It’s been over a century since Rudyard Kipling memorably described the Irrawaddy River as “the road to Mandalay”, yet by boat remains one of the best and most evocative ways to discover Burma, which is why we decided to put together our Top 5 Burma boating experiences.
In a country where the public transport network is still in its infancy and many remote regions are still inaccessible by road, waterborne exploration allows you to (literally) get off the beaten track to visit destinations virtually untouched by tourism. Whether you choose to relax on a luxurious cruise ship on the mighty Irrawaddy or sail amongst the remote islands of the Myeik Archipelago, we highly recommend Burma by boat and incorporating a short cruise – or even a few days of cruising – into any Burmese adventure.
The following are just some of our favourite boating experiences across Burma.
1. Take an overnight cruise from Mandalay to Bagan
An overnight river cruise between the fascinating destinations of Mandalay and Bagan is a fantastic option for those who would like to incorporate a few days of cruising into their trip, but don’t want to spend their whole holiday on a boat. This route, once the main artery linking colonial Rangoon and Mandalay under the British Empire, is the famous “road to Mandalay” immortalised in Kipling’s poem.
Travelling along the Irrawaddy River, there are various cruise lengths to choose from – from a day-long cruise to a three-night trip including excursions to the ancient capitals near Mandalay and a few riverside villages along the way.
2. Head into the north on the Irrawaddy River
For those who want to venture a little further afield, a riverboat expedition is a fantastic way to explore some of Burma’s remote northern territories. Setting off from Mandalay, head north through dramatic scenery including sheer-sided gorges, teak forests and jungle, stopping at towns and villages where time seems to have stood still for the past hundred years. We suggest concluding your cruise at Bhamo, before returning via the same route along the Irrawaddy to the spectacular landscape of Bagan.
Since this is a longer cruising adventure, taking place over 13 days, we recommend splashing out on a cabin in one of Burma’s most luxurious cruise liners. Our personal favourite is the Sanctuary Ananda, which navigates routes on both the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers and was built by Burmese craftsmen using traditional materials. There’s even a pool on deck!
3. Cruise through the countryside on the Chindwin River
Located at the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers, Mandalay is once again the starting point for this cruising adventure, which carries you northwest into Burma’s wild countryside. Travelling at a leisurely pace over the course of eight days, passengers have plenty of opportunities to disembark to explore the fascinating caves, untouched villages and ancient, rarely visited temples that lie scattered along the riverbanks almost as far as the Indian border.
Upon reaching Homalin, the furthest navigable point along the river, we recommend concluding your cruise and continuing your exploration by other means – perhaps flying south to Yangon for a visit to the dazzling Shwedagon Pagoda.
4. Escape the crowds on Inle Lake
Spectacular Inle Lake is one of Burma’s most popular and beguiling destinations, where life unfolds in stilt villages perched above the water, food is grown in floating gardens anchored to the lake bottom, and the locals navigate the waters in traditional longtail boats.
Inle Lake is deservedly renowned for its natural beauty, which means that it can feel a little “touristy” in comparison to some of Burma’s less well-known corners. One of our favourite ways to get away from the crowds and see another side of the lake region is to take a boat trip south to Sagar, a beautiful area rarely frequented by tourists. Here you can visit local villages inhabited by Pa-O, Shan and Inthar ethnic minorities, spot rare birds and wildlife, and admire the amazing “sunken” pagodas – 108 ancient stupas that lie partially submerged for several months of the year.
5. Sail between desert islands in the Myeik Archipelago
Our final boating experience exchanges lakes and rivers for the open sea, as you embark on a cruise amongst the pristine islands of the Myeik Archipelago. This region of the Andaman Sea covers a vast area studded with over 800 islands, most of which have been almost completely untouched by development – think Thai islands before the advent of mass tourism. Bursting with biodiversity both above and below the waves, this is an incredible setting for diving, snorkelling, hiking, beachgoing or just admiring the views.
The best way to explore this stunning archipelago is aboard an elegant, fully crewed and catered yacht – whether you opt for a cabin in a shared boat or go the whole hog and charter a vessel of your own. Cruising options range from three to eight nights, and private charters are available for up to two weeks.
For more information about cruising in Burma, check out the “cruises” section of our website. We offer a variety of cruising itineraries incorporating the experiences above – or we can tailor a trip exactly to suit your specifications. Just give us a call or drop us an email to begin planning your perfect cruise holiday today.