I cruised on the Kalaw Pandaw from Sept. 6 to 13, 2014, embarking in Mandalay and debarking in Bagan, Myanmar (Burma). The Kalaw is a beautiful little river steamer built almost entirely out of a dark hardwood that is indigenous to Myanmar. The boat is in excellent repair, well maintained and clean. Because the boat is small, it does not have the amenities of the large cruise ships, but that does not matter to me. I don’t need a pool, gym, separate cocktail lounge or the other amenities of large ships. All of us could socialize out on the deck whenever we wanted to. Cruises on Pandaw are down to earth, which I liked. The ship’s small size and shallow draft enable the captain to take it right up to the river banks and sail it in parts of the river where larger boats cannot go.
This was the inaugural cruise for this itinerary and, I think, this boat. Service was excellent. Crew and staff were friendly and went out of their way to accommodate our wishes. Food was ample and very good. Laundry sent out in the morning was back by evening. All excursions were included in the cruise price. Transfers to and from airports or hotels was included too. Gratuities were included, but most of us gave staff cash tips anyway because the service and overall experience was so good. The itinerary was excellent. We were taken to well known historic sites and temples, as well as remote villages and places that I would have never found on my own. This mix of excursions added very much to the enjoyment of the cruise. Our tour guide was excellent. He spoke English and had extensive knowledge about every place we went. We learned a lot about the history and culture of this enchanting country. Because the boat ties up to river banks, your shoes may get a little muddy or dirty and the same with some of the excursions that we went on. No problem. You take off your shoes when entering the boat. Crew clean them off and deliver your shoes to your room. Sandals should be worn. You have to take off shoes and socks to enter the temples anyway.
The Irrawaddy River is huge. It is the main economic artery of Myanmar. We were 600 miles north of Yangon (Rangoon) and the river was larger than the Mississippi R. at New Orleans. The Irrawaddy is famous for its sunsets. The river did not disappoint us on this trip. Many of us would sit out on the deck in the evening to watch the sunset.
The cabin number doesn't matter. They are all the same except for one suite on the upper deck. The upper deck cabins cost more, but are the same as the lower deck (main deck) cabins. The cabins are comfortable and air conditioned. Slippers and toiletries are provided. The cabins and furnishings are made of a dark wood that is indigenous to Myanmar. I liked it.