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Myanmar & Ayeyarwady river expedition cruises - Temples of Bagan

Myanmar & Ayeyarwady River expedition cruises

The Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy), with its tributary the Chindwin, creates a perfect base for exploration of Myanmar, which has been virtually closed to tourists for so long. This gently flowing river can take you all the way to Yangon (Rangoon) to the south, as well as through the famous cities of Bagan and Mandalay.

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Our expedition cruising guide to Myanmar and the Ayeyarwady River will tell you everything you need to know, including when to visit, what to see and why some people still refer to the country as Burma.

Our insight

Myanmar river cruising

Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is the bustling former capital and the startling point of nearly all itineraries. The faded, and in places crumbling, colonial buildings stand shoulder to shoulder with ornate stupas and the beginnings of new developments in the city. The Shwedagon Pagoda is the highlight, a towering gold pagoda topped with a huge diamond which is a dazzling sight during the day, and equally splendid at night when lit up by an array of flashy lights. The accommodation in the city is varied but a particular favourite of ours is the outstanding Belmond Governor's Residence, a colonial style mansion dating from the 1920s.

In a country where the infrastructure is still developing, the most comfortable way of travelling is along the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River. The most common itinerary is a 3 or 4 night trip between Mandalay, Burma's second largest city, and Bagan. Here over 2,000 temples, stupas and monasteries are spread over some 26 square miles, creating a magical landscape that's particularly stunning at sunset and sunrise.

For those who wish to discover more, during the high water season in the summer a handful of itineraries travel the Chindwin or explore the wonderfully named Nagaland, with more in-depth journeys focusing on the fascinating daily life of the Burmese people rather than the country's iconic temples.

Inle Lake is also a must and makes an excellent add-on to a short cruise. Surrounded by villages built on stilts to cope with the ebb and flow of the waters, the appeal of just spending time relaxing, travelling around by boat or bicycle and soaking up daily life can't be underestimated. With the exception of the temples at Bagan, this is our favourite place in the country.

There is also the burgeoning beach resort of Ngapali just a short flight from Yangon, with a handful of small hotels on the wide golden sand beach. Life is at a slower pace here and, like most of the rest of the country, it's hasn't succumbed to the commercialisation that mass tourism brings.

Getting around Myanmar is tricky, and flying internally usually involves a coloured sticker rather than a boarding pass (both charming and comical, but it seems to work) so we recommend booking all arrangements with us, so that we can ensure you have support on the ground in case you need it.

The best time to travel is between December and March when there is little rain, however the temperatures do start to soar from late March, reaching the high 30s in April (a trip to the cooler Inle Lake at this time can provide a welcome relief from the heat). The summer months see the most rainfall, allowing some river cruise itineraries to operate, and bringing the temperatures down to a more manageable 29-30 degrees.

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