The Irrawaddy River (also known as the Ayeyarwady River) has shaped Burma's history; it is not only the country’s economic lifeblood but also the indispensable part of the Burmese spiritual life. Cruises on the Irrawaddy River offer travelers the great opportunity to contemplate incomparable scenery and explore the simple daily life of Burmese people along the river. If you strongly feel that you must travel to the majestic river, here is some practical information for you to have a successful tourist experience.
Best time for cruises on the Irrawaddy River
It’s better for you to visit the river during cool, dry season between November and February. It’s warm in the daytime but gets cooler at night. In March, the temperature and humidity level are dramatically higher. The rainy season lasts nearly 5 months, from late May through October. Due to the water levels of the Irrawaddy, the best time for cruises on the Irrawaddy River between Mandalay and Bagan runs from September through to April. Longer river cruises between Yangon (in the south) and Bagan and Mandalay (in the north) also happen at the same time. The voyages on the Chindwin River are undertaken in July, August, and September, while the in-depth journeys to Bhamo operate in August and September.
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Irrawaddy River Cruise Lines
Pandaw (pandawexpeditions.co.uk, 0208 326 5620) has pioneered cruises on the Irrawaddy River since the 1990s, and Pandaw River Cruises has an atmospheric fleet of vessels. Besides, Belmond (formerly Orient Express) has both the acclaimed Road to Mandalay and the Orcaella which is luxury and boutique in style. Sanctuary Retreats operates the brand-new Sanctuary Ananda. Both Scenic and Vantage use the Irrawaddy Explorer, and Grand Circle Cruise Lines sells Ayravatacruises, aboard the traditional R/V Paukan.
Tips for cruises on the Irrawaddy River
Visa: All visitors to Myanmar can require and obtain their visas through local consulates. From 2014, citizens of 100 countries can apply online for a tourist e-visa for entry by air via Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi using an online application form. It costs US $50 and takes five working days for processing, and applicants will receive an eVisa Approval Letter, which is valid for 90 days.
Bring cash with yourself for Myanmar travel: Only a number of luxury hotels and upmarket restaurants in Myanmar accept credit payment. As a result, bring cash with me is very necessary for Burma travels in general and cruises on the Irrawaddy River in particular. Although US dollar is widely used in Burma, only the Burmese currency, Kyat, is accepted in some particular places, and you can change your money for Kyat at your hotels/guesthouses, airports or banks. The exchange rate hovers around 980 Kyats to the dollar; however, many Burmese people apply 1000 Kyats against one dollar in common transactions.
Look for packages: Most river cruise operators offer ones including international flights into Mandalay or Yangon, as well as pre- and post-cruise hotels. It’s better for you to take advantage of these since you can rarely book online domestic flights from Yangon to Mandalay or Bagan and the flights are subject to change at short notice.
Pre and post tours: Ask your tour representatives to suggest independent sightseeing tours. Pre- and post-cruise extension tours include a few days staying at the peaceful Inle Lake, where you can discover the unique culture of ethnic minority groups surrounding the lake, and admire the stunning natural scenery as well as ancient pagodas. Alternatively, do a relaxing stay at Ngapali, the most unspoiled beach in Myanmar, where you can swim or fish in the crystal-clear waters, enjoying fresh seafood or rejuvenate yourself with spa treatments.
Show respect: Myanmar is quite conservative in dressing under the Buddhist impacts. Shoulders and knees must be covered when visiting temples or religious sites. Sandals and flip-flop are a good idea because shoes and socks must be removed before entering temples and pagodas. Due to high temperature and humidity, clothes made of lightweight materials such as cotton are recommended. As it can cool down in the evenings between October and February, it’s better for you to take jacket or light wrap. Sunglasses, sunhats, sunscreen and mosquito repellent are very necessary. If malaria-preventing medicines are recommended or required on your river cruise, ask the tour operator.
Cruises on the Irrawaddy River may be one of the most memorable parts in your Burma tours. Pay attention to the information about weather conditions, cultural differences, and other tips so that you will be able to have a wonderful trip.
Being the longest river in South Asia, Mekong River is characterized by the second richest biodiversity in the world, just after that of the Amazon, which includes 20,000 species of plants, 430 of mammals, 1,200 of birds, 850 of fishes and 800 of reptiles. A Mekong river tour is the great opportunity to admire the incredible scenery and discover local discover the local daily life along the river. If you are planning for your Mekong River cruises 2017, we will recommend the popular itineraries as a useful reference for you.
Best Time for Mekong River cruises 2017
Although Mekong River itineraries are offered for most of the year, an ideal time to make your trip is during the winter, from November to February. The reason is that it’s cooler (although still plenty hot) and the rainy season, from July to October, has finished. But even during the rainy season, a Mekong river tour is not such a bad choice that rains typically last only 30 minutes or so.
As the water levels of Lake Tonle Sap in Cambodia are seasonally affected, the itineraries of Mekong River cruises 2017 may be altered. The river reaches its highest water level in September. There is a strange fact that the Tonle Sap River linking the lake and the Mekong River together reverses its flow during flooding periods. The surge of river water makes the lake’s size six-fold larger and transforms it into one of the most productive fisheries in the world.
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Popular itineraries of Mekong River cruises 2017
A Mekong river tour is commonly made as part of a long land trip (two weeks or more), including several nights in hotels and other overnights aboard ship. Therefore, you should consider thoroughly the total package when choosing your cruise for a Myanmar travel. If you want only the portion of a river cruise, look for a seven-night trip such as the one offered by Avalon Waterways. Most Mekong River cruises start and end in Vietnam. The initial point is Hanoi and the final one is Ho Chi Minh City (popularly called Saigon) or vice versa. Included in the itineraries are a flight to Siem Reap and a sail on the Mekong, with ports in Vietnam and Cambodia.
In general, the itineraries are quite similar, consisting of the abovementioned cities and Phnom Penh, plus important temples; famous sites such as the Hanoi Museum of Ethnology and the Killing Fields; and major markets and rural villages along the Mekong. It’s slightly different from them in terms of stops; for example, a visit to a local orphanage in Kampong Cham is included in the tours of Viking River Cruises as the company supports the orphanage, while AmaWaterways adds a stop at the English-language school in Ta Toum that they sponsor. All lines offer an opportunity to shop for local handicrafts, such as weaving, silver and lacquer pieces, but the exact addresses of shopping may be different.
If you feel very necessary to see Ha Long Bay (one of the best world’s natural wonder) in your Mekong River cruises 2017, note that some lines include the bay in their basic itineraries, such as AmaWaterways. Other lines offer Ha Long Bay as an additional choice to their cruise, and you have to pay an extra fee. Bangkok is another popular extension. For most travelers, it takes a long time (several hours) by air to get to Southeast Asia, so stay as long as you can and see as much as you can as long as budget and time permit.
Mekong River Cruise Lines
The major river cruise lines offer a variety of Mekong tours in Cambodia and Vietnam. These include Avalon Waterways, Pandaw, AmaWaterways, Uniworld, CroisiEurope Aqua Expeditions, Vantage Deluxe World Travel and Viking Cruises.
As the itineraries are quite similar among the cruise lines, the best strategy to choose a suitable Mekong River tour for you is taking a look at your budget and the services included in the cruise fare for your Burma tours. Uniworld, for instance, provides beer and wine throughout the day while the others offer free beer and wine at dinner (and possibly lunch as well). Be a smart customer to have a comfortable and pleasant trip!
A river cruise in Asia is something really special for those with a spirit of advance to admire stunning natural landscapes and unique local cultures. The big three for Asia's river cruise regions are the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, the Yangtze in China and the Mekong in Myanmar, Vietnam, and Cambodia. In the scope of this article, we provide you with the useful information about a Mekong river cruise so that you will be able to have a successful trip.
The Mekong River is the longest in South Asia, at 4,350 km (2,700 miles). The Upper Mekong rises in the Tsinghai province of China and flows through Yunnan province and the eastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The Lower Mekong forms part of the border between Myanmar and Laos, and between Laos and Thailand.
Vientiane and Phnom Penh, the capitals of Laos and Cambodia respectively, are both directly located on the banks of the river, which flows into the South China Sea to the South of Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon), Vietnam.
Mekong river cruise has increasingly chosen by long-haul travelers, and with it, the choice of type and style of ship and itineraries. The typical itinerary of a Mekong river cruise is to travel between Siem Reap in northwest Cambodia, gateway to the Angkor region, and Phnom Penh, or between Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City. The route is full of prosperous cities, peaceful rural communities, floating villages such as Kompong Luong, floating markets, pagodas, and temples and endless rice paddies.
A highlight is a visit to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, a magnificent 12th-century stone structure and beehive-like towers which built in the jungle near Siem Reap. You could visit the temple complex twice or three times but sunrise or sunset visit is best to avoid both crowds and hot weather during your Myanmar travel.
Two typical itineraries
From Siem Reap, cruise to Chnok Trou (floating village), Kampong Chnang, Kompong Tralech, Koh Chen and end at Phnom Penh. The itinerary may be altered by low water in Tonle Sap Lake.
From Siem Reap, cruise to Chnok Tru, Kompong Chnang, Kompong Tralach, Phnom Penh, Koh Dek Chau, Chau Doc, Vinh Long, Cai Be, My Theo and end at Ho Chi Minh City.
Mekong river cruise tips
Beware of an intestinal upset: Facing stomach issues is an unfortunate fact for a lot of Westerners who visit this region. Even if you're careful to brush your teeth with bottled water only and avoid street food, it can occur. It’s better for you to remedies such as loperamide (Imodium) so that you can minimize discomfort and have a pleasant trip.
Don't forget insect repellent: Fire ants and tiny gnats and can be bothersome (especially around temples) even during the day, so preparing the bug spray is popular indeed.
Don't pet the monkeys and the dogs: These animals very cute, but they may make you infected with rabies, and the dogs can bite.
Learn how to cross the street in Vietnam. In the major cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, crossing the street is an adventurous challenge. Crosswalks (zebras, as they're called here) are useless. You should wait until there are no cars or trucks coming, and then step firmly and calmly into the street and cross it. Another solution for you is to wait until a local family crosses, and then merge into their group.
Plan for heat: Even in the "cool" season, the temperature in the Mekong Delta is very high. Wear loose clothes and avoid jeans and leggings during Burma tours. Pack extra tops or shirts as you won’t have multiple other choices out of them.
Be an adventurous -- but smart – eater: A Mekong river cruise may be certainly a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the appetizing local food, especially Pho (noodle soup). Prices are very, even in big cities. However, watch out when purchasing food from street vendors, particular ice in drinks dairy products, salads, and fruit.
Unlike road trips, a river cruise may be a little adventurous. As a result, finding information thoroughly and preparing carefully before your traveling will ensure you a success when you cruise Mekong.
You may hear the rumors that Myanmar tours and travel are expensive and you will always take money out of the wallet during your Burma tours. Generally, these rumors are a little true as most popular tourist destinations in Myanmar, mostly religious sites, will cost you a fee to enter. However, there are wonderful places to visit without any entrance fee. Remember these to reduce the cost of your Myanmar tours, particularly if you want to make cheap Myanmar tours.
Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda
In the pagoda is located one of the largest Buddhas in the world, which is 65m long and beautifully sculpted with 108 sacred symbols drawn on the soles of the feet (all are explained in English). The Buddha is created in a feminine form with blue eye shadow, long eyelashes made of steel wire and pink nails. There is a monastery here and you will see monks returning with food donated by local homeowners in the mid-morning. On the other site of the way is Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda, containing sitting Buddha made in 1990.
Address: Shwegondaing Road, Tamwe Township
Getting there: take a taxi
Opening times: daily, 6am-8pm
Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung
If most travelers consider Inle Lake as the most must-visit destination in Myanmar tours and travel, this monastery by the lake will make the trip to Inle Lake more interesting. The 200-year-old teak Ordination Hall has a magnificent carved wood ceiling and unusual oval windows. In the monastery are thousands of Buddha images, leading to a room full of colored glass mosaics illustrating Buddhist stories. As the light is poor in some areas, you should visit there in the mid-morning and bring with yourself a torch.
Address: North of Nyaungshwe
Getting there: cycle or walk from Nyaungshwe
Opening times: daily, 8am-6pm
Mahamuni Buddha Temple
Travelers to Mandalay in their Myanmar tours and travel hardly neglect this temple, which has been covered in tons of gold leaf since the 14th century. Every day, a constant stream of pilgrims come to worship, dance and chant in the temple precincts. Beautiful 19th-century murals in the south and west corridors are worth contemplating. There are souvenirs stalls aimed at pilgrims outside the temple, selling some weird mechanical toys made by the Chinese.
Address: 82nd Street, Mandalay
Getting there: take a taxi
Opening times: always open
U Bein Bridge
U Bein is the longest teak bridge in the world, which is 1,200m long. The bridge was built in 1894, from more than a thousand teak columns taken from the royal palace in nearby Ava. Although some of the teak posts have been replaced by concrete ones, most are originals. Come there at sunrise to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and witness the line of workers breakfast-snack sellers and monks crossing the timbers of the bridge. At sunset, a magnificent color of mixing red and yellow covers the whole of space on the lake, creating an unforgettable moment in visitors’ Myanmar tours and travel. It takes 30 minutes driving from Mandalay to the bridge.
Address: Thaung Tha Man Lake, Amarapura
Getting there: take a taxi
Lintha Village Walk
The fishing village of Lintha is situated around the headland from the hotel strip on Ngapali Beach. Several years ago, a British woman established a school which teaches English to a high standard here. You can visit the school and talk to the students. Along the main street is a library where the donations of books are always welcomed. Residents in the village are very friendly and hospitable. You will able to meet a child who may take you home to meet his or her family. It’s heart-warming to see an enthusiastic village like that in the cold modern world.
Address: Lintha Village, Ngapali
Getting there: walk or cycle
The free-to-visit destinations above are evidently against the bad rumor that you have to pay for everything in Myanmar tours and travel. Do not miss these in your trip!
See more Myanmar travel
Luxury Myanmar tours will bring you a unique experience in the country of golden pagodas. On a boat, on wheels, from the sky or simply on your feet, you can enjoy the most wonderful things of a charming Myanmar. Here are the most remarkable experiences we recommended for your Myanmar travel.
Take hot-air balloon in Bagan
The ancient city of Bagan is the home of more than 2,200 religious sites. If you are interested in discovering these majestic pagodas and temples in a very different way, it should be the time to take a hot air balloon experience in your luxury Myanmar tours.
As your balloon flies up in the blue sky, the view offers a stunning and pristine watercolor painting. From the sky, you will realize how impressive Bagan is! Magnificent temples and pagodas, idyllic villages where people are doing their daily tasks, the Irrawaddy River winding through the landscape to the horizon, all create an unforgettable memory in your Myanmar tours. Let yourself by be enchanted by legendary manmade constructions and breathtaking natural beauty in your Burma trip.
Have a boat journey to discover Inle Lake
Inle Lake may be the most famous tourist destination in Myanmar, located deep in Burma’s eastern Shan state. Gliding on the water on a local boat, you can admire the amazingly beautiful landscape, picturesque villages perched on stilts, chatting with locals and observing their daily life. During the boat trip, stop a moment to explore wonderful ancient monasteries and pagodas on the way. In addition, the view of the leg-rowing fisherman standing up on their boats to give a glimpse on the fishes under blue clear water is certainly one of the most unique and amazing ones in your Burma tours.
In the morning time, you will see the farmers starting their work on their floating gardens, the children going to school and the monks preparing for prayers. In the afternoon, you can hear the sound of nature such as the birdsongs from the tree canopies and the splashes of water in the peaceful environment.
Cross the U Bien Bridge at sunrise and sunset
Your luxury Myanmar tours seem not to be perfect if you do not cross the U Bien, the longest teak bridge in the world, which is of up to 1,200m over the Taungthaman Lake, near Amarapura – the ancient Burmese capital. U Bien Bridge is constructed in the mid-1800s on over a thousand teak piles.
The bridge is crossed by local people every day to sell their products in the other side of the lake. In your trip to U Bien, get up to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere on the bridge over sunrise and admire a red and yellow dazzling sunset on the lake, which are memorable experiences in your lifetime.
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Ascend the Mount Popa
Mount Popa is a dramatic extinct volcano with 777 steps, located an hour driving from Bagan. Sacred Popa monastery entirely surrounded by sheer cliff faces offers stunning views stretching infinitely on the plains of the Bagan area and the Irrawaddy River. On the way of between 3 and 4-hour climbing, you can admire the splendid natural beauty of Myanmar adorned by colorful butterflies and flying birds.
Starting a journey from old Bagan to Mount Popa, you will go through villages and rural farms where you can watch women making handicraft and their children playing around. Stop for lunch in a nice local restaurant and contemplate the wonderful view overlooking the volcano, and then start the ascent and explore the hidden treasures of Mount Popa.
Try the horse cart in Bagan
Horse cart is a unique and original way to visit Bagan that you should not miss in your luxury Myanmar tours. Relax on a comfortable bench; enjoy the view from the open sides and listen your driver’s interesting stories and legends about ancient Burmese and the history of the temples. On your own path, you can decide to stop at anywhere to take pictures and explore a particular place.
This flexible and ecological transport will take you to little villages where you will be able to enjoy a hot tea cup while taking with friendly locals. If intend to contemplate sunset or sunrise, your horse will take you to the most magnificent places to catch the breathtaking scenery of oranges and yellow colors illuminating the temples and covering the horizon.
Luxury Myanmar tours are full of surprises and joys one you open your soul and mind to admire a range of cultural heritage and beautiful sites in the country. During your Burma trip, these experiences will give you the extraordinary freedom to discover amazing things.