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River Cruising – spectacular sights

Rivers run through it
Jun 26, 2014 11:43AM Snippets from an article from Aspire the Luxury Travel Club from Travel Weekly.

Spectacular sights and once-in-a-lifetime experiences await any cruise passenger in Burma.

It’s 6am and I’m on the top deck of Belmond Orcaella, the river ship that Belmond (formerly Orient-Express Hotels) launched on the Ayeyarwady last summer, clutching my camera and peering into the early-morning haze for signs of any Buddhas lurking in the mist.
I’m just about to head inside for another coffee when a cry goes up. Another passenger has spotted Akauk Taung, or Tax Mountain, where dozens of Buddhas were carved into the cliff more than a century and a half ago by passing sailors who had to stop here and pay a toll.

It’s a spectacular sight – one of many amazing experiences you take home from a cruise on the Ayeyarwady in Burma. By the time my seven-night voyage from Yangon to Bagan ended I had ridden on a trishaw (a bike with a seat at the side) and in an ox-cart and visited one of two forts built to keep the British out (both failed as it took control of the whole country in 1885 and held it until independence in 1948).

I had visited Pyay’s golden Shwesandaw Temple, said to contain two of Buddha’s hairs, and imbibed local beers with the city’s late-night revellers. I had also climbed to the top of one of the temples in Bagan and savoured the sound of silence as I sat looking over the plain, which is dotted with some 2,200 pagodas and temples.

Belmond Orcaella, named after the dolphins that live in the Ayeyarwady River, is the most luxurious vessel sailing in Burma. Finished with beautiful teak decking and local furnishings, it holds just 50 passengers in spacious cabins and suites, all en-suite, with floor-to-ceiling French windows.
On the top deck, there is ample seating in the sun or shade, a small pool and a bar where we gathered before dinner to find out about the next day’s excursions, all included in the price, as are soft drinks and local beer. After dinner, we were treated to local dancers, puppeteers and even made wishes as we released Shan balloons into the night sky.

Whichever cruise you do, you should stay at least one night in Yangon – Belmond’s Governor’s Residence is the best address in the city but the choice includes a Park Royal and a Traders Hotel – to visit the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, 100 metres high and covered in 11 tons of gold.

Cruising on the Mekong, which flows through Cambodia and Vietnam, also continues to grow. AmaWaterways is launching its third vessel there, AmaDara, in 2015, while Avalon, which currently charters Avalon Angkor on the Mekong, is launching its own vessel there, also in 2015.
As well as stopping at small villages along the river, cruising the Mekong visit Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, plus Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, the motorcycle capital of the world. APT’s four-star Travelmarvel brand, which operates AmaWaterways’ vessel La Marguerite on the Mekong, has an optional sightseeing tour (about £22) by moped, which is a great way to see the city sights. you can sit on the back as a driver negotiates the crazy traffic and the guide follows on a separate bike.

The Ayeyarwady and Mekong are perfect if you are looking for adventure
Sailing seven nights from Nimati to Guwahati or vice-versa, this is a unique cultural journey through Assam, a part of India that sees very few tourists. On my cruise we visited Hindu temples, tea plantations and small villages where the locals were as excited to take our pictures as we were to take theirs.

We tied up at sand banks that were crumbling as the water rushed past – the Brahmaputra is the fastest-flowing river in the world – saw local dancers and took safaris by boat, jeep and elephant in Kaziranga National Park, ticking off rhinos, water buffalo, numerous birds and even a tiger. Definitely not one for the faint-hearted!


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