We joined the ship in Mandalay at 9am, just on sailing time, even though we did not know this (note for ship - better information to agents re boarding time, or maybe a suggestion would be to start the voyage the night before at a hotel to ensure all guests are there and make it on board - Rupar Mandalar Hotel would be perfect).
From the moment we were on board, everything was just wonderful. The ship layout and our cabin (junior suite) was as per the photos, spacious and lovely. The welcome flowers and the champagne in the cabin to toast our sailing was what turned out to be the excellent and ever present attention to detail that was the hallmark of the whole 11 nights/12 days on board.
The staff service was superb, the shore excursions interesting, not too long, nor arduous, very safe and most enjoyable (note - a certain level of mobility is desirable on this cruise and cruise ship - no lifts but only 3 easy levels of decks to move between and some river banks and walks were a bit on the steep or rocky side. Whenever this happened the crew were there with an amazing level of support, friendly hands to guide up and down slopes and everybody felt well cared for).
The Chindwin was a fabulous choice - 11 nights of graciously sailing back into time, where you can really unwind and relax. This part of Myanmar is some 50 years behind say the countryside in Thailand. It is subsistence farming with bullock drays, small villages, poor but happy people. What was fun was these people took as many photos of us (they may be poor but they all have smart phones) as we took of them. Tourists on the Chindwin are still relatively new and few and far between, as even the Anawahtra can only get up to Homalin on 2 voyages a year. The river is the lifeblood and we were on it. The Chindwin experience is different from the Mekong, Yangste or anything close to Europe (and we have done all these river cruises in high class vessels). So what made this cruise better than those in our opinion?
Well apart from the stops at yet another Buddhist pagoda temple with "shoes off" requirements (bit like another church in Europe), the ship itself was so relaxing from the reasonably sized pool on the top deck to cool down after a hot shore excursion whilst you watch the world go by as we journeyed on, to the open area bar and lounge which was enjoyed as a meeting place from sunrise to long past sunset. The pool was serviced with drinks with the added nice touch of cold fruit satay sticks, the bar for drinks at any time and complimentary all day cappacino. It also served afternoon tea and was a popular WiFi point.
The passenger care and thoughtfulness permeated, always with a smile. From welcome back on board cold fruit drinks and cold towels, to cleaning your shoes after every trip ashore, to little gifts on your bed each night which reflected the charms and culture of the Myanmar countryside we were sailing through, to the staff - always there, but never intrusive, the whole trip was a joy to be part of. Nothing was too much trouble, in fact the ship added to the itinerary whenever possible with a quick hour ashore here or there, to see the local village we were moored near if we arrived at our overnight anchorage early.
We sadly left the ship in Bagan on day 12, having moored there overnight and spent half the last day being taken to the Ananda Temple and then a sunset pagoda which we precariously climbed up to witness the sun set over the most amazing landscape of temples, which was truly surreal. This afternoon was also good for a familiarisation of Bagan for those of us staying on for a day or so, which we would recommend – 2 nights extra is enough to catch a balloon ride as well – we hit 9 temples/pagodas in all including the ones we visited with the ship – all great, all different, visited a high end lacquer shop (Moes – can recommend), visited the local market and had a lovely lunch on the river. The ship organised a driver for us from the ship to our hotel and we used him for the additional 2 days – you need a driver in Bagan – the ship’s contact was half the price of our hotel!! Again thank you Anawahtra. Note re Bagan hotels – New Bagan versus Old Bagan - as you need to drive to get to the sights and nowhere is too far, choose the hotel that appeals most, location from what we saw does not really matter.
Finer Anawahtra details:
• We did not sail after 6pm and it was anchors up most mornings at 6am.
• We moored mid river most nights and had a pilot boat with us to guide us and serve as our shore tender.
• The cabins are all lovely with internal size, balcony size, bathroom size and amenity and being the major differences. The Royal Suites (2) have a series of well appointed rooms, plus bathroom and outdoor spa and worth the upgrade if you can. The Executive Suite (2) is basically the same as the Junior Suite and not worth the additional tariff over the Junior Suite in our opinion. The Junior Suite (only 3) is worth the extra cost over the normal cabins for the additional seating area, king bed, bathroom with separate Wow factor bath and shower, complimentary laundry, mini bar and 2 spa massages and a spacious balcony with 2 loungers. Having said that the normal cabins are more spacious than most cruise lines and very comfortable with a good layout affording 2 windows and a small balcony with chair.
• For those with a suite your laundry was included and for those in other cabins, you had 4 pieces of laundry per cabin complimentary each night – such a bonus when it is hot and many changes of clothes are desirable throughout the day.
• For those of you who are ethically minded, the Anawahtra carries a doctor and nurse on this trip. She served the passengers if required (nobody got sick nor injured on our trip) and on 3 occasions she went ahead and had an open (free) clinic for the villagers providing medicines, schooling materials and in one village – life jackets). This service and goods were donated by the ship as part of their social responsibility – the ship did not seek donations from the passengers to cover this service, which is not the same on many other cruise lines.
. Re social responsibility and safety and "should you go" - we tossed this up and decided we had paid so we would go. As it turned out we saw not a semblance of trouble, the people are beautiful and need us and our tourist dollars. By withdrawing tourism support is not going to solve any of their issues.
• Food to be honest was not five star quality but it was better than fair. There was plenty of it with breakfast and lunch buffets (Asian and Western food) and a la carte 4 course dinners with several choices. Generous amounts of wine (Chilean) and beer (not sure of the brand) was served complimentary at lunch and dinner for all.
• Mosquitoes – you read A LOT about them in Myanmar. We had no issues with mosquitoes on the ship even though the folding doors in the bar area were always open full width bringing the outside scenery close and personal – maybe mooring mid river away from foliage is the answer. However, every time we went ashore we were given mosquito spray to use (plus sunscreen, water bottles and golf umbrellas (for sun, rain on one occasion, or a walking stick for some).
In summary, cannot speak more highly of our Anawahtra cruise, cheers to the Captain, Leo and Win plus our guides and all the crew. We absolutely loved it all.
We had the starboard junior suite. There are only 3 junior suites on board.
We loved the size, layout - kingsize bed, lounge area, separate bathroom with shower, freestanding claw footed bath with a river view and a walkin robe of sorts, plus a very long (if not skinny) balcony complete with comfortable chairs and a side table to watch the scenery go by. Totally as the photos depict.
The A/C in the room was excellent, in a way too cold for us given the outdoor temperatures but easy to adjust.
Junior suites come with a mini bar restocked daily with soft drinks and water and free laundry - nice - given you had several changes of clothes each day with the steamy heat.
Re other rooms - we could have upgraded to an executive or Royal suite on the ship as it was not full. Some US passengers had withdrawn for ethical reasons re Rohinga treatments). The upgrade prices were still fully priced and we felt the Executive offered nothing more than what we had really but a tad more space (not worth paying for in our opinion) and the Royal Suite (3 discrete rooms) would have been lovely (there are 2 and one was on offer, again fully priced on board so we could not justify it but would have taken it if priced a bit more of a last minute price) but as the cruise went on we decided it was probably not such a great move - always in the sun, with lots of wind from our constant steaming, the personal spa, again in the sun and/or wind.
We were VERY HAPPY with the junior suite.
All other rooms note mentioned here are the same size, layout and furnishings, deck level does not matter and these rooms were very comfortable as well with a nice window seat with a view (no balcony).