Little by little, Myanmar (Burma) is opening up to tourists, following a sweeping election victory by the opposition and the re-establishment of American diplomatic ties. That means Myanmar is newly open to American travelers - and what better way to rediscover this once-hidden jewel than from a luxurious cabin in a boat cruising down the Ayeyarwady River?
The Orient-Express' Road To Mandalay river cruiser sets sail on a series of 12-day "Gorges of the Far North" cruises in August and September later this year. First launched over 17 years ago, the Road To Mandalay is the Ayeyarwady's longest-running and most established river cruiser, with facilities including a wellness center, swimming pool and lively evening entertainment.
The Road To Mandalay accommodates 82 travelers, providing them with an ideal vantage point to admire the views of Burmese life from the country's largest and most vital river. As the river enters the heart of a region largely untouched by tourism, the cruise exposes travellers to authentic new adventures off the beaten track: visiting mountain vistas, entering ancient temples, and interacting with local communities and their cultures.
Through the duration of each cruise, the Road To Mandalay will sail 682 nautical miles, departing from the storied city of Mandalay up to Bhamo near the Chinese border, sailing within sight of the foothills of Yunnan before finishing at the plain of temples at Bagan. The cruise takes place only after the rainy season has ended, when the river is still swollen and water levels are high enough to allow passage through three dramatic gorges, flanked by vertical cliffs, in the north of the river.
Sailing upriver from the cruise departure point at Mandalay, guests will find the world's largest brick-built pagoda and uncracked bell at Mingun, then visit traditional clay pot sculptors at Nwe Nyein. Guests can then visit local markets in the quaint village of Kyan Hnyat and in the old town of Katha, the British outpost once home to the British author George Orwell. Guests will see these places as Orwell might have seen it in the 1930s, as they cruise the streets in old-style trishaws.
As the cruise ventures north, guests can then pay a visit to the island of Shwe Paw with its highly venerated pagoda and monastery, together with the latter's pretty gardens and well maintained vegetable patches.
Upon reaching the northern-most leg of the cruise at Bhamo, barely 50 miles from the Chinese border, the scenery transforms into lush jungle, bamboo forests, steep rock gorges and mountains. Guests have the opportunity to interact and meet with the locals, as the area's excursions include a tour of Bhamo, its backstreets, and the bustling market.
After returning downstream aboard the ship, guests will disembark to board a train that will travel through thick jungle to the forest station of Naba. Another forest adventure, this time aboard an elephant, enables guests to watch the pachyderms hard at work moving teak wood.
A tour of Burma's second-largest city Mandalay will be followed by a tribal dancing performance aboard the ship. The visit won't be complete without trips to the Golden Palace and Mahamuni Temple, the latter with its impressive gold-leaf-coated statue of the Buddha.
Guests will get to see the sun set over the renowned plain of 2,000 spectacular temples at Bagan, preparing them for a guided tour of the sites on the final day of the tour. Guests may also take an optional tour to Mount Popa and its monastery at the summit, the legendary sacred home of the 37 Nats.
Departures for the Bhamo cruise in 2012 commence on August 1, 15 and 29, and September 12. Tickets are priced from £2380 per person, which includes all table d'hôte meals and accommodation on board based on two people sharing, domestic flights, transfers and all sightseeing. Packages can also be tailor-made to include a stay at Orient-Express' hotel in Yangon, The Governor's Residence (compare rates).
Guests may join this 11-night trip to Bhamo, booking before June 30, 2012 and stay at The Governor's Residence for two nights on a complimentary basis either before or after the cruise. Offer is subject to availability; quote RG11 upon booking.
For further information or to make a booking please call Orient-Express on 0845 077 2222 or visit www.roadtomandalay.net. The Road to Mandalay cruise is part of the prestigious Orient-Express Hotels brand - more info at www.orient-express.com.
Images courtesy of Orient-Express Hotels, used with permission.