“Come you back to Mandalay. Where the old Flotilla lay: Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay? On the road to Mandalay, Where the flyin’ fishes play.” – Rudyard Kipling
Launched in 2015, the Strand Irrawaddy River Cruise incorporates the impeccable standards of the historic Strand Hotel in Yangon into a private cruise which transports up to 56 passengers between Mandalay and Bagan along the mystical waterways of the Ayeyarwady River. With itineraries of three or four nights, the cruise offers all the features passengers would expect from the Strand, from flawless service and gourmet cuisine to comfortable accommodation and daily excursions along the way. The cruise continues the Strand’s tradition of serving as a meeting place for explorers and raconteurs.
Kipling was a regular guest at the Strand in Yangon. If the Strand Cruise would have been on offer during Kipling’s time I think he would have enjoyed it immensely, as did we.
The Strand Irrawaddy River Cruise
After several relaxing days at the Strand Yangon, we took a quick flight up to Mandalay to meet up with the Strand Irrawaddy River Cruise team for our departure.
The Irrawaddy is described as Myanmar’s lifeline. The river starts its journey at the top of the snow-capped Himalayas then flows through roughly 960 miles, passing through the center of Myanmar, finally throwing itself into the Andaman Sea. Hundreds, if not thousands, of temples, stupas, and nats line its banks, many keeping the legends and folklore alive of how the waterway came to be.
Along the way, passengers may choose to spend their time on board relaxing by the pool or on the shaded sofas of the sun deck. For more enquiring minds, activities, lectures and historical demonstrations on the country’s many traditions and culture are on offer, as is the opportunity to mix and mingle with other passengers during cocktail parties thrown by the crew.
And then there are regular stops along the way, and excursions to take in the iconic landmarks and royal cities of Myanmar. These include the unique offering of a visit to the famous U-bein bridge, and a trip to four of the main temples in Bagan, including the rarely visited Tant Kyi Taung temple located on the opposite bank of the Ayeyarwady, which gives a breathtaking view over the World Heritage Bagan temple area. And visits to the royal cities of Mingun, Amarapura, Sagaing, and Ava, are made via traditional horse-drawn carts.
The cruise has access to exclusive moorings along the Ayeyarwady: right by Old Bagan itself, in Mandalay at the foot of one of the most ancient Buddhist monasteries on Sagaing Hill, and at a remote and picturesque sandbank that only appears during high season, for a private farewell dinner. Each of these locations delivers outstanding scenery and they make for memorable evenings on board the ship.
The Strand Yangon’s Executive Chef, Christian Martena, makes local cuisine one of the features of the Irrawaddy River Cruise, creating all menus and signature dishes alongside the Cruise’s resident executive chef, Youngyuth Champradang (Dang). Martena and Dang coordinate their menus with the cuisine of the areas through which the cruise sails, creating a travel adventure for all the senses.
Myanmar is a country rich in culture and one of the few places in the world where you can experience an indigenous culture relatively untouched by the modern world. Were it not for the iPhone in your hand, the cars on the road, and planes passing overhead, you could easily imagine that a hundred years has been reclaimed by history. This is one of the main reasons that a visit to Myanmar is such a treat — one that is surely only available for a few more years.
But it is also what makes traveling anywhere outside of the main cities impractical for the normal visitor. The infrastructure in the countryside just does not allow for timely movement between cities. That’s why the Strand Irrawaddy River Cruise is such a great trip: They allow you to float gently through the countryside accessing sights, sounds, aromas, and tastes that are virtually inaccessible by any other means. Truly the voyage of a lifetime.
For details, cruise dates and pricing go to; www.thestrandcruise.com
Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger
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