” I was seeking out something very special so I took a river cruise in the “Golden Land” (better known as Myanmar), a luxur y expedition and a wonderful wa y of seeing the real heart of this timeless country. ”
It was to be a great mix of relaxation and adventurous expedition, a chance to be in touch with your inner being as you gaze upon the natural wonders that this land has to offer interspersed with the learning of new skills and hands-on activities such as learning how to make a gold leaf and sand paintings.
I found myself immersed in the rich culture and traditions of Myanmar, an experience that brought about a sense of serenity with a plethora of opportunities for peace and quiet, times to sit back, relax and enjoy the magnificent beauty that Myanmar has to offer.
RV Pandaw ll
In Yangon, we embarked on the RV Pandaw ll for a 14-day expedition. The Pandaw is an old school, 1930s design of small ship with marine detailing and architecture inspired by the old colonial ships of Myanmar’s history. It felt like I was returning to a past era, but thankfully it is well equipped with modern technology and facilities.
There is ample space too. With the lowest of ‘passenger to deck space’ ratios, you will always be able to find a place to wind down and read a book, meditate, bond with friends and family or meet new people on board.
The staterooms are inspired by colonial-era design but with a distinctive character that manifests exquisite contemporary comfort. I was pleasantly surprised to find that both my room and bathroom were indeed not your typical hotel room, they were spacious and had an earthy, homey feeling and with a cosiness that exuded elegant old-world charm.
The meals were excellent, and I was spoilt for choice with a wide range of delicacies, from local cuisine to exotic food. Breakfast is served buffet style while the main course meals of lunch and dinner are served at your table with a few choices to choose from based on your preferences. We were well nourished by the freshest and most mouth-watering delicacies prepared by brilliant chefs.
The Exciting Expeditions
This is a significant part of the Pandaw River experience. From a pleasant walk through the countryside and villages, to horse cart rides. The daily stops include tours of the historic capitals of Pagan with its 3,000 monuments, and Mandalay with its royal palace and many sites around the city and its rivers. Passing from lush teak forests around Prome to going through the near deserts of Middle Burma before reaching the former King’s capital in Mandalay, I got to experience some of the most basic local transportation available such as horse and cart rides and trishaws.
We enjoyed the best of both worlds, the morning walks by the crowded markets and a taste of daily life in the vibrant city but then getting away from the hustle and bustle to enjoy the slow-paced country lifestyle.
We saw old colonial buildings and colonial-style houses, we visited the oldest golf course in Myanmar and passed through the former British botanical garden. Other sights come to mind, the Yout-saun-kyaung monastery with its spectacular wood carvings and the awe of the magnificent view from Tan-Chi-Taung mountain. Overlooking the temples, trees and across the vast horizons, it was
There were many very memorable experiences. I learned to make a gold leaf at a “hammering cottage”. It took a substantial amount of time and effort to beat gold leaf into its final, very thin state similar to gold flake. The gold leaf is used as offerings and decorations in the temples and on statues of the Buddha.
Then there was my visit to the most sacred pagoda in the country, the Shwedagon Pagoda. Upon entering, you can buy gold leaf and make an offering with it by rubbing it on an image of the Buddha or by applying it onto the Buddha itself. I was able to witness the carving of Buddha statues from pieces of marble known as Sagyin stones. These marble stones are carefully carved into images of the Buddha in many different styles which are then sent to Buddhist monasteries all around Burma.
Chasing Sunsets, Art and Kindness
I’ll never forget one of the most stunning sunsets I had seen, we were on the U Bein bridge after a boat ride on the lake of ‘Taung Thaman. It was a postcard picture view and, to top it off, we were surprised with glasses of champagne to sip as watched the sun go down. On the final day, I strolled along Nwe-nyein and visited a pottery village where glazed 50-gallon pots have been produced for hundreds of years, from the 18th century up until today. Our guide took us to visit a monastic school in the village where we could donate money to fund the children’s school uniforms, food and stationery. It was heart-warming moment seeing everyone contributing to the children, lending a helping hand and offering some kindness goes a very long way
A Grand Farewell
Before I knew it, my two weeks had passed and, sadly, all good things must come to an end. We were hosted with a farewell cocktail party on the sundeck before dinner. We
spent that final evening together, catching up, enjoying the ambience and celebrating the end of what had been a wonderful journey.
My Final Thoughts
It was an experience of a lifetime, one that I have never experienced before and will never forget. As an avid solo traveller, the river cruise slowed down my usual pace of travel to one that was relaxing and gave me a much-needed breather.
If you plan to visit Asia I would recommend anyone to experience the Pandaw River Cruise. It gave me the relaxation and rejuvenation that I needed. It also gave me times of fun and the sort of adventurous expeditions I was seeking. It is family-friendly and indeed an experience to enjoy with your friends and family to have a break and bring you closer together. Being a travel and documentary photographer, it was marvellous to be ferried to different locations every single day. This gave me the opportunity to capture a myriad of sights, landscapes and people unique to each of the many locations we visited. Our guide, San Lin Tun, was blessed with extensive knowledge and experience and as she shared what she knew with us this added considerable value to the entire experience
Throughout the expedition, I was constantly interacting with Myanmar’s rich culture and traditions. I learned so much, experiences that I have found deeply enriching to the sum of my life experience. In addition to the travel experience, close friendships were forged with some of my fellow travellers and we have been in contact ever since then. The Pandaw River Cruise crew, from the service staff to the managers on board, gave us great quality of service. We were well provided for and everything was taken care of down to the minute details. Amazing food, great cocktails, beautiful scenery, a comfortable stay and fun side expeditions, what more could I ask for?
A special thanks to the general manager who took such great care of us and made sure that our everyday needs were met. He was always there for us, happy to help and with a smile on his face
whenever we reached out to him. This made us feel that we were in good hands and that we would be comfortable and well taken care of during the entire trip. After such a rewarding experience, I decided that I would love to visit Myanmar again. This had been my first experience of a boat cruise and it left me craving to try more cruises with Pandaw. They have an upcoming river cruise to India and that may well be the next cruise I take
A travel and documentary photographer based in Singapore. José’s work is inspired by the art of the storytelling he wishes to encapsulate within every photograph. José wants to connect with his audience in such a way that he can walk them through his travel journeys and photo series.