RV Princess Pahnwar – Travel Marvel

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June, 2016

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Without repeating a lot of the previous comments made about this destination, I encourage all of those thinking of going here to really think it through. There is a false sense of urgency being created by travel agents advising you that Burma is the next big thing, you must go asap etc. This is a myth. Burma has no tourist infrastructure or in actual fact any infrastructure at all. The place is haphazard. You might think you are being pioneering by going, however again think about this, no medical facilities should you need them, dodgy air travel, appalling roads and a below average river option as your travel choices. No value like you get in countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and India. Burma is incredibly expensive so you pay a lot for everything but don’t get much back.

I predict you could go in 30 years and still see small improvements. We spent too long there which is evident in the tone of this email. 15 days – way way too long. We cruised Yangon to Mandalay the most unrewarding and boring trip of my life.

To see the highlight of Burma which was Bagan, all you need to do is fly to Mandalay from Bangkok, sail a couple of days down to Bagan stay overnight and then back to Mandalay for a day or two – that’s it, that sums it all up – you can do it all in 5 days max.

The only thing is that Burma has lots of is temples and seriously thousands of them – do you want to see all of them? The museum at Bagan is fantastic the rest are forgettable.

Burma has other historical sites around the country but you will not be able to get to them for decades due to the lack of travel options. We sailed 1000 km and the highlights are few and far between, oh the regret we have especially as this trip cost $12,000, same price for accommodation as Europe.

Of course you are a target by the locals, they are just as friendly but no more so than the other Asian countries mentioned above, yes they are naive but some of them are calculating and manipulative. Our guides lied to us about the Buddhist temples. Generally a temple is sacred but in Burma they are unkempt, dirty, aside from a couple of the main ones in Yangon, the floor/ground is exposed to dog poo, dirt, water, rough concrete and gravel, and you must, they say, take off your shoes and socks, except that it is acceptable to wear socks and stockings to protect your feet from the heat as well as filth but eat and smoke whilst you respect their heritage. You can even buy stockings for temple footwear! You will get your guide’s version of religion not the truth add lots of salt they lie!

Don’t forget you leave behind the world of technology and the TV choices depend on the hotel manager’s tastes and pushy guests.

Forget anyone speaking English, taxi drivers who don’t want your business, hard to find good food, shopping non-existent – yes this is a whinge – don’t say you have not been warned.

So everyone is on a cruise as that’s the only way to travel, there are heaps of choices, if you like cruising and floating along gazing out onto muddy brown polluted waters this is for you. The staff on board are mostly men, they are used to a regular clientele of really old people so when they get some younger ones they feel a little challenged and threatened, they are used to you doing what you are told! Some of the staff were terrific, giving and friendly, some were lazy and aggressive they don’t have much of a work load because there is nothing to see mostly.

When we arrived in Yangon the driver took us to the wrong hotel driving like a maniac around the back streets, no English of course, turned up in a car too small for the luggage and passengers – but hey that’s Burma.

Absolutely everything is blamed on the water levels and your itinerary is a suggestion only, we heard stories of tour guides just taking people to the closest and less interesting places because they could not be bothered to stick to the itinerary that you have paid for.

You will not have the experience you think you will and that you have paid good money for because in this country you cannot. You are at the whim and mercy of your tour guide and your travel company in your home country cannot help you.

Substituting buses for river cruising in this country is beyond a joke, it’s terrible, bad roads, average transport, having to listen to an incoherent local talking for hours on a loud speaker and bus drivers who have your life in their hands. It makes every day 4-6 hour they you would have liked and lot of people opt to stay on the boat – why go at all??? Cruising in Burma is a lot uglier than Vietnam and Cambodia – there you have repetition in the sightseeing but you have a reasonably interesting or attractive view. Burma and the Irrawaddy is flat dirty, really dirty as in sewerage, all rubbish, people, boats, pollution, and animals, you name it. There is literally nothing to look at except a few cows and people living on the sand, temples in the distance just mud – this sums up most of the 1000 kms.

Make sure then that you have a lovely ship because you will need the distraction and somewhere nice and attractive to relax. We chose to travel on the brand new RV Princess Pahnwar, the ship was nice because it was new. The heat is very hard on these ships as are the staff, so time will tell.

Ok some random points:

APT/TRAVEL MARVEL provide travel for old people there is no way around this fact if you are less than at least 60 years of age you may feel uncomfortable as still many people travel who should not do so and then rely on staff for everything – they are not there to carry you on and off a ship or up a hill.

Despite saying that they do, APT/Travel Marvel do not own or operate their river cruise ships – the Princess Pahnwar is owned by a rich Burmese man who also owns 9 other river cruise ships – this means that APT can do very little for you and takes limited responsibility – care factor zero, in this role APT/ Travel Marvel are the middle men – another local company operates the ship and the staff work on many of the river ships.

We were told that some of the ships can move through the river no matter how low the water gets but the Princess Pahnwar was deliberately built so that it cannot reach the northern parts of the river – odd business decision we thought and terrible for guests. The river cruise ships in Burma need a 6 metre water clearance and the Princess Pahnwar has 5.5m only, the Pandaw ships can cruise straight through no coaches required.

The cruise we went on ended up with 3 passengers in wheel chairs and 2 on walking sticks.

On this river there is no advantage on paying for the upper deck as there is no views. The river is brown the whole way and you would just be paying to be a couple of metres higher than the cabin below – nonsense – the cabins with the French balcony are more spacious, allow for fully opening sliding windows if you wish – remember you are not in France or Germany.

Only one option to dine for restaurant and times – awful – felt like a nursing home, the staff run to get the food out but of course passengers are there to get drunk – remember there is nothing else to do – let’s hope you all like each other – we saw a few groups of people who would not mix with others and kept to themselves so it takes all sorts – some nationalities are gossips and trouble makers some aggressive some pompous. No tables of 2 and there are those who are out to tour the colonies.

APT and Travel Marvel tell you that there are emergency procedures, however we had no safety briefing and with all the old people on board it was a worry to us that in an emergency it was everyone for themselves literally.

APT and Travel Marvel maintain that they have a 98% approval rate. I would put this down to the fact that they are so busy and making so much money that the genuine problems that occur no matter how serious are left unresolved. They simply don’t need to care.

There was no gift shop or souvenir area in the lounge that does not exist. The information about the Burmese not accepting cash money that is not perfect and new is true – they cannot explain why this is so and do not care that that might be the only money you have, so be prepared for a showdown.

The public areas look great, the bar service was excellent, there was no entertainment unless you include a puppet show on one night – they attempted a club med like revue but the staff are so tired at night this was an unfair ask.

The breakfasts are boring and repetitive, no low fat milk on board, no quality tea or coffee only Lipton’s if you like that, no pastry chef on board so no great breads and pastries just the same thing rolled out each day lunch and dinner better on most days, you will not put on weight on this cruise there is not that much to treat and tempt you.

The port talks and so called lectures were mindless and condescending again the Burmese male staff talking down to the old international tourists.

The cruise director on our cruise was lethargic from day one, he was very impressed with himself however, lazy, he would sleep in and make himself available to guests mid-morning thank you very much just try and find him on a small boat – completely useless, gave bad advice, did nothing he was asked, stroppy, and not the right person for the job.

The hotel manager is like another guest really – drink wine with lunch and dinner, has no visible work load, likes to gossip and gets amongst the guests perhaps a bit much, unprofessional and unable to answer any questions, cruising along you might say.

They say you get 5 course meals etc. however remember you are getting nursing home quantity – agony waiting for the courses to be served and get out of there sometimes, no atmosphere, no music, just a plain room.

Nothing in Burma works, the coach from the hotel to the port at the beginning of the cruise was late of course, then it was too small for passengers and luggage. It’s a comedy to watch, when we arrived at the ship they made endless excuses about why our cabins were not ready – it seems that they could not lose face and advise the previous guests to leave. First lunch was appalling, dried up sandwiches, cold soup and an orange – really very five star- absolutely disgusted – there are fridges in the cabin not mentioned in the brochures and plenty of water is provided.

The ship’s captain apparently had a life time of experience however he crashed the boat into another at port – luckily not much damage and then used every excuse in the weather book to avoid sailing as per the itinerary – we seemed to be the only ones concerned that we are not going where we were supposed to.

If it wasn’t for the British, the few small towns with a little bit of bitumen on the road would have perished – nothing to see, nothing to do, nothing to buy, it’s amazing like a myth they have constructed a cruise plan out of nothing.

We were counting the days to get off by the end of week one. Begging children at the port areas are a problem fully supported by their parents of course.

Follow your own path with this one, we were not sure what to expect, we had hoped this trip would be an adventure of sorts, this was not a place to learn either. Bagan is the must see, the rest you can give or take, this is the only place that does not disappoint.

Good luck.


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