A very different experience
A journey into the relatively unknown land of Myanmar
As well as offering a dramatic countryside of gorges, a cruise on the Irrawaddy will also take you to beautiful cities with pagodas and temples reflecting the religious traditions of the land. Remember, when visiting temples, dress respectfully with your knees and shoulders covered. The cruise will take in the former capitals of Bagan, with remains of over 4,000 temples built between the 11th and 13th centuries, and Mandalay, with traditional waterfront excursions that include visits to the Golden Palace Monastery, the Kuthadaw Pagoda and the world’s largest ringing bell at Mingun.
A longer cruise will also stop at Pyay, where at Shwe Myet Hman Pagoda, you can see a unique Buddha statue wearing gold sunglasses. Visit the Shwesandaw Paya Temple, where what is believed to be strands of the Buddha’s hair and one of his teeth are kept. In Yangon, you will witness pilgrims and monks laying offerings at the Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the city’s golden pagodas. You can also visit the lively bazaar of Bogyoke Market to haggle for souvenirs of tapestries, wood carvings and puppets.
With most Irrawaddy cruises lasting a week or less, it is likely that you will want to extend your stay in this fascinating country. It is well worth talking to your tour operator about hotel stays in Bagan or Mandalay. Increasingly, cruise operators are offering a combination trip of an Irrawaddy cruise preceded or followed by a stay elsewhere in Myanmar. A popular option is the floating villages of Inle Lake, where you can watch traditional craftsmen at work. To combine your cruise with a beach holiday, head to the clear waters of Ngapali, where you can relax, enjoy sumptuous meals of fresh seafood or enjoy water sports such as fishing and snorkelling.
Whenever you travel for your Irrawaddy cruise, the weather is likely to be very hot, so lightweight clothing is recommended. Don’t forget to wear long sleeves and bring sunscreen for skin protection. In the cooler season, you may need a light jacket for the evenings.
For those used to European river cruises, a journey along the Irrawaddy, with its fluctuating river levels and shifting sandbanks, is a very different experience. However, with its dramatic scenery of gorges and gilded pagodas, it will be one that you never forget.