Burmese kingdom capital for over 400 years. Here, see the sights in a horse-drawn cart: the Bargaya monastery, the remarkable Mahaaungmyebonzan monastery, and the “Leaning Tower of Inwa”.
Day 11: SAGAING – MINGUN
Today, the ship will stopover at Sagaing. Here visit Soonuponyashin Pagoda, a silversmith’s workshop, Uminthonese Pagoda and Kaunghmudaw Pagoda. Further at Mingun, behold massive ruins of Pathodawgyi; a 12-foot high bronze bell and the Myatheindan Pagoda.
Day 12: MANDALAY
Today tour Mandalay’s most iconic sights, like the bronze Mahamuni Buddha. Visit skilled craftsmen’s workshops and see them make tapestries, marble carvings and thin sheets of gold. Also see Mandalay Hill, Kuthodaw Pagoda and Shwenandaw monastery. Finally, walk over the world’s longest teak bridge, the U Bein Bridge in nearby Amarapura. Finally, enjoy your Farewell Dinner on board.
Day 13: YANGON.
After breakfast aboard the ship, fly back to Yangon and check in to your hotel. The rest of the day is at your leisure.
Day 14: YANGON
After breakfast, bid farewell to Burma and proceed to the airport to board your homeward flight or take an optional post-cruise extension to Inle Lake.
Cruises in Burma:
Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. launched river cruises in Burma in July 2013. Their cruise named Orcaella offers a collection of cruises allowing travellers to access the very heart of this bewitching country. Operating between January to April and July to December, Orcaella offers 7 and 11 night cruise itineraries on the majestic Ayeyarwady and Chindwin Rivers with enough leisurely cruising time. The ships “Orcaella” and “Road to Mandalay” boast of spacious cabins, sun-splashed observation decks, and cooling swimming pools that that allow travellers to truly experience the sounds, scents and sights of Burma.
With a fleet of 19 ships, California based AMA Waterways, is one of the latest entrants in river cruising world that offers its travellers guided port stops, spacious staterooms, complimentary wi-fi, regional cuisine and complimentary bikes to travel and explore the local areas. AMA Waterways offers “Golden Treasures of Myanmar”14-day river cruises to the breathtaking Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar.
CruiseBay is India’s first and only Cruises-only Holiday Company with a website www.cruisebay.com that features over 1000 cruise itineraries from 30+ cruise liners. In addition, we have pioneered the concept of CruiseBay Lounges in multiple cities in India with professionally trained cruise consultants to help clients plan their cruise vacation.