All my concerns were soon laid to rest - I fell in love with the country, the scenery, the people and the relaxed way of life.
In Bagan, our river cruise vessel awaited us, the RV Kalay Pandaw, with only 5 cabins. Our cabin was on the Lower Deck with ample space, including floor-to-ceiling glass doors that opened out onto the surrounding deck. There was a separate shower and toilet with sink, and the cabin was air-conditioned.
Unlike most river cruises, sailings are during the day, and the boat is moored overnight. This really gives a true overall impression of the culture of the country, and interaction with the locals is encouraged on excursions, always led by a knowledgeable English-speaking guide.
We visited the Gubyau Gyi temple and walked through Phwar Saw Village, learning about the villagers' way of life. After an introduction to all the crew, we had a briefing as to what we would be doing the following day. This would be the routine every evening prior to our dinners, which were usually held on the Upper Deck in the open air.
Pagodas, stupas and temples, all built in the 11th century, were the key sightseeing activities of the day, and towards evening we visited the widest and largest temple in Bagan and viewed the sunset from the top of Taung Guni temple before returning to Kalay Pandaw.
Sale Town was the next destination, where we visited the beautiful teak monastery Yout-Saun-Kyaung with its extraordinary wood carvings, and after lunch, Tan Kyi Taung Village where we were entertained by the locals with an elephant dance. We then ascended Tan Kyi Taung Mountain for spectacular views over Bagan, and a stop at the hilltop stupa as well.
In Pakokku City we explored by tuk tuk, visiting the local market and town centre. The remainder of the day was spent on board, and we were entertained by presentations, a demonstration of how to wear the Longyi traditional attire, and a culinary demonstration by the chef on how to prepare the traditional Burmese ginger salad - delicious!
The following morning saw us travelling by ferry across the Myit Nge River, then by horse and cart to the Bagaya Kyaung monastery, built entirely of teak. We drove on through the beautiful Sagaing hills to the hilltop to enjoy the amazing views over Sagaing and the Ayeyarwady river. We visited a silver workshop where everything is made by hand, a silk and cotton weaving workshop, and the Soon-U-Ponnya-Shin Pagoda, before a boat trip on the Taungtheman Lake to watch the sunset behind the world's longest teak bridge, the U Bein footbridge.
Our final day took us on an excursion to the Myatheintan Pagoda, the Burmese version of the Taj Mahal, with the largest ringing bell in the world. This was followed by a visit to the Mingun Temple, an attempt to build the world's biggest temple which became the world's biggest pile of bricks after an earthquake in 1838.
The afternoon saw us back in Mandalay, with a tour to the Mahamuni Pagoda followed by a visit to a gold leaf and tapestry workshop. A walk along the marble and stone carvers' street brought us to the teak wooden Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung monastery, a fragile reminder of the old Mandalay Palace.
Our final dinner that evening was special - the Captain and crew bid us farewell with post-dinner entertainment including singing and dancing, a truly memorable end to our journey.