Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Cruise Weekly: Awaken Burma



By Roderick Eime

It seems everyone’s eyes are on Burma as the new tourism destination. But after languishing for years with sanctions and restrictions, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar will struggle to cope with the anticipated influx of western travellers eager to experience this once mysterious destination.

A shortage of hotel beds and other critical infrastructure like air capacity, is set to play into the hands of cruise operators as the ideal means of exploring this newly opened nation. In 2012, Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism released figures that quoted a doubling of arrivals over six years to just over one million. Cross-border arrivals are static, while air arrivals are soaring.

Much of the romantic allure of Burma was formed during the British colonial era when the country was absorbed into the Empire in the closing years of the 19th century. Of course, life under British rule was not ideal for the devout Buddhist population of Burma, but stories of the steamy, mysterious land by the likes of 1907 Nobel laureate, Rudyard Kipling, set the scene with tales of adventure and derring-do for generations of imaginative English-speaking children.

One of the enduring visions of colonial Burma is that of the many hard-working steamboats of the 1865-formed Irrawaddy Flotilla Company that traversed the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers in the service of the British Empire. When the British recovered Burma in 1945 after Japanese occupation, the IFC was reformed.
 
Original RV Indochina Pandaw
Today the original vessels of the IFC are gone, but their spirit lives on in a new and rebuilt fleet of replica vessels, constructed with absolute authenticity to recapture that romantic colonial spirit. Enter Pandaw.

Building on the overwhelming popularity of the nostalgic river cruising concept established on the Mekong with RV Indochina Pandaw, the company expanded river operations to include the Irrawaddy with an identical sister vessel, the Orient Pandaw.

The name Pandaw derives from the last of the original, Clyde-built vessels recovered and restored to its former glory in the late 1990s, thus reviving the name and the concept of Asian retro river cruising.
 
Orient Express: Road to Mandalay
While pioneering the riverboat trade along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers, Pandaw’s success quickly attracted new operators. Pandaw continued to profit from their exclusivity and many cruise wholesalers like Cruiseco and Viking employed the classic vessels while others like Orient-Express launched their own. Smaller, local operators like Yangon-based Myanmar River Cruises are also getting in on the action with a fleet of six varied vessels including day boats.
 
Myanmar River Cruises: Irrawaddy Princess
While more and more visitors are arriving in Burma and many looking at the floating option, knowledge within the retail cruise sector is limited to specialist agencies with actual on-the-water experience. A good reason to consult ICCA accredited cruise agents. See cruising.org.au for members.