Included shore excursions comprise a morning tour to a lacquer-ware factory and an afternoon exploration of Bagan, former capital of the Burmese empire and spiritual heart of Myanmar. From the 11th century until its rapid decline two centuries later, devout Burmese monarchs built over 4,000 temples across a swathe of a parched-earth plain. Though many of the original pagodas have crumbled into oblivion, there are still hundreds rising from the umber terrain. In this ghost city, slim, white stupas contrast with stocky, red-brick tetragonal monuments; some soaring 60 meters high, with elaborate terraces, porticos and bas-reliefs. As the sun sets the photo opportunities at the Shwe San Daw temple are endless.
There are also half-day tours by minibus to Mingun, another of Myanmar's former capitals, where a visit is made to one of the largest pagodas ever constructed in the country's history. The tour continues with a visit to the Mingun Bell -- claimed to be the largest uncracked hanging bell in the world. The excursion concludes with a visit to the Paya Hsinbyume pagoda that rises in seven curved whitewashed terraces representing the seven mountain ranges around Mount Meru -- the mountain center of the Buddhist universe. Passengers return to Strand Cruise by local tuk-tuks, which offers the chance to experience life like a local.
* May require additional fees
In Mandalay the tour buses take passengers on a half-day excursion to see the U Bein Bridge, which spans the Taungthaman Lake and is believed to be the longest teakwood bridge in the world, the Mahamui Buddha temple and the Shwe In Bin monastery. After lunch, back on board, the afternoon tour heads to Sagaing, the most important religious center in Myanmar and famous for its white, silver and gold pagodas of 600 monasteries and nunneries. The day concludes at Ava, the ancient imperial capital of successive Burmese kingdoms from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Here a horse cart transports guests through the landscape which appears lost in time.
The tour manager prearranges all admission tickets to temples and historic sites visited on the daily programme tour.
All tours as per the itinerary are included and some alternatives are also offered at no cost; other excursions such as the Dandaree sound and light show in Bagan (October to March) and private limousines with private guide are available at an additional cost.
At approximately $350, the sunrise hot-air balloon ride over the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bagan (October to March) is not cheap, but it's worth every penny as you soar above the temples and pagodas, consigning the landscape to a trillion pixels.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
There is a fun longyi and thanakha (a face cream with a paste-like consistency made from ground tree bark) demonstration offered by the crew before lunch on Sun Deck on one of the days.
During the evening, there's a traditional cultural puppet show, a superb, colorful folkloric show and close-up magic in Sarkies Bar, performed by the tour manager. On the night of the sandbank dinner the crew also offer a charming show around a bonfire singing local songs and performing Burmese dances.
One lecture takes place per cruise, given by a local expert on the history of the country with a nod to the political situation as well as the importance of the Ayeyarwady River to the development of this enigmatic region.
Sarkies Bar (Sun Deck): This air-conditioned section of Sun Deck is named after the Armenian brothers who founded not only the Strand Hotel in Rangoon (now Yangon) in 1901, but also Raffles Hotel in Singapore and the Eastern and Oriental Hotel in Penang. The central U-shaped teakwood bar counter with canopy has four bar stools on each of three sides; on the fourth side is a display cabinet of fine single malts and cognacs. There are 11 round cocktail tables with four rattan chairs each and one long table with six stools close to the entrance. There are also button-back tub chairs in tan leather. Covering the teak floor are three large deep-woven Oriental rugs. There are sideboards with lamps, lacquer-ware display and colorful arrangement of Burmese blankets, plus a small library with Burmese history books and novels. Board games such as Monopoly, Scrabble, draughts, chess, dominoes and Mahjong are centerpieces of the individual tables, while on the bar is a pair of binoculars and humidor. The colonial aura is enhanced with the color scheme of taupe, grey, olive green, and two-tone white and grey checks.
This focal hub is popular when shore tours conclude and the draught Dagon Beer is liberally dispensed by the obliging bar staff. Cocktail hour is also a busy time and the extensive array of drinks includes Strand Sour, Bagan Breezer, and Strand Sling. After dinner a few passengers transform the room into a gentleman's club enjoying the impressive array of rare whiskies and maybe a Cohiba or Montecristo from the cigar list.
Sun Terrace (Sun Deck): At the aft section of the Sun Deck is the only smoking area on board. Here there are four rattan sun-loungers, two circular loungers, one sofa and several occasional tables.
Forward on Sun Deck is the 3.9 foot deep swimming pool. This is surrounded by 12 Alexander Rose rattan-style sun loungers with off-white mattresses and lime-green towels. These are perfect for sunbathers as they are placed in the upper, shallow ledge of the pool. The attentive pool attendant brings iced water and drinks. There are also four ottomans on the sides surrounding the pool plus three double Balinese beds in a smart grey and white stripe fabric. In addition, there are four large bean-bags and occasional chairs. The deck surrounding the pool is shaded by a retractable canopy. There is also a shower and restroom dedicated to this area.
The reception desk, located on Main Deck, is open 24 hours and is the point of contact for any queries regarding travel arrangements, additional excursions and onboard connectivity to the complimentary Wi-Fi or requests to borrow Samsung tablets. It is also where passengers settle accounts (note: American Express cards are not accepted on board, MasterCard and Visa are).
The small library is located in Sarkies Bar where there are also board games; butlers take care of laundry and pressing and supply adaptors and converters on request; while the bar staff are pleased to offer ice at any time. This is made onboard with bottled water and is safe to consume.
There is also a small boutique selling Burmese objects d'art, Patrick Robert artwork, logo-wear and souvenirs. This is open from 10:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m.
The Spa has a single massage room; a double massage room and a foot-spa room. There are two therapists on duty throughout the day offering 30-minute and hour-long massages using Thai oils. Prices are very reasonable and include a 30-minute Jasmine Rice Scrub or a 30-minute Pink Himalayan Salt Scrub, both priced at $65. An hour-long Sagaing Voyage massage, using detoxifying tangerine, pink grapefruit and rosemary oils, costs $60.
Strand Gym is located on Below Main Deck (the lowest deck on the vessel), featuring Life Fitness Multi-Gym, Cross-Trainer, and cycling machines. There is also an array of dumbbells and yoga mats.
Strand Cruise is not suited to children or teenagers. The minimum age to sail is six years.