Cruising on the “Princess Panhwar” was a wonderful way to see the Irrawaddy river and its surrounding countryside and habitations. The thing that struck me particularly was that we cruised for almost 600 miles upstream without passing through any lock. That means that we were effectively at sea level all the time – this is an area that has a lot to worry about from global warming! The river, except when there were islands in mid-stream, was never less than about half a mile wide and in places reached as much two miles across.
It took two weeks to cruise from Yangon to Mandalay, with the first week being on a part of the river much less frequented by tourists. During that earlier period we were as much objects of curiosity among the local people as they were for us! The people we met were friendly and helpful. Most often we would simply edge up to the bank of the river and moor to two or three convenient trees, disembarking down a gangplank, helped by numerous members of the crew. My fellow-travellers had a wide variety of mobility, some using walking sticks, but almost everyone managed to participate int eh excursions to a level they found comfortable.
There was a shore excursion every day with different levels of walking speed/distance. Some excursions began by coach, cycle trishaw or horse and trap. There were so many temples and pagodas to be seen, both in the villages alongside the river and on the excursions mentioned above. The local markets were also a rich source of images for me as a keen photographer and I have brought back many memories that way.
The accommodation on the boat was spacious and comfortable and the food varied and interesting with plenty of local dishes to reflect the country’s cuisine. On most days one of the three guides gave a talk about various aspects of the country, its culture, history and religion, including touching on the British colonial period, the Second World war and the regime under the military, now somewhat relaxed. There was some sort of entertainment on most evenings, varying from some films related to the country through a puppet show to dancers doing traditional Burmese dances. There was internet access on board the boat but it was unreliable and patchy
All in all it was a memorable trip with very attentive staff willing to help make the experience as good as possible. It was not particularly cheap and we had to book almost 18 months ahead of the trip with it being so popular. That said, as it was essentially all-inclusive, I think it was good value for money.