Apr 12, 2016

Pandaw Kindat Cruise - Mandalay to Bagan

John and I are not fond of tour groups but a cruise accomplishes the
same thing better without changing hotels. We flew Air Asia from Bangkok to Mandalay and stayed at the Amazing Hotel Mandalay which has a good central location. The Pandaw people picked us up at the hotel and transported us to the Pandaw Kindat.  We chose a Pandaw cruise because the ships are built by the same company, the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, which had hundreds of ships that plied the river during their British colonial days when their fleet numbered in the hundreds.  When the Japanese attacked during WW II they sank all their ships but now are building new ones in the same style but with all the modern amenities. 

The seven-day cruise was a wonderful mix of touring the historical sites, visiting handicraft shops (In Myanmar things are made and done the old-fashioned way) and free time to lounge in the sun, read, or just watch life along the river.  The staff was amazing, anticipating every need, and attending to every detail including cleaning our shoes after every shore trip.  The meals were gourmet.

Myanmar is called, “The Golden Land” for good reason; there are
many temples, pagodas, and Buddha statues adorned with gold. In Mandalay we visited Mahamuni Pagoda where the faithful have adorned the Buddha with so much gold leaf that the statue is now many times its original size.  To meet the need for gold leaf pounders using sledge hammers pound the gold into the thinnest foil. They
work from sunrise to sunset with a break for lunch for about $6 a day. After visiting a beautiful teak monastery in a horse and cart we took a small boat on Taungthaman Lake to watch the sun set on U Bein, the world’s longest teak bridge.  I noticed that one of the crew
members who came along was the boat’s bartender. Jokingly I said, “You know it is going to be a great tour when you bring your bartender along.  It was no joke; he served us Sunset Cocktails while we were sitting in our boat watching the sun set. Unforgettable. 

Every day was an adventure. Normally I am not a fan of going to workshops but in Myanmar they still make products the old-fashioned way and not to just show tourists.  One day we stopped at a small pottery-making village where we could see the entire process from breaking up the hard clay to firing the pot in an earthen kiln. Myanmar people are very friendly so when they offered some of their locally brewed tea we were quick to accept.  It was sweet and delicious. 

We visited all the famous historical sites between Mandalay and Bagan. Bagan, with over 3000 temples, is the crown jewel of Myanmar. Part of the fun was getting to the sites.  Yes, we sometime took a bus but I rode an ox cart to the Mingun Bell, crossed a small
river to see ancient Ava, and we toured a village market in a tuk-tuk stopping at a school on the way back. On board we were entertained by traditional Myanmar dancing, singing, puppetry, and other cultural presentations. In retrospect I realized the cruise was very value-laden because the cruise included accommodations, tours admission fees, tour guides, various mean of transportation, and the wonderful meals and free-flowing libations.