Exploring Myanmar on Belmond's Luxury Cruise: the Road to Mandalay
She is a grand dame. A daunting river castle that dominates as the largest river cruise ship in Myanmar at over 300 feet. The Road to Mandalay is the Belmond’s luxury river cruise ship that takes an exclusive group of passengers on an adventure from Bagan to Mandalay on Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady River.
Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is still a pristine destination. For years, it was not a popular tourist destination due to an oppressive government and its human rights record. Enter Aung San Suu Kyiand, the revolution of 2011, and now more and more tourists are coming to know this wonderful and exotic country. Tourists to Myanmar have evolved from budget minded backpackers to the refined explorer who come to take in the country’s ubiquitous temples, rich culture and natural beauty.
It is still not easy to get around Myanmar on land so air and the river are the best options to explore there. Travelers love to explore the country by the river as they experience one breathtaking vista after the next as you watch fishermen cast their nets and farmers tend to their lands. Scenes change from cities to villages to rice fields to untouched and natural lands. The pagodas are a central theme in Myanmar. They are Buddhist monuments build by families with many dating back 1,000 years. Some made of sandstone and others adorned with 24-karat gold foil.
The people in Myanmar couldn’t be friendlier from up close interactions or from afar. There is always a smile from locals, especially children who are excited to see foreigners and wave and shout hello as the ship passes by.
A luxurious way to take in the beauty of Myanmar is on the Road to Mandalay. Belmond Cruises (Formerly Orient Express Trains and Cruises) has been operating on the river for more than 20 years. The colonial style ship is spacious and elegant with Burmese art and antiques, locally crafted rattan and teak furniture and beautiful fabrics.
There are several common areas where guests congregate. The observation deck is the central gathering place for cocktails at the bar, dips in the pool and sun-bathing, or just marveling at the views of life on the river. The sunsets are breathtaking as the skies turn from blue to beautiful shades of oranges, reds and purples. The main salon is where various activities take place from lectures to yoga classes. There is a piano bar as well serving afternoon tea and evening cocktails.
There are 56 spacious cabins on the Road to Mandalay. The deluxe cabin has modern teak furnishings, flat screen television with premium movie channels, and large windows giving panoramic views of the river and sights beyond. There are top of the line bathroom fixtures in the private bathroom with Bulgari amenities.
As this is Belmond, dining is a fantastic gourmet experience. At every meal there are European and Asian dishes allowing guests to sample the delicious regional cuisine, including Burmese, Thai, Indonesian, Indian dishes. High tea is also a treat served with scones, pastries, sandwiches, and of course several options of tea.
Guest come from around the world, from the U.K., Australia, Korea, and the U.S. It is a mixed group with some celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, and other seeking an exotic bucket list adventure. The group quickly gels with the staff who could not be more warm, welcoming, and professional. The ship manager is the French woman Celine who is a gracious host and ensures that each guest has a fantastic cruise.
Each day there is something special to do. The cruise is crafted to allow guests to create memories from this amazing country with excursions and on board experiences in a luxurious environment. The trip begins in Bagan and includes a guided tour of the largest temples in the area and a pagoda. Guests climb the steep pagoda for panoramic views of the countryside all the way to the river. Each day there is another intriguing excursion exploring temples, pagodas, local villages and the sights and culture of the area. One highlight was the early morning visit to a village where guests provided alms to monks. Alms are a donation of food as the procession of over 100 monks pass by to collect their meal for the day.
One particularly amazing experience was the visit to the Taungthaman Lake and U Bein Bridge. Guests arrived at a boat pier and were taken for a sunset cruise on the lake. As the sunset across the lake, the small wooden boat for two meandered under the power of the sailor’s oars. In true Belmond style, guests were treated to a Champagne and canapes. It just simply could not have been more romantic.
Belmond really goes above and beyond to wow their guest. Each day there are lectures or performances by local entertainers including a juggling act or the Burmese traditional puppet show. One other memorable experience was the lovely cocktail party as chamber music which set a very romantic ambiance. Guests were instructed to look up the river as 1500 floating candles lit up the river and floated by engulfing ship in a sea of twinkling lights. These are the unforgettable experiences that make the Road to Mandalay cruise so special.
After the cruise, many guests will return to Yangon and stay a night or two at the Belmond’s luxury boutique hotel, the Governor’s Residence. Once the Governor of Burma’s private home, the residence has been turned into an exceptional boutique hotel with period furnishings and amenities as well as fine dining for which the Belmond brand is known.
The Road to Mandalay is a wonderful way to experience the rich natural beauty, landmarks and culture of Myanmar. Cruises options are for two, three and four nights with packages starting at $1,500 per person.