Chindwin River Cruise by RV Pandaw
. Monywa - Mingkin - Mawlaik - Sitthaung - Toungdoot - Homalin by RV Pandaw
Myanmar Chindwin River Cruise by RV Pandaw, The loveliest of rivers
Pandaw Cruise: We will ply the Upper Chindwin weekly between Monywa and Homalin.
Cruise Price Includes: One way domestic flight Yangon/Mandalay-Kalewa resp Kalewa-Yangon/Mandalay Entrance fees, guide services (English language), gratuities to crew, main meals, locally made soft drinks, local beer and local spirits, jugged coffee and selection of teas and tisanes, mineral water.
Cruise Price Excludes: International flights, port dues (if levied), laundry, all visa costs, fuel surcharges (see terms and conditions), imported beverages such as wines, premium spirits and liqueurs, fancy soft drinks like Perrier, espressos and cappuccinos at bar and tips to tour guides, local guides, bus drivers, boat operators and cyclo drivers.
The Pandaw cruise package includes daily visits to places of interest, whether historical, religious or simple village life giving a wide view of the culture of the country. Every evening at evening cocktails, a brief is given of the next days journey.
All 5 cabins were occupied, with only 8 of us, 3 couples and 2 singles - there was no single supplement on my particular trip. The entire staff comprising the Captain, Engineer other crew member and Purser, Assistant Purser and Housekeeper (10 in all) plus the guide were amazing. Nothing was too much for them. Every hand helped when the boat docked for any of our trips, to get us off and on to the boat, Captain included.
The food was excellent, each day the salads were varied as well as the main and dessert courses. My trip was from 23 Dec to 2 Jan and it covered both Christmas and New Year. The buffet was over flowing in each case the Chef clearly trying to outdo himself on each occasion.
The boat was generally parked in a quiet location at night, so that the passengers could have a quiet sleep in a place of safety chosen by the Captain, hidden from any eyes.
New Year's Eve was celebrated on a sandbank, chosen again with safety of the passengers in mind, fully kitted out with paper lanterns, music etc, and the crew too were able to join the passengers for the night out. Paper lanterns, of different animals, bigger than 5' in height were set off into the sky in celebration by the passengers. We danced the night away till after the dawn of the New Year - what a wonderful memory.
The Captain was shy and unassuming, however hugely competent, always keeping in mind the comfort and safety of the passengers. One afternoon, in trying to avoid another boat stuck on a sandbank, there were many which shifted regularly, the current carried the boat into a sandbank. With great competence, despite the current against him, the Captain freed the boat after a 2 hour non-stop effort, to which there were loud cheers.
Very regularly there would be a member of the crew with a long marked pole, at the front to guide the Captain through the shifting sandbanks. I found it fascinating.
The people who work for and run Pandaw have a fantastic approach to everything they do and to every detail. They went out of their way to ensure that we enjoyed our cruise and felt safe and secure.
Pandaw is the only company that sails up to the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy and for six days of the ten day cruise we saw no other tourists. This type of adventure comes with some risk, in this case the risk of the boat getting stuck on a sandbank or two. Watching the crew getting us off a sandbank was an experience in itself.
Not everything goes to plan or schedule, so if necessary the crew improvise to find new excursions and/or alternative modes of travel (Burmese version of a speed boat). Most impressive was their ability to maintain a sense of perspective and humour even when things went wrong. This was typified by our last night when the captain moored the boat on a sandbank and the crew set up a “sandbank” farewell party. All the crew joined the party, dancing and singing with the passengers.
We travelled on the Kindat Pandaw, a reproduction of the original vessel built in 1886, it has a very shallow draft to allow it to sail up river. With 18 cabins it is relatively small and compact. However, as there were only 18 passengers on board it felt spacious and relaxed.
The teak cabins and bathrooms are small but perfectly designed with lots of storage space. We did not note any real difference between the upper and lower cabins.
There are a number of areas for passengers to sit and relax while on board, including an indoor air-conditioned lounge. The only negative was a couple of smokers on board, both of whom sometimes ignored the request to smoke at the end of the boat. Pandaw should seriously consider banning smoking.
The food was fabulous especially the Burmese salads at lunch time. Mohinga (a traditional Burmese breakfast dish) for breakfast every day would have been welcome. While we appreciate that the kitchen needs to cater for all tastes but these days I think they could get away with a bit more spicy food …
The excursions were generally very interesting but could be a bit slow due to the mix of passenger’s ages and fitness. However, we were able to mix things up by going on bicycle rides or independent walks. The crew managed to cater for most people’s needs providing additional guides and chaperones as needed. For one elderly passenger they provided a personal aid to help them on excursions, the aid even carried a chair so the passenger could rest as needed.
As I said at the start it is the crew who make this a great adventure. In particular, the Purser (Jimmy) and the Guide (Brian) provided great leadership.
We travelled as a group of five and everyone thought this was a great trip and highly recommend it.
Myanmar tourism has been severely affected by the press coverage in relation to the Rohyingya crisis and I had second thoughts about whether I should be travelling there. However, I am so pleased I did. All the people I came into contact with had no connection with the political situation but their livelihood is being seriously affected by it. They were, without exception, lovely, caring people. As a result of the downturn in tourism Pandaw chose to use a smaller boat for the cruise. They fortunately have a number of boats of different sizes. I know that some of the much bigger international cruise lines are simply cancelling their tours altogether as they do not have the facility to use a smaller boat. The RV Kindat can take 28 passengers but we were only 12 passengers to 17 crew - so you can imagine the level of service we received.
The boat itself is lovely, built along the lines of the old boats that used to ply the Irrawaddy in the early 19 centuries. It certainly brought back images of the British sipping their gin and tonics, or perhaps a cocktail, on the deck in times gone past – which is exactly what we did each afternoon. The teak everywhere was lovely with French double glass doors and then French double shuttered doors to every cabin. Looking at some of the other larger cruise boats that passed us, whilst no doubt extremely comfortable, just didn’t seem to have the same ambience with their aluminium sliding doors to the cabins. The cabins were a good size and your view was excellent whether you were on the lower or upper deck. The bathroom, whilst not big, was a decent size and the shower itself was a very good size with excellent water pressure and hot. My bathroom at my hotel in Singapore at the stopover on the way home was smaller than mine on the boat. The rooms were serviced 3 times a day,
The food on board was wonderful (we actually had 2 head chefs on board) and encompassed both Burmese and other international cuisines. The salads at lunchtime were a highlight – I never knew salads could be so tasty. At breakfast there was the typical buffet available but about another dozen hot dishes cooked to order. Dinner was four courses each night.
There were excursions every morning and afternoon (apart from two afternoons where we had talks or displays on board) and our guide was very good. He knew how much information to impart without completely overloading you. We visited pagodas, temples, markets, monasteries, weaving, jade, gold leaf and pottery workshops. At no time did we feel pressured to buy anything if we were visiting a workshop – we could just watch the demonstration of how things were made. Several evenings there was entertainment provided – local dancing, marionette puppets etc.
Crew from the boat always accompanied us on the organised excursions, waiting to help older passengers on uneven paths or with taking shoes on and off at all the temples if needed, towels to clean your feet afterwards or just those wonderful frozen towelettes to cool yourself down when it got too hot.
When the ship was docked you could happily wander ashore to have a look around if you wished and one of my favourite memories was watching some of our crew play a game of cane ball (rather like volleyball ) against another crew.