Orient-Express has for 17 years been one of only a handful of operators cruising the Ayeyarwady, using its 82-passenger Road To Mandalay river cruiser. But recently, since the release in 2010 from house arrest of the democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the subsequent opening up of the country to tourism, more cruise lines have been including Myanmar in their programmes, among them Voyages to Antiquity and Noble Caledonia.
The new, 50-passenger Orient-Express vessel is being built in Yangon and will be named Orcaella after the dolphins that inhabit the Ayeyarwady River. The ship will operate seven and 11-night cruises from January to April and July to December.
The ship will sail a different itinerary from Road To Mandalay, operating between Yangon and Bhamo and stopping at local towns as well as dropping anchor at interesting sites in rural areas. Because of its small size and shallow draft, Orcaella will also cruise the Chindwin River, a tributary of the Ayeyarwady flanked by mountain ranges, sailing as far north as Homalin, just 30 miles from the Indian border.
The ship will have 25 cabins with sliding glass doors and French balconies, as well as a shaded observation deck, lounge, bar, swimming pool, fitness center and therapy room using locally-inspired treatments.
Excursions, most of which are included in the price, will include a local ‘tea-shop' experience, trekking though the jungle, exploring hillside caves housing 492 Buddha chambers, a visit to the only bespectacled Buddha (thought to have healing powers) close to Pyay, a train journey into thick Kachin jungle and a chance to meet working elephants in the Burmese teak forest.
--By Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor