By David Wishart, Cruise Critic Contributor
Orient Pandaw looks like a big toy boat but is in fact a luxurious yet unostentatious replica of a colonial-era vessel dating from 1865.
It has a spacious sun deck and two passenger decks with 30 identical cabins of 170 square feet. All except two have twin beds, air-conditioning and French windows with a table and two wicker chairs outside on the walk-around deck. Bathrooms have good showers, with bathrobes, hair dryers, and slippers are provided. Cabins also have desks and safes. There is an onboard laundry and crew clean shoes after excursions.
Passengers spend their leisure time on the covered sun deck, where they can take in the sights from teak loungers with blue cushions. The upper deck also has a small, usually quiet, covered deck forward. There is an open-bridge policy.
Meals are served in the main deck restaurant, with large, floor to ceiling windows. Breakfast is buffet style but preceded by coffee, tea and light bites on the sun deck for early risers. Lunch is served either buffet style or standard sit-down, while dinners are four-course affairs. Produce is fresh, regional and seasonal.
Coffee, tea, soft drinks, beer and domestic spirits are complimentary and served at the bar/library on the sun deck. There is Wi-Fi, which is often slow due to the remote areas traveled. However, guides can help find Internet shops in some of the riverside towns.
Orient Pandaw has two guides who give briefings at cocktail hour every night on the sun deck, and accompany all excursions, which are daily and free. Some local entertainment is offered, such as folkloric dancing and puppet shows. Tipping is optional.
Overnights usually involve stopping at a riverbank and securing the ship with lines attached to stakes hammered into the sand. Sometimes part of the gangway is little more than a plank and sandbags, making this trip difficult for those with disabilities. But plenty of willing crew hands are always there to assist. Most passengers see Pandaw as a world away from conventional cruising and take such measures in stride.