A luxury river cruise in Myanmar should start with a luxury stay at The Strand and then set a course along the Irrawaddy with the same saturation in comforts and conveniences. The venerated hotel recently launched a namesake river cruise option in Myanmar, travelers seeking a slow, luxurious river cruise to Mandalay can now do so on The Strand Cruise.
The Strand Hotel, the circa 1901 colonial iconic hotel on the banks of the Yangon River, was created by the Sarkies brothers, an Armenian team that also owned The Raffles Hotel in Singapore and the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang.
That vision and time is reflected in The Strand Cruise that started up in January with weekly three- and four-day languidly delicious journeys between Mandalay and Bagan.
Cruises along the Irrawaddy (also known as the Ayeyarwady) are a popular and fast emerging travel product now that the Burmese government has relaxed travel restrictions in Myanmar for foreign tourists. However, few cruise companies offer the imprint and rooted history in Myanmar that The Strand does. The hotel is approaching its 117th year as a premier hotel, known to dignitaries, royalty, celebrities, writers and captains of industry. Rudyard Kipling, author of the poem, “Road to Mandalay,” was a guest.
Guests of The Strand Cruise often begin or end their cruise with a stay at The Strand Hotel as guests fly into and out of Yangon. The Five-star property is currently under a meticulous renovation through mid-November to preserve the fine details and appointments that make the property so compelling. Nearby highlights in Yangon include the Shwedagon Pagoda and Sule Pagoda, in the heart of the city, magnificent buildings dating back 2000 years.
The city is also known as the land of lacquerware, and visitors can fine these works in Bogyoke Aung San Market, (10 minutes from The Strand and open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 5pm) as well as shop for summer sandals, jewels and gems, delicate lacquered parasols and colorful longyi, the ubiquitous Asian sarong. For antiques they head to Augustine and the shop houses of Dhamazedi Road. For gems and jewelry, it’s the Myanmar Gems Museum and its Gems Mart.
Passengers boarding in Bagan take a short flight to Nyaung U Airport where they are met by cruise staff and enjoy the scenic, 20-minute drive to the ship. Passengers gather in the garden of the oldest lacquer factory in Bagan for a lavish breakfast before boarding.
Onboard the four-deck, 27-cabin vessel, guests are guided to staterooms that have four levels of design space: from the 177-square-foot Deluxe Cabin, the 247-square-foot Strand Cabin, the 328-square-foot State Suite, and the 430-square-foot Strand Suite. The latter comes with a complementary spa session, complimentary night at The Strand and private airport transfers. There are only two of these, located at the bow of the ship. Cabins come with soft, high-threadcount linens, single-into-king beds, teak floors, floor-to-ceiling windows with French balconies, international television access, Wi-fi and 24-hour butler service.
The top deck comes with a pool, rare to find on river cruise vessels and a welcomed amenity in these hot climes, despite the adequate air-conditioning. A focus on spa and wellness aboard is accommodated in treatment rooms overlooking the river. And with only 56 passengers onboard, there is little crowding anywhere. An upper deck bar serves cocktails and wines (many local labels). A must try, however, is the “Strand Sour,” said to have been George Orwell’s favorite during his stays at The Strand.
Cruising the Irrawaddy
The Irrawaddy flows from the northern glaciers of the Himalayas through Myanmar to the Andaman Sea – around 1,348 miles in all, making it Myanmar’s largest river. And, like the Yangtze and the Mekong, it also serves as the river of commerce, moving goods and resources into and out of the region. A muddy river from glacial silt and commercial usage, it is only navigable for some 932 miles from the southern delta, but along those miles, one would be hard-pressed to see industrial marring, overbuilding or anything that isn’t pretty timeless and natural. Rather, golden pagodas and ancient stupas line the riverbanks where people live, fish, wash, trade. Time seems to halt on what can truly be described as a slow boat to Mandalay.
The journey begins in Bagan, an ancient city of 2000 temples. Guests can visit the ornate Ananda temple dating back to 1091; then there is the Shwezigon Pagoda, all-aglow in gold. Guests visit the Gubyaukgyi temple, known for its once colorful, but now faded wall paintings. Guests also visit Tant Kyi Taung pagoda, also known as the glass monastery. Legend has it that all four of these holy sites must be visited and given to prayer before midday, should one want to see a specific wish or desire come to pass.
Also along the way guests visit the rickety U Bein Bridge, said to be the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world. The .74 mile long structure crosses Taungthaman Lake, near Amarapura, a former capital just south of Mandalay. Watch locals on bicycles and monks in saffron crossing the lake, under them fisherman pole delicate skiffs in quiet waters.
Most tours offered are visits to sacred temples, an experience complemented most exquisitely with sunrise hot balloon tours over Bagan that The Strand Cruise arranges for around $330 per person.
Stops and spots along the way center around the once royal cities of Burma, the historical capitals of the country, featuring architecturally stunning Buddhist sanctuaries, tranquil charms of villages and main city centers. Ava, the imperial capital of Burmese kingdoms from the 14th to the 19th centuries, can be visited by horse drawn cart.
Rates for The Strand Cruise start at $1,782 per person, double, for a three-night Mandalay to Bagan trip in low season. Prime sailing season on the Irrawaddy runs September through April. Find a cool, dry season, between November and February. Monsoon rains and high humidity happen May through October.
Current promotions to be found include a 30 percent discount on selected sailings through the rest of the year, a special City and River packages that include a stay at The Strand in Yangon with breakfast, transfers and domestic flight on selected sailings in December.
A special themed sailing in February 2017 brings a treat to music lovers. On its Valentine’s Day 2017 departure passengers on The Strand Cruise will be joined by musicians from the Opera de Paris and Orchestre de Paris. During the four-day sailing, the artists will play a series of classical concerts both onboard and onshore with the Irrawaddy as a dramatic backdrop. Click here for seasonal promotions.
The Strand Cruise
4th Floor, Dusit Thani Building
946 Rama IV Road, Silom, Bangrak
Bangkok 10500, Thailand
(+66-0) 9 4979 1324
92 Strand Road
Bangkok 10500, Thailand
(+011 95) 1 243 377
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