Pioneering, boutique, river cruise company Pandaw Expeditions has announced the launch of a brand-new expedition, sailing into the heart of the vibrant and varied landscape of the Irrawaddy Delta, exploring its maze of tributaries which remain untouched by tourism.
‘The Great Irrawaddy Delta’ itinerary will set sail from and return to Rangoon, weaving through the complex labyrinth of waterways on a fascinating seven-night river cruise. Passengers will savour the contrasts of indigenous village life, markets, ancient trading ports, temples, churches and mosques, and have the chance to spot a plethora of birdlife and wildlife. On the waterways, fishermen and turtle egg hunters ply their ancient business, while exotic migratory water birds paddle in the shallows.
As the longest established river cruise company in Southeast Asia, Pandaw are undoubtedly the pioneers of boutique adventure for the inquisitive traveller and exceptional at creating river cruising itineraries unmarked by the tourist footprint.
The Irrawaddy Delta was the scene of Pandaw’s celebrated humanitarian rescue mission after the devastation of 2008’s Cyclone Nargis. The launch of this new expedition marks the 10th anniversary of Pandaw taking a leading role after the worst storm in the history of Burma made landfall, causing a tidal wave 40km inland. Pandaw converted its ships into floating clinics and provided emergency relief packages. This was the launch of Pandaw Charity which today has several clinics and schools established in rural locations around Pagan.
Setting sail from Rangoon along the Twante Canal, stopping en route at the pottery village of Twante, RV Katha Pandaw reaches Pyapon, 15km inland from the Andaman Sea, in time for guests to explore this lively delta town and seaport with its bustling docks and market. The following day the ship ventures further inland to the former Mon capital of Bogale in the Ayeyarwady Region, as well as visiting Mein Ma Hla Kyun Wildlife Reserve, a mangrove ecosystem and home of the saltwater crocodile.
From Bogale to Myaungmya is a fascinating day of sailing as Katha Pandaw weaves through tidal creeks and channels across the heart of the delta, which is completed the next day when joining the great Bassein River. The ship will sail to Bassein, originally a colonial rice town, now a seaport and the capital of the delta, with charming riverfront teahouses and restaurants. Bassein is home to the traditional monk’s waxed cloth hand-painted parasol as well as many shrines and a vibrant central market.
On the fifth day of the itinerary, guests can further explore this interesting port or can opt for a relaxed day at the palm fringed, white sand and crystal clear waters of Ngwesaung Beach.
The voyage then joins the upper delta route used by the old Irrawaddy Flotilla Company launch service, stopping overnight at the attractive river port of Wakema. The seventh day is a lively contrast of busier channels and riverbanks teaming with activity, arriving at sunset to walk along the colourful boulevard of Maubin. The final morning is spent crossing the Twante Canal and back to Pandaw’s colonial downtown base on the Rangoon River.
This expedition is truly a step back into a bygone era. Since the Raj, life in the Delta has seen little change, although British civil engineering increased the cultivatable land through dykes and barriers, connecting the Delta with the Yangon River. In the heyday of the Raj, the Delta’s rice production fed vast swathes of the British Empire. In the early 1900’s The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company operated over 100 creek steamers across the Delta connecting these rice towns and villages when there were neither roads nor bridges.
Departures start from 10 March 2018. Prices are from US$2,117pp (currently £1,695pp), based on sharing a twin cabin. The price includes seven nights on RV Katha Pandaw, entrance fees, guide services (English language), gratuities to crew, main meals, locally made soft drinks, local beer and local spirits, jugged coffee and selection of teas and tisanes and mineral water. International flights are additional.
RV Katha Pandaw offers only 16 spacious cabins, exquisite dining al fresco using locally sourced ingredients and a personalised service from 21 crewmembers in the comfort of Katha’s shaded deck. Guests will feel they have recaptured the golden era of luxurious travel on board the beautiful ship, hand-crafted in teak and brass.
Pre-and post tours are offered in combination with the Irrawaddy Delta itinerary. Guests can add an overnight stay in the Sule Shangri-La Hotel in Rangoon and enjoy a guide-led excursion to the nearby Schwegadon Pagoda. For further adventure, there is a three-night post tour of the Ancient Arakan in the Bay of Bengal. The temples in Mrauk-U have been constructed from hewn stones instead of mud and bricks, the most important being Shite-thaung, Htukkanthein and Koe-thaung, as well as Five Mahn pagodas.