I’m standing in the middle of an offbeat archaeological complex – all around me dusty alleys lead to dozens of pagodas housing gilded terracotta Buddhas.
I’m on my first river cruise ever and I can’t stop thinking about the treasure trove that is Myanmar as I sip on a chilled mojito on the sundeck. For years Myanmar was closed to tourists but that is changing dramatically with each passing year. I hadn’t read much about it before we got there but it enticed us with tiered pagodas, teak monasteries, and intricate temples in no time. The Irrawaddy or Ayeyarwaddy River, as it is sometimes known, is the backbone of the country.
Most river cruises that float along the Irrawaddy give passengers a chance to explore a stretch of Myanmar that is literally laden with historical and cultural treasures – the stretch between Bagan and Mandalay. The newest entrant, The Strand Cruise, is no different. It offers a fascinating itinerary that includes gems such as the royal cities of Mingun, Amarapura and Ava, iconic landmarks such as the U Bein bridge in Mandalay, and Bagan’s innumerable temples and monasteries.
It’s our first river cruise, so I’m surprised (pleasantly so!) that there is no rush to see everything. The entire itinerary is planned in a way that allows guests to see Myanmar at leisure. This is in stark contrast to Mediterranean Cruises that stop in a different country every day and I like it. Leisurely travel, in general, is a concept both of us love – there is nothing sweeter than relishing a new country at a languorous pace!
Then there is the size of the vessel. The Strand Cruise has only 27 cabins, ensuring an intimate experience that doesn’t ever get overwhelming. This also allows staff to offer personalised treatment to all guests.
We opt for a state suite on the upper deck of the ship. The size of the cabin, equipped with spacious wardrobes, work desk, settee, and large en-suite bathroom surpasses our expectations. We unpack and make ourselves at home in time for sunset – the sliding glass doors of the cabins open to the Irrawaddy river. I see colourful boats bobbing along our ship and gaze at the sun setting over tiny Burmese villages as I snuggle deeper into my bed. Tomorrow, we will explore Myanmar….
ON-BOARD ACTIVITIES & FOOD
I wake up to the smell of coffee. Vid’s ordered coffee in the cabin and it’s accompanied by biscotti and fresh flowers. These little touches continue throughout the day. There’s a spread of pastries, breads, preserves, and fruits at breakfast but the main meal is cooked fresh, tailored to individual requirements. I sample Mohinga (Burmese fish soup) while Vid opts for his favourite – eggs benedict with smoked salmon!
We lounge by the ship’s pool while sipping on chilled wine as we float past historic ruins, gold pagodas, and stretches of green Burmese countryside. Soon enough it’s time for lunch – a three-course Italian spread. It’s just been a day but the chef remembers Vid’s fondness for mozzarella and serves a bespoke caprese salad that’s not even on the menu!!
An introductory talk on Burmese Thanaka (a yellowish paste used as sunscreen throughout the country) and a quick lesson on tying Longyis (Burmese sarongs) later, it’s time for a Strand classic – The Afternoon Tea. The Strand Cruise’s unique take on traditional English Afternoon Tea comprises a mix of Burmese, French, and English influences – pastel macarons, Burmese tea-leaf salad and potato cakes, buttery scones, fresh preserves, and chocolate-dipped fruit skewers. The moorish nibbles are accompanied by a selection of the finest teas.
The on-board gym is tiny but all this food calls for a workout! Late afternoons are spent exploring ruins and temples. During evenings, there are cultural performances – Burmese dances, puppet shows, musical evenings – on board the ship. On a couple of the days, we choose to stay out till sunset for watching the sun set over hundreds of ancient temples, pagodas, and ruins in Myanmar is truly special.
Favourite part of every single day ?? (all that food cries for a workout or two!)
On each of those days, we come back to freshly-squeezed fruit juices, flavourful cocktails, and some rather exceptional wines. Dinner is Burmese one day, Spanish the next. I appreciate the abundance of European cuisine, given my mixed feelings about traditional Burmese cuisine. On the last evening all guests share a long table – the stage is set for a luxurious French feast. Everything from Salmon mousse and Lobster Glacé (nom!) to Filet mignon is on the menu. We wrap up the meal with a contemporary take on the traditional Mille-Feuille . Entranced by all that food, we move to the relaxing loungers for a night cap. Every guest seems to be talking about that dinner and the verdict is unanimous – Guests are truly spoilt on board The Strand Cruise.
Luxurious rooms and food is all well and good, but this is Myanmar. The greatest attraction of all is the places we see on the excursions – the beguiling treasures of the royal cities of Mingun, Amarapura, Mandalay and Bagan seduce us in no time.
We explore the ancient imperial city of Ava, its open air temples and giant Buddha sculptures by horse-drawn cart. In Mandalay we speak to locals as we walk along the iconic U Bein bridge – a rickety wooden platform that connects 2 ends of the Taungthaman Lake. In Mingun, we drool over Paya Hsinbyume, an enormous white temple with seven concentric terraces. We explore monasteries and temples in little-known villages, thread through a tangle of wires to arrive at bazaars overflowing with fresh produce, pass typical Ayeyarwaddy villages that have inspired so many authors, and marvel at sunrises and sunsets in Bagan every opportunity we get. Myanmar surprises us at every corner and I can safely say the places you see on excursions in Myanmar will sweep you off your feet 🙂
And just like that our first river cruise comes to an end! There are three things that made The Strand Cruise truly memorable for us: the smells of Myanmar and the places we encountered along the way, sumptuous food at every meal, and sipping champagne on the deck as the sun set over the Irrawaddy every evening – all experiences that can’t really be described in words but I tried! 🙂
- Strand Cruise offers both 3 & 4 day itineraries. We chose the latter.
- It is perfect for an offbeat honeymoon or luxurious getaway in a forbidden land.
- The cost includes accommodation, all meals, excursions, transfers, 24 hour Butler service, and a night at The Strand Hotel in Yangon. More information on their website www.thestrandcruise.com
- We chose a state suite on the upper deck of the boat. The cabin and en-suite bathroom were surprisingly large for a cruise ship. The suite was as spacious as a traditional hotel room.
- Pack relaxed resort-style clothing for The Strand Cruise. You can pack a couple of dressier outfits for evenings but you will not need black-tie outfits.
- Wifi is through a 3G sim card. It worked well for most part – there were a couple of hitches when we were gliding along the river through remote sections of Myanmar.
- If you enjoy working out, do beware the gym on-board The Strand Cruise is tiny.
- Plug sockets cater to British three pin plugs. Carry an adapter plug if your gadgets are wired differently.
- On-board activities introduce guests to typical Burmese things such as Thanaka (sunscreen paste), Longyis (sarongs), local puppet shows.
- The sumptuous selection of food was a definite highlight for us. Small touches such as chilled wine glasses, non-dairy milks, and bespoke dishes to cater to individual tastes made dining on The Strand Cruise special.
- We hopped on The Strand Cruise during the month of April. In hindsight that wasn’t the best decision – the heat is ruthless at this time of the year. We would strongly recommend choosing winter months (November-February) for your visit to Myanmar.
Planning a trip to Myanmar? Check out our 2 week itinerary for Myanmar 🙂
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We were guests of The Strand Cruise. We are 2 extremely opinionated ninjas, so all opinions (good, bad, and hyperbolic) are our own. Read our Disclosure Policy for further information.