A Myanmar River Cruise on the “Irrawaddy River”= Unexplored! Authentic! Unspoiled!
Today it is rare to use those three words in the same sentence to describe an Ocean or River Cruise as most places have raced fast towards modernization, but not Myanmar, not just yet.
The Country has only recently opened her doors to foreigners so we were truly blessed to be joining AMA Waterways for their inaugural Irrawaddy River Cruise for 14 Nights to explore fascinating Myanmar (formerly known as Burma)… where we completely immersed ourselves in the culture as our fantastic Guides and the AMA Waterways staff took care of our every need.
Embarkation City of Yangon, Myanmar:
Onboard we learned that Yangon, formerly Rangoon, has a population of over 5 million people and it is the largest city and main economic hub of Myanmar. Walking about the town (The dock was in the heart of the city so it provided easy access) we saw nice colonial architecture but we could also see that Yangon still continues to thrive as a city of the past.
We saw: Local men & woman wear traditional longyi’s & woman wear “Thanaka” a white paste on their faces that acts as sun screen (which we learned all about in a lecture onboard) and the local men chew betel nuts which leaves a red stain on their teeth- quite unique to this area & a fascinating culture.
A benefit to taking a River Cruise, along with getting spoiled in luxury and taken to see all the highlights, is that you get time “on your own to explore what interests you”. So during our evening in Yangon we took a walk to the breathtaking Shwedagon Pagoda to see it lit up at night and snapped a few photo’s. TIP: Then across the street we enjoyed a delicious meal at the “Happy Cafe & Noodles Restaurant” and we would highly recommend it. Be sure to try the Sesame fried pork… delish!
The next day we took a guided tour of the top sites in Yangon which we thoroughly enjoyed by a comfy bus while our guide told us more about the history & stories of the area.
The legendary & massive “Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda” which contains an over 200 foot long reclining Buddha.
We took a Tour of the spectacular “Shwedagon Pagoda”… WOW! This is one of Myanmar’s most important religious sites in the Country.
And we snapped a few pictures at the breathtaking Kandawgyi “Royal” Lake:
After Yangon they took us on an unforgettable journey through Myanmar as we sailed the magnificent Irrawaddy River…
On multiple occasions we pulled into the side of a riverbank and the staff hurriedly made us a walkway, sometimes carving steps into the earth, so we could easily and effortlessly go on an excursion in another fascinating town.
What we remember most though is seeing the facial expressions of wonder & amusement from the locals of small villages who looked at us Caucasians for the very first time as we stepped off the ship. We would love to know what they were thinking & saying to each other as they stared, pointed & pondered us and then conversed among themselves…
…whatever they were saying, it must have been positive since they would then smile, wave, say “Mingalaba” and bow- making us feel very welcome! Automatically then we felt “Privileged” to be in their presence and in Myanmar.
Check out the map below to see where we were:
Because it’s such a long flight, we flew to Bangkok, Thailand 1st and spent 3 Nights there getting over the jet-lag and then we stayed 1 night in the embarkation city of Yangon, Myanmar (see map above) before the Cruise. We decided to stay only one night in Yangon as it is more expensive there, primitive and Bangkok would provide better touristy options for 3 days especially since we had never been.
What Else Did We Experience on our “Irrawaddy River” Cruise in Myanmar:
During several lectures and movies shown onboard the ship about Myanmar we learned that the Country sits in the Southeast of Asia and it is bordered by China, Laos, India, Bangladesh and Thailand. It is recognized and is well known as Burma but was changed to Myanmar (pronounced as “Me-N-Mar”) in 1989 by the new military government.
The culture & cuisine has heavy influence from India & China, so we were surprised to see many delicious Burmese dishes containing curry. (we had some very tasty meals) The staples are rice, vegetables and fruit as most of the country is still used for farming. So as you can imagine, the countryside is lush with greenery and shared with peaks of gold temples, pagodas and stupas. Couple that with being unexplored, authentic & unspoiled and it makes Myanmar a Cruising dream.
Walking about the cities & towns of Myanmar, there were not one fast food restaurant or chain store in sight… that’s how authentic the country still is today. And although we visited several well manicured parks and lakes, we also saw many areas where locals lived that resembled slums so it is easy to see that Myanmar is in fact one of the poorest counties in the world.
During walking tours with our guides we visited a family’s home and here are some of the pictures we took:
… The upside, contrary to modern belief, is that the people are among the most down to earth, happiest and genuine people we have ever had the privilege to meet.
Check out Shawn below with two children who are learning about becoming Monks, they were so sweet…
… Many loved ones were concerned with us flying to Myanmar simply because it is unfamiliar to them, but we have never visited a place where we were so warmly welcomed with smiles and warmth. Like we said, we were the main attraction for the locals and we felt privileged to be their guests. Safety was never a concern for us. Just check out this sign that is posted throughout the country:
We Cruised The Irrawaddy River onboard this puppy 🙂
For 14 Nights onboard our luxury River Cruise ship, AmaPura (above), we cruised 600 nautical miles of the 1300 nautical mile “Irrawaddy river”… also known as “The Road To Mandalay” and is essential today for exporting goods.
The AmaPura took us from Yangon to Mandalay with many stops for sightseeing, excursions and time to enjoy the comfy loungers on the sun deck relaxing, reading and snapping pictures of the surprise views we got from the ship as we sailed the magnificent river. Check out these pics we snapped along the way:
We took many modes of transportation (including buses and mini vans) but we also took some local modes of transportation that were so unique & fun that they were the excursion in themselves including horse carriages, jeeps, Tri Shaws & Tuk Tuks. Have a look at this local Taxi in one of the small towns. (see the inscription “Taxi” on the side of the carriage)…
…in Da Nyu Phyu a historic town along the rivers edge, we boarded a Tri Shaw (a bike buggy combo) and toured the entire village while stopping for pictures and walks through farmer’s markets, etc. So Fun!
“By exploring Myanmar we got to see how the people live off so little- yet live so big!”
What else did we see and do?
If you want to see more sites & sounds from our trip you can Check out our Myanmar video clips & pictures of our “Irrawaddy River” Cruise as pictures are worth a thousand words, as the saying goes. But a few examples of things we did during our River cruise include a walk through many interesting markets like this one below:
We got to Marvel at MANY of these stunning Temples:
We were given a blessing by a highly regarded Monk of Myanmar which was super special:
As many River Cruises do exclusive excursions to make you feel special, we visited the most beautiful city in Myanmar with over 2200 temples and pagodas still standing today called Bagan and we were taken to the Watch Tower and served canapes and cocktails while we watched the sun go down… it was really special and a scene will will never forget!. It is seen by many (including us) as equal in attraction to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Bagan, Myanmar deserves it’s own write up, so here it is.
We also took a ferry boat ride across a lake to Amarapura where we visited the “U-Bein Bridge”, the world’s longest teak wood bridge that was built over a century ago spanning 1.2 km long. We walked it for a while but the best part was the views from the river…
…where AMA arranged a 2 person teak boat ride for each of us and served us champagne while we watched the sun set across the teak bridge. It was unforgettable…
Preparing for your River Cruise to Myanmar & Great Tips:
1. A smile goes a long way but knowing a few common words like thank you & hello go even further. So here are a few words to practice before you arrive, you’ll be happy you learned them! (If you type these into Google usually you can hear how they’re pronounced)
Please= Kyak su pyu yeah
Thank You= Kyay su bae
You’re Welcome= Ya par deh
2. Knees and shoulders will be required covering a lot during tours for both men and woman, so having a shawl handy and packing proper clothes will go a long way. Spaghetti straps won’t do in many places! 🙂
3. You will visit some schools and pass many children on tours. So if you would like to bring school supplies for the schools and have pencils or small toys to hand out to the kids as you pass them on the streets- you’ll find much joy in doing that. Other ideas of what to bring: toothbrush/toothpaste or money for donations to support education.
4. Please pack (don’t expect to purchase these items in Myanmar): sunscreen, hand sanitizer, fly repellant and an old pair of sturdy walking shoes or sneakers. (They will get dirty).
5. Bring a lap top & movies as the onboard entertainment system isn’t perfect due to internet issues in Maynamr. We were glad we did!
6. USD is readily accepted in Myanmar. Bringing a large stack of $1 USD’s is helpful for tipping and bartering for smaller gifts. It would be best to arrive in Myanmar with your entire travel budget in US dollars, as ATM’s are still very hard to come by (although this may change). If changing money to kyat, best place is the airport once you arrive.
7. IMPORTANT: The USD bills need to be in excellent condition, as money changers will not accept them with rips or tears.
And finally, if you are considering exploring Asia for the first time, we wouldn’t recommended Myanmar as your first River Cruise to Asia… try China or Vietnam & Cambodia first and then explore more authentic Myanmar later as they’d be a little less culture shock your 1st time over.
Either way, we hope you get to visit this Beautiful & Fascinating part of the World soon!!
Call or email us anytime with questions and to help you plan your next Ocean or River Cruise.
Nancy & Shawn
Your Trusted Cruise Experts!