Road to Mandalay cruiser. Image courtesy of Orient-Express Hotels.
We blogged about Orient-Express Hotels' Myanmar (Burma) river cruise The Road to Mandalay some time back; we didn't realize they'd follow up with another river cruiser so soon. But they've obliged: the Orcaella will commence cruising in July 2013.
The 50-guest ship - currently under construction in Yangon - adds to Orient-Express' already significant presence in Myanmar. Orient-Express manages The Governor's Residence (compare rates), a 48-key colonial-style hotel in Yangon, and the aforementioned Road To Mandalay river cruiser.
Orcaella takes its name from the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) that makes its home in the Ayeyarwady River, where the river cruiser will operate between January to April and July to December. Visitors to Myanmar may choose among a series of seven- and 11-night cruise itineraries (more on these below).
The Orcaella cruising experience is meant to be leisurely and romantic: the ship will meander through the Ayeyarwady River between Yangon and Bhamo, stopping at key cultural sites and towns along the way, and dropping anchor at interesting sites off the beaten track in Myanmar. Orcaella will also enter the Chindwin River, capitalizing on its low draft to give its passengers unbeatable views of the area's extensive mountain ranges while winding through western Myanmar as far north as Homalin, less than 30 miles from the Indian border.
Ceramics boat on Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar (Burma). Image courtesy of Getty Images.
The Orcaella's Interior
The intimate feel of the ship - with room for a maximum of fifty guests attended to by 40 staff - complements the experience of exploring Myanmar's rich heritage, natural beauty and accommodating people. All Orcaella's 25 spacious cabins will open to the river via floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors and Juliette balconies that frame the outside river view perfectly.
The four-deck river cruiser will be designed to have two Balcony Suites at the bow on the Main Deck, and 15 State and eight Deluxe Cabins across the Main Deck and Upper Deck. All cabins feature air conditioning and en-suite facilities; four cabins will be interconnecting.
On the Observation Deck, guests can lounge about a dedicated relaxing area with a retractable awning and reclining chairs, providing the perfect vantage point to watch Myanmar's scenery drift by. A lounge and bar, which will be open all day for refreshments and alfresco dining, will be the social hub of this ship, and will be complemented by a separate swimming pool.†The restaurant on the Main Deck will provide comfortable seating and large picture windows for diners, along with two boutiques selling a variety of traditional and local crafts.
Fitness-oriented passengers will be able to do their constitutionals in the ship's well-equipped fitness center; the Orcaella's treatment room will offer a range of relaxing treatments with a Burmese influence. As with the Road To Mandalay, Orcaella will have a medical room and a fully qualified resident doctor on the Lower Deck.
Soon U Ponya Shin and Shwekyet Kya Payas in Sagaing Hills near Ayeyarwaddy River, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma). Image courtesy of Getty Images.
The Orcaella's Itinerary
The ship's schedule includes cruises on two different Myanmar rivers.
Ayeyarwady River Cruises will take place on Myanmar's most famous river, and arguably its lifeline: ferries, bamboo rafts, barges and fishing boats all ply their trade along these waters. Over the centuries, Myanmar's successive empires grew around banks of the Ayeyarwady, making it the ideal highway through the country's landscape, culture and history.
- Gorges of the far North: this 11-night cruise covers 682 miles, departing from the city of Mandalay traveling up to Bhamo, near the Chinese border, then to the foothills of Yunnan, finishing at the plain of temples at Bagan.
- The Jewels of the Ayeyarwady: this seven-night cruise covers 506 miles, commencing in Yangon and ending in Bagan, with highlights including guided excursions to Bagan and a visit to the Pyi Taw Pyan Pagoda, known as the "Retuning Home Pagoda", which houses the famous bronze Buddha once stolen by the British Army and later returned by order of Queen Victoria.
- The Ayeyarwady Experience: this seven-night cruise covers 506 miles, starting in Bagan and ending in Yangon, with highlights including a visit to Syriam, a sleepy village outside Yangon and a visit to an impressive 20-foot Buddha made of straw lacquer.
Floating Buddhist pagoda at night, Sin Nina village, Chindwin River, Myanmar (Burma). Image courtesy of Getty Images.
Chindwin River Cruises take place on the narrow, winding Chindwin River, which snakes through northwest Myanmar and its spectacular mountain scenery. The landscape and the towns remain somewhat untouched, due to difficulty of access overland.
- Discovering the Chindwin River: this 11-night cruise covers 854 miles down the Chindwin River through rugged and dramatic scenery, with highlights including a visit to a candlelit street market and a monastery housing the Shwe Sagar Buddha: one of ten carved from a single trunk of wood about 1000 years ago.
All itineraries can be combined with stays in Yangon, Inle Lake or Ngapali on the Indian Ocean. Prices start from US$5,040 per person for a seven night cruise and includes all meals onboard, excursions, transfers and domestic flights. Road To Mandalay and Orcaella are both available for private charter and can be chartered in tandem, making a total occupancy of 132 guests.
Guests may take part in a number of offshore excursions, organized into small groups. You might witness a traditional Noviciation Ceremony of local monks, visit a local tea shop, do a short trek though the Burmese jungle, enjoy a 9-hole game at an old colonial golf course, explore caves housing 492 Buddha chambers carved into the hillside just outside of Monywa, visit the only bespectacled Buddha (thought to have healing powers) close to Pyay, take a train journey into thick Kachin jungle, and get a chance to meet working elephants in the Burmese teak forest.
And we haven't brought up Orient-Express' own activities on board: local entertainment, informative and interactive lectures, cocktail parties, and yoga and meditation on the Sun Deck, among others.
For reservations, call Orient-Express on +44 (0) 845 077 22 22, or visit www.orcaella.net.