RV Samatha review
We went on our Irrawaddy cruise, plus a 3 day stay at Inle Lake 15 Feb 2017 to 6 March. I have done a longer than usual review as we found it very difficult to get any information before we went.
The boat is new to APT refurbished not new. It is well appointed and there is plenty of space. You enter on the Main Deck where the dining room is situated. There are tables down two sides, the inner ones are booths seating 4, and there are tables along the floor to ceiling windows. In the centre is a server area, used for self service items at breakfast & lunch and for the "action station" presided over by the irrepressible Muppet who cooked eggs in the morning and stir fry type items at lunchtime.
There is also the private dining room Thuzar seating 12 guests where a special menu designed by Australian chef Luke Nguyen, is served and each guest can book at least twice per voyage.
In the foyer area is the reception desk and a shoe rack with numbered baskets one per cabin. On return from a trip you left your shoes here and changed into supplied flip flops or your own "indoor" shoes so we didn't tread dirt over the teak floors. The shoes were then cleaned for us ready for the next jaunt. Also available here was insect repellent for a quick squirt before heading out. There is also a small selection of souvenirs and necessities , toothbrush, Strepsils etc for sale all under the watchful eye of Hotel Manager Darren and the ever smiling receptionist Zin Mar.
On this deck are the window cabins, from what I could see they were the same as the balcony bar the balcony itself, I don't know if they had the armchair area.
Up a set of teak stairs were the balcony cabins and suites, then up a deck to the sun deck. There was an area under a canopy with seating for at least 60 so plenty of room, in comfy cushioned mock rattan furniture, some throne type seats that were much more comfortable than they looked. A few table and chairs were set out on one side with ashtrays if there were any smokers. Down both sides in the sun were loungers and a few sun beds overlooking the stern. Also in this area is a large whirlpool jacuzzi/ plunge pool.
At the front of this deck is the bar/ lounge where early morning pastries and tea and coffee were available, drinks all day and this is where we met each evening for the cocktail hour and briefing. On a few nights there was live entertainment and on a couple of nights films were shown.
At the very front was a very popular spa, and a less frequented bijou gym.
Well how many superlatives can I use. It really was 5 star. The buffet breakfast had fresh fruits, melon, papaya etc, yogurts, cereals and the pastries and breads ( all made from scratch on board) were the best we have had outside France! There was a Burmese hot soup type dish, eggs freshly made any way you liked, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, beans, potatoes, tomato we wanted for nothing.
Lunch and dinner were equally sumptuous. There was always two soup and a selection of cold starters. Mains always had a fish dish, a meat dish and a vegetarian option plus at lunch time an action station of freshly cooked things, like stir fry, wontons, pasta etc. The choices also had a European style dish and an Asian style dish. There was also always available steak, chicken breast, salmon and fries.
Drinks were all included and were good. Australian, Chilean wines mainly, cocktails each evening at the daily briefing. Beer, spirits and soft drinks and coffees available all day. Water was freely available with at least two bottles in the room at any one time.
Superb. There is no other way to describe them. We were almost full, 57 passengers, as we had a number of singletons and 47 staff including the two guides. All without exception were amazing, friendly, helpful, polite and attentive. They all helped out all over the place and went above and beyond on many occasions to ensure everyone was happy. One evening we had a crew show with the RV Samatha band and if enthusiasm and joy won awards there would have been Oscars all round!
Our cruise director Thomas was great, we had a briefing each evening about the next day's activities and he was super well organised, everything was thought of. HIs colleague Clement was extremely knowledgeable and so keen to pass on his love of his country and its history. The whole team on the ship turned out at times to help us disembark up bankings and steps and were there with cold cloths and drinks to welcome us back.
We went at the end of the dry season, no rain since November. This plus was low humidity the big minus lots of dust added to the woodsmoke and general pollution most people got a hacking chest cough. A saline nasal spray would be useful and some throat sweets.
The afternoon temperatures were high 30C
I had bought Craghoppers anti insect/sunblock long sleeved shirts and long trousers which drip dry and dry quickly. these were fine for off the ship. Others though seemed fine with linen sun dresses and sandals!
I wished I had brought crops or shorts and something a wee bit smarter for lounging about on the sun deck. Skechers Go Walk slip ons were great to wear without socks and easy to get on and off at the pagodas (they have needed two goes in the washer since we got home!)
We did the Yangon to Mandalay 14 day cruse with a 3 day extension at Inle lake. Before we left home we had a letter from APT a telling us that due to low water levels we would not be able to sail up to Mandalay but would moor 3 days away, still using the boat as a base but continuing our excursions by coach. This was a disappointment but beyond anyone's control.
The information we had pre cruise whilst not misleading gave me at least a false impression of what daily life would be like. We had a booklet before we left saying what sights we would be going to see each day, and tips on what to wear off the boat, walking shoes, cool long sleeved long trousered type clothing to avoid bites and the sun, and also for visiting pagodas where you had to take off socks and shoes and cover shoulders and knees. What I hadn't appreciated is that we would actually spend a lot of time on the ship, particularly for the first 4/5 days after leaving Yangon we had one or at the most two 1 or 2 hour trips off the ship. So clothing wise I wish I had taken more smarter daywear for sitting around on deck.
Our first day after reaching the ship we had a trip back into Yangon to see the Shwedagon Pagoda but after that the next few days were in the delta area and the trips ashore were mainly to see the old colonial towns from the time of British rule. We visited local markets, saw how local people lived, even on a couple of occasions being invited in to see inside their homes.
We found the trips interesting but probably because of the time of year and the low water levels it was often a real climb off the ship up an embankment. Members of the crew from all departments came to help us up and most of us managed it most days, but some landings were very challenging. Our average age I would guess was 65 ish but we had a fair few 80 plus who put some of us to shame.
We found everywhere was very dusty, with lots of woodsmoke from cooking fires, or where farmers were clearing their fields. This could be because of the time of year, no rain had fallen since November. Plenty of bottled water was available, and we were given a bottle in a carrier as we got off the ship. But some hard sweets to keep your mouth hydrated might be good idea. A "listening" device was used for trips, with the tour guide using a mike and everyone had an earpiece.
A lot of the time we spent on deck watching rural life go by, farmers tending crops, people doing their washing, boats plying their way up and down the river. We have done trips on the Amazon & Orinoco previously and honestly found the sailing down the river quite boring as the rivers are so vast there is little to see, but the Irrawaddy is narrower with much more life on the riverbanks.
Higher up the river it was pagodas and stupas that were the attractions, some more interesting than others and we did maybe become a little "stupafied" by the end! We rode trishaws, horse carts and one day even did the vegetable shopping all on our own.
In Bagan we took the option of the balloon trip which was stunning despite the early start.
The other highlight for us was the U Bien bridge where we watched the sunset from our sampan whilst sipping champagne, much to the envy of less pampered tourists.
The last few days of having to go on coaches to Mandalay, Sagaing etc were an eye opener as to what town life was like and how poor the roads were. It was quite tiring, but unavoidable and everything possible was done to make it easy for us.
Inle Lake was a beautiful, tranquil place. Still lots to see a little cooler and the air a lot clearer. We had a fabulous time zipping about on boats.
A Blog of our trip is here http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/jobloor/26/tpod.html& photos of the boat https://flic.kr/s/aHskVHsRfb
We were in cabin 205 a balcony cabin. It was very spacious with a king sized bed, two armchairs and a small coffee table, dressing table and wardrobes. The balcony had two chairs and a table.
We used the balcony rarely, and personally would opt for a window cabin if we did this again.
There was a full length double wardrobe, a single wardrobe with shelves, a safe and small fridge. The dressing table had 6 good sized drawers and a stationery drawer. There were two bedside tables with a drawer and cupboard.
The voltage on the ship was 230v, there was a socket above the dressing table which would accept US and European two flat or round pin plugs. On both sides of the bed were a USB socket and another plug. In the bathroom was a shaver socket.
Toiletries provided were L'Occitane shower gel, shampoo, hand wash, conditioner and body lotion.