This is a long review. Bottom line, I'm positive. Great experience. Go to Myanmar before it is overrun by tourists. Be prepared for dust and smoke and you will see a backward country. The people are wonderful and the sites ... Read More
This is a long review. Bottom line, I'm positive. Great experience. Go to Myanmar before it is overrun by tourists. Be prepared for dust and smoke and you will see a backward country. The people are wonderful and the sites amazing!
The Amawaterways, Amapura in Myanmar is relatively new. Before coming on the 14 day cruise in February 2015, I attempted to find reviews, but found very few, and no photos. I read one negative review, complaining about lack of activity, and a dirty ship. The other review was positive, but not detailed. I can state categorically that there isn't a ton of physical activity, but anyone who's ever cruised either on a river, or at sea, knows that. 14 day, luxury cruises are also not filled with young energetic adults, because of their length and cost...so get that out of your system and enjoy what this is. What this cruise offers is luxurious transport to areas you could never get to on your own, and a knowledgable and friendly staff. The ship is small so you don't overwhelm the small villages along the way.
The Amapura is a great little "ship". Modern and comfortable. The staff almost outnumbers the 50, or so passengers. They are very well trained, energetic and friendly. I have absolutely no complaints. The room (we had a balcony room) is very large and comfortable. The food, while not up to world class gourmet standards, is very good.
As to the cleanliness of the vessel, Myanmar is a smoky, dusty place. The shore excursions all require some walking through sand and dirt, which gets brought aboard. I was up most mornings around 6am and the crew was out scrubbing the decks and handrails, but it's hard to keep up. I would say the ship was pretty clean given the environment. The room was very clean. Decks were all teak, and beautiful. Another review mentioned "dull" wood floors. That person is obviously not a fan of teak. It's an oily wood that does not take varnish well, and looks best when left pretty natural. I personally thought it all looked great.
The shore excursions were amazing. I myself love long distance hikes, so I could have used a bit more exercise, but short of that the excursions far exceeded any expectation I had. They were varied, from pagodas, to monestaries, to markets, to schools. Many excursions were opportunistic, based on our cruise manager's scouting out local happenings that were of interest. The tour guides (Mojo, and Swan) were hard working and certainly knowledgeable. Swan gave a series of lectures in the evening on topics ranging from Buddism, to culture, to mythology. While sometimes a little difficult to understand, Swan had obviously done a lot of research and was well prepared.
Be prepared when you come. Myanmar is a fabulous trip, and the people warm and welcoming. I never felt threatened. However the country has a long history of strife and poverty, as well as an oppressive government. Don't expect to alight from the ship on a dock. All "dockings" were on the sandy banks of the river with a nice climb up the bank into the local town. There is a lot of dust and smoke. Most days include a stop at some sacred location requiring shoes off. Bring easily removable shoes. Also bring sunscreen. Shorts should not be worn into sacred locations. I found a trip to REI before coming for light weight, quick drying, hiking pants, and long sleeve shirts (sun protection) a worthwhile undertaking.
We visited several schools and I wish I had brought more school supplies to donate. These children are beautiful and extremely happy, but they have almost nothing.
If you decide to book this trip you will certainly enjoy it if you keep an open mind and look for the beauty that is here. You can be miserable if you think this will be like a trip to Palm Springs, except in a foreign country.
Inle lake extension: we booked an extension with Amawaterways to Inle lake. I'm very glad we did. Swan, our tour director from the ship, stayed with us. He did a great job and kept us busy with multiple excursions each day, all by boat. We left the hotel each morning around 8am and returned at sunset. The only issue with Inle lake is that it is heavily infested with tourists, unlike the rest of our trip. It will become impossible in a few years as tourist traffic increases. It's a great stop, though. Not to be missed, at least for now.
Logistics: we purchased all our flights, hotels and transfers through Amawaterways. While probably more expensive than doing it on our own (ex: airport to Hotel was $50, on our own it would have been $10), everything was handled flawlessly and easily.
Camera gear: I shoot a lot of pictures. I'm an "advanced" amateur. Myanmar as dusty! Changing lenses on a DSLR outside is ill advised. I brought two DSLR bodies. One with a wide angle 10-24mm, and the other with a 28-300mm lens. That was perfect.
Flights in Myanmar: I was concerned before coming about our scheduled flights from Yangon to Mandaly and back and forth to Inle lake. We flew Yadanarpon airlines, which is apparently owned by the same person who partners with Amawaterways in Myanmar. The airline is relatively new with new ATR turboprop aircraft. They seemed good and safe.
Internet: be prepared for withdrawal symptoms. The boat has great wifi, but for most of the journey there is no connection to the outside world. There is minimal Internet at Inle lake. Two suggestions: check for wifi connections at the better shops you will be in. Some have free wifi. One passenger bought a local SIM card for their iPad. SIM cards can be purchased locally and your cruise guides can help you.
What I would have done differently: (1) packed a little less for one, and brought a few more REI-style quick drying hiking pants and shirts. (2) ditched the tripod. Didn't use it. (3) brought a broad brimmed hat. I brought a ball cap. (4) we brought insect repellent which we really didn't need. Read Less