The ship name is Viking Orient and leased from Pandaw, but not on the list so I've put the name of the ship as the closest to "Orient". The cruise started in Mandalay, and not Yangon, but there is no such option for the port of embarkation so I choose the closest available option- Yangon.
Please keep in mind that the opinion expressed here is my personal and could be very different from your personal experience. I'll tell it chronologically with some practical advises as it goes.
Flight: we flew from NY to Taipei and from there to Bangkok one day prier to "official" day of arrival- to get used to 12h time difference and to see more. We've used pills "No jet lag" which, probably, helped, because we've arrived to Bangkok at noon in, I'd say, pretty normal condition. We did not purchase transfer from Viking, so we got a taxi to hotel on our own. Here is how to do it:
When you leave Custom area, don't go out, but to the right on the escalator, down, and only now leave the terminal (the door will be on your left- 90 degrees to the escalator) and on your right (45 degrees) you'll see few counters with girls. You're getting to any of them, specify what hotel you want to go (the taxi driver usually stands behind her and listen to it). she gives you piece of paper with your destination and info about driver/taxi- (in case you forget something behind or would like to complain), driver takes your suitcases and lead you to his car. The moment he is in it and if he did not turn on the meter, say to him (and this is going for all your future taxi usage in Bangkok) "meter, please!" He will turn it on and it will show 35B. He will ask you "highway"? Tell him "yes" and be prepared to give him 25B on first and 50B on the second stop at the toll booth. At the end of trip (between 35min to 1h, depending on traffic and hotel. Millenium takes longer, Shangri-La is shorter) you need to pay him whatever on the meter 250-300B plus 50B for the girl's booking at the airport. Tip is not expected, but common to round up to the next 10 B. So, 5B-15B tip will do. In general try to use skytrain or Chaya river boats and not taxis, because the traffic in Bangkok is really bad (see about it further) and while taxi is not expensive (most rides in the center should cost between 60B-90B, but you can spend much more time in taxi then exploring....
Before leaving the airport you'll see a lot of currency exchange booths- all of them have the same exchange rate (it was 30.78 on 11/1), so change SOME money, because in the city you'll get better rate.
(For example in hotel it was 31.29 and near Wat Triamit 32.2).
We've expected to be in Millenium so I've booked it for additional night in advance and on non-refundable basis ($160 including breakfast), so when Viking informed us that Shangri-La will be our hotel, we did not have much choice, but stayed 1 night at Millenium and then 2 nights in Shangri-La.
To compare: both hotels are VERY nice, swimming pool & breakfast is better at Millenium, but Shangri-La location is better. There is Wi-Fi in both hotels, but in Millenium it works only in common area.
BTW, the time difference with Bangkok - 12h (compare to NY)
We arrived at hotel, went for short swim and went for two major attractions - Wat Arun & Wat Pho.
Wat Arun is much smaller, you can climb to the top (recommended) and then took boat across the river (3B cost, the pier located to the left of Wat Arun) and went to Wat Pho,- it is about 150 feets from the pier- on your left will be the walls of Royal Palace and after 150 feets on your right the entrance to Wat Pho. It is extremely large and beautiful place. Prepare to take your shoes off periodically. It is getting dark around 6pm so about when we were heading back to hotel it was dark. We went to the same pier, caught a boat to "Safam Tsakin"- central pier, about 5 stops. You buy ticket on board, 15 B. Millenium ran free shuttle service from the central pier to the hotel, so when get out at the pier, turn right go the pier on the right, ask, policeman there "Millenium"? and he will tell you when the right boat comes.
We did not go for Dinner to Millenium- the prices there....main entry $80-$100 plus service and tax, so we went to the left of hotel by the river and in about 150 feet got to local restaurant where prices were "Thai prices" - main dishes 90B-200B and food was ok.
Day 1 (official arrival day)
Next morning after having breakfast- very large selection, including a lot of "Chinese breakfast dishes"
we took another shuttle from hotel (to the left of complimentary shuttle boat) across the river to "River City" shopping complex (do not bother if you're after shopping- see later; the complex mostly empty) 3.5B cost of the transfer. We were on our way to self-guided walking tour of China town. The first stop was Wat Triamit (golden budda), but it was about 15-20 min walking from the pier thru typical China town
When we looked unsure where to turn one of the locals asked (with his hands) what are we looking for and showed us where to go. (In general people in Bangkok where extremely nice and pleasant in communication). wat Triamit was ok. (I'm not going to describe the tour- if interested you can download a lot of different versions of it). Then we've passed a lot of gold selling stores, China town market with plenty of kick-off bags- my wife got 3 for about 400B each- after negotiations, took a river boat to hotel and took a taxi to Shangri La. The official "cruise" has began!
At Shangri-La we met Viking representatives Tum & Tango and got keys to our room.
We wanted to see traditional Thai dance show so they've recommended one at the nearest hotel (Oriental), but since it was on the short notice, we're informed that the sits will be too far from the show, so we opted for another place $65/p including dinner. We'd be picked up from hotel and dropped off. That place we were told an hour from the hotel. Well, this day we got first hand knowledge of Bangkok trafic: it tooks us 2.5 hour to get there and 20 min to get back! The dinner was nothing to write home about and the show was very interesting and nice! Pick up time was 5.30pm and we've back about 10:30pm.
At 9am we've first briefing with Viking reps (Tum & Tango), were divided in two buses (total 50 people)- and this division will hold for the whole trip, got "quiet boxes" with spare batteries (keep them, you almost for sure will need them later) and informed about day schedule (10am-12:30am visit to Grand Palace by boat, 6:30pm leaving for the Thai restaurant dinner) and collected $10/p for tips to everyone in Bangkok besides them-selves (this amount seems reasonable, even though it is not acceptable practice in Thailand to tip...). There is no canals included in the tour, even though it was supposed to be included according to Viking brochure.
Piece of advise: if for some unlucky reason you're in Tango's group, insist on going with Tum. In my view Tango's English is absolutely is incomprehensible and while he is very nice guy this does not compensate for the fact that you'll be not able to understand his explanations in Royal Palace and/or on the way there. IMHO, he should not have been employed at all.
In the afternoon we went for Thai massage (300 B for 1h.) I recommend it- you'll be streched, pushed, pulled, but eventually will feel better. If not go for foot massage - the same cost. And we went for shopping in MBK. This is very interesting place (including food court on 5 fl) and if you've some time to spare, go for it! It is 5 stops by skytrain ("National Stadium" stop), 37 b each way.
Dinner was fine,- community style service, most of the dishes too spicy for my taste, but manageable. And it will be your first chance to sit with your companions - stupid and poor people don't go to such cruises so, I think you will (mostly) enjoy it! (in our group the oldest lady was 90y old, the second 86 y.o and my wife - 52 y.o was the youngest one).
In the morning we got transfered to airport for our flight to Mandalay. It was well organized process, no complains. The fly leaves around 12:30pm, lasts 1:30 h, they feed you lunch (extremely spicy so you better off to make some sandwiches in the hotel). When we arrived, we where met by Andrew & Nan Da- our PD's (program directors). They're going to be with you for the duration of the cruise until you leave from Yangon back to Bangkok. It is not sure that you'll get the same guys- there are 4 PD's for each ship, so which 2 you'll get is unknown. In any case, Andrew's English was easier to understand than Nan Da's, but Nan Da was more open about things and it is hard to say who was better.
You can exchange money at the airport, but if you ask PD to do it tomorrow in the city you'll get 3% more for your money. I suggest to exchange only $100 per couple (they suggest twice that much),- a lot of places accept $$$, but some not. In any case you can exchange back or leave it as a tip at the end of the cruise. since it was already too late to go to monastery as planned (it closes at 4pm) we went directly to the ship and all planned things were moved to the next day. the trip to ship takes 45 min.
On the bus, PDs will suggest to give $50 each toward tips for everybody not from the ship. At the end of the cruise you'll get the breakdown how that money was spent. We all (besides one couple) agreed and from looking on the breakdown of expenses I strongly recommend to give them only $30 p/p- it seems sufficient enough,- the tip IMHO, was not only exessive in some cases, but also given to some people that simply should not have got it at all.
The ship (Viking Orient).
Huge disappointment. Not even close to European river ships. The room is too small (about 140 sf), the storage space is very limited, the only "window" is the door that you came thru, but if you keep it open, then, everyone who passes will see inside your cabin. There is no A/C common space and sun deck is too hot during the day. There is also extremely bad acustics in dining room and you need to raise your voice in order to be heard.
Put A/C on the "wave" you'll get better cooling. There is no Wi-Fi on board, but 2 computers with slow internet available, most of the time. Nothing blocked.
Regarding clothing: don't worry about what to wear to monasteries or pagodas- every day it will be announced what is appropriate and worse case scenario you'll be given something to cover yourself.
I suggest to pack light, the dress code is super-casual, no formal nights and no ties, suits, evening dresses- this is not like in Europe. Wear flip-flops, if you can. The schedule looks like that: 7-9am breakfast (very limited choice. You won't go hungry, but this is not Shangri-La) with tea or coffee; 9am -11:30am sightseeeing 12am- lunch. (Very good salads, poor main dish). 3:30pm- second sightseeing.
6pm- coctail hour; 6:45pm briefing for the next day. 7pm dinner. 8:30pm some kind of entertainment- movies ("The Lady"- highly recommend, and "The life of Budda"- put me to sleep), local productions- worth to try and once trivia game. At 10pm the computer is all yours- everybody is sleeping.
There is no tea/coffee served during the lunch or dinner- there is machine at the bar where you can get very bad cappuchino or so-so coffee and normal tea. The drinks are included, besides imported hard alcohol (so local Wisky or Rum and local wines and coctails as much as you can). I'm not much drinker so have no clue about quality of any drinks, including beer. The desserts are mostly nothing to write home. BTW, Viking use to issue every traveler name tag (very convinient), but for some reason stop doing it few weeks ago.
When you leave the ship for the daily excursions you'll get battle of water; when you come back you
surrender your foot wear for the cleaning (do it) and get it in 1/2 h.
Regarding sickness: I'm 100% sure that nobody ate anything from outside the ship and still every time someone was sick for 1-2 days. I think the reason for it the spices and the combination of unfamiliar food with drinks. At some point about 9 people were sick and did not show for excursion. Don't use Imodium, but rather Pipto-Bismol.
Back to the day 3. At 6:15pm we got briefing with Hotel Manager- Dominiqe from Switzerland. Very nice and open guy. What is important, is that he said that in the area we pass there was no malaria case in the last 5-7 years so you don't have to take any profilatics.
The full day of Mandalay, including lunch in local (Chinese) restaurant. Very nice. Here you'll get your first real taste of Myanmar,- the city of 3m, looks like oversized village and simply different from Europe or USA. I'm not going to describe what we've seen (mostly), because you'll see it yourself, but rather just prepare you for any logistics or surprises.
Ava . Here you're going for the first time encounter local vendors,- mostly girls 7-17y old.
They will try to sell you some costume jewelry (negotiate) and try to make you feel gilty ("what is your name? will you think about buying? (we're going thru them again) do you remember me? You make me unhappy if you don't buy" etc). My advise: if you like something- negotiate and buy, it is not expensive. If not, then tell them that their happiness is not your concern. The horse ride was unplesant.
Amarapura. The visit to monastery is really waste of time; the gandolla ride on the lake is much more interesting. Unfortunatelly because of the time spent in monastery we don't get the chance to walk on the teak bridge.
The entertainment: classical Burmese Ballet. highly recommend.
Your real encounter with village in Burma. Well, if you're after church-castle-palace-square, you'd be better off in Europe. Here it is totally different....
Evening entertainment: lecture about Bagan. While the subject is really interesting the lecturer was falling asleep and was done in 12 min on the subject that could be told hours. Very disappointing. From my later discussion with Dominiq it seems that there is a problem to find English speaking lecturers.
Bagan. Extremely interesting area, magnificient views. A lot of vendors. Some women bought "elephan pants" $4-$5, T-shirts and other touristic souvenirs. Vendors- see day 5.
We dock near reasort where you can get Wi-Fi. Some people went to their coffee shop in the afternoon, but we choose their pool (they did not charge us, but I've heard about $10 fees). Very nice!
Entertainment: Puppet show. Could not stand it more than 15 min. Very repetative.
Afternoon in Sale with monastery.
Afternoon in Magway, by trishaw to Pagoda with very nice view. This was very interesting- the city is not spoiled with tourist attention so we got to feel like on parade.
Monk blessing on the ship. Works for 26 days.
Visit to local market. My wife got "Tanaka" 70c a jar plus some remedy against headachack- another 65c. I bought some bag for my camcorder- $3.
In the afternoon we went to Minhla port- total waste of time and another small town.
Visit to local school where they made serious reception for us with dances, meals etc. (The tip money that left over get contributed to this school)
We get to Pyay and this is the last stop. For some reasons instead of going by ship to Yangon (160miles), they choose to get there by bus - 7 hours of not pleasant ride.
We visited Shwe San daw Pagoda- very interesting and archeological museum- really nothing.
Afternoon on your own. But it is so hot that no desire to go and explore more of that town.
Disembarkation briefing. Tips: Viking recommend about $200 to crew (per couple) and the same to PD.
In my view it is really exesessive,- I think 1/3 to 1/2 of it will do. To crew you can put it on credit card, but to PD only in cash. could be given later in Yangon.
Dominiq also collected from everyone e-mail addresses and distributed list with it.
After breakfast we hit the road to Yangon and by 3pm we're there. Yangon, is the first normal town you'll see. A lot of traffic, normal streets & shops, even supermarket, squares with fonutain. Nice.
We went for a swim & then to downtown- very close.
The dinner in hotel is included, a lot of selection, but nothing to eat....
The climax of the trip Shewdagon pagoda. Unforgettable! It is good thing that we started from Mandalay, because have we started from Yangon everything after that would be really downhill.
At the top we got calendar for 2015 (50 cents) with the pictures of Pagoda. Extremely beautiful (both)!
In the afternoon we went to supermarket to get idea about local production. Rum- 80 cents bottle. the other imported things are on par with US.
Farewell dinner at hotel.
Moving back to Bangkok. 1 hour flight. The time difference with Birma 1/2h (compared to Bangkok).
The same Tango met us, transfer to hotel, return your head pieces and we done.
All in all was very interesting trip.