The Road to Mandalay river cruise in Myanmar

Probably the most luxurious and iconic journeys possible in Myanmar is the “Road to Mandalay“. A river cruise up the Ayeyarwady (formally called the Irrawaddy) is a must for any tourist in Myanmar and there is no better way to travel than this Orient Express experience. We had the privilege of spending three days on board this luxury cruiser sampling everything from fine dining, fine service and guided tours of the some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth.

The boat

First setting sail in 1964 in Germany, the ship was originally a river cruiser on the Reine before she was transported from Dresden to Myanmar in 1994 to begin her new life as a prestigious luxury Ayeyarwady river cruise ship. Refitted in recent years, she’s the epitome of luxury and everything you’d expect from an Orient Express hotel. Grand yet with a sense of modesty and sophistication. She cruises up and down the river with up to 80 guests on 3 – 7 night excursions.

We boarded the ship around midday and were greeted by the friendly, smiling staff at reception, including the duty manager who welcomed us aboard the ship and showed us to our room. Our State Cabin for the next 3 days would be our home from home and had a level of ingenuity in almost every wall, cupboard and fitting. There is  1 Governor’s Suite and 18 State cabins on the ship, 16 Deluxe cabins, as well as superior cabins and single cabins. All equally well designed to have everything you need for the journey. There was ample room for our bags, wardrobe space, a well equipped bathroom with gorgeously hot shower, a desk should you wish to work and one of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept in for a long time. The welcome pack on our desk talked of a television in our room, at first glance I couldn’t find one until two inviting handles on the wall provoked me to slide to panels apart and reveal a large flat screen TV. Maybe not something you’d be desperate to watch while on a luxury river cruise but the TV had 2 channels dedicated to showing documentaries on Myanmar, one presented by famous British actor Peter Ustinov which was very interesting.

The ship really does have everything a hotel can provide, the manager very kindly gave us a tour of the decks. The lower deck has a well stocked doctor’s office should you have any problems, there’s even a gym too with all manner of modern exercise machines. A spa offers a range of treatments including massage, perfect after a busy day’s sight-seeing on one of the daily excursions off the boat. On the upper deck above our rooms there’s a beautiful restaurant area with large windows and sublime meals (more on that later!) There’s even a piano bar for after dinner cocktails and relaxing, plus a large air-conditioned lounge area for relaxing as the boat glides along the Ayeyarwady river.

The observation deck

One of my favourite features was the observation deck on top of the boat, adorned with relaxing sofas, warm lighting and during the day access to the small but very inviting swimming pool. I’d never seen a roof top pool on a river cruiser before so was keen to give it a try. Around 5′ deep from end to end it was a very refreshing way to end a day as the sun set. Deep enough and long enough to swim a few lengths and dive to the bottom. Showers can only revitalise you so much when you’re in a tropical country, there’s nothing quite like a dip in the pool to really awaken you and the relaxing sun loungers were perfect for drying off afterwards. The staff were also very attentive, constantly aware of how much drink you had left but without hovering to find out. As we neared the bottom of our glasses they would appear and ask with a friendly smile “Would you like one more sir?”. Hard to refuse that kind of service!

It’s also one of the sociable areas of the ship with cocktail parties in the evenings. A great way to meet fellow passengers and swap interesting travel stories. The off-boat tours and passing vistas give everyone a common interest to talk about and the complimentary cocktails sure did help the conversation flow too. With warm evening lighting and even some shows to watch, the evenings on board the ship were very entertaining and a great excuse to get dressed up.

Our thanks to Orient Express for their hospitality on our trip in Myanmar.

Coming next…

Our review of the Road to Mandalay river cruise continues with a look at the excursions, including our tour of the stunning temple region of Bagan.

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