One of the most breathtaking and luxurious adventures in Southeast Asia is taking a cruise along the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. The river is the 55th longest river in the world at 2,170km but is in the top 10 rivers in terms of discharge at 13,000 litres per second. The river begins at the confluence of two rivers in Kachin State and discharges into the Andaman sea through a vast 10,000 square mile Delta.
The river is navigable all year round from Yangon to Bhamo, close to the Chinese border, and for part of the year as far as Myitkyina close to the confluence. There are three defiles between Mandalay and Myitkyina, the most spectacular of which is the second defile below Bhamo. Between here and the Delta the river varies hugely from mountains to plains. In the defiles the width is but a couple of hundred feet but in the plains it can be miles wide. In the low water season sand islands appear, many farmed on a seasonal basis, and navigation channels become windy and often hard to find.
Cruises along the Irrawaddy are fast becoming Asia’s most popular river cruise destinations and the most popular route is from Bagan to Mandalay and takes only a few hours but most companies offer three or four days tour packages that include hotel stops and add on sightseeing adventures in Bagan, Yangon, Mandalay and Inle Lake which is famous for its fishermen leg-rowers. The journey consists of stunning scenic views and jungle covered riverbanks, picturesque rice paddies and glimpses of local life being played out along the riverbanks with an abundance of beautiful temples lining the route.
Most cruise companies offer the route between Mandalay ( which is the the country’s second largest city ) and Bagan. Bagan is ancient former capital city which is now a World Heritage site and contains around 4,000 pagodas, temples and Buddhas, including the world’s largest reclining Buddha. Mandalay, which also used to be the capital city is home to a huge number of monks and monasteries and has more than 2,500 Buddha images,.
There are a number of cruises that are on offer which you can take from anywhere from one day to 21 days and to suit all budgets. For one day cruises Alliance Myanmar Cruise offer Bagan – Mandalay and Mandalay – Bagan on their RV Panorama 40 seater ship which includes breakfast and lunch. If you would like to spend time on cruise boats itself then Ancient Cities Flotilla offer 2 and 3 night cruises which pass through Migun and Ava at Innwa and they also offer you opportunity to see the Irrawaddy dolphins.
For those tourists that are after more luxury the Sanctuary Ananda Cruise offers a custom built ship by local craftsmen using traditional materials and offers 20 spacious suites on three decks including the largest suite on the river, the Owner’s Suite. There is also a sundeck with an outdoor pool and the Kansi panorama lounge. Cruise ranges range from 3 nights up to 11 nights.