Scenic's 14-day Mystical Irrawaddy tour begins with a land component in the former colonial capital of Yangon, with passengers visiting the dreamiest of all Myanmar's temples, the gold-plated, diamond-encrusted Shwedagon Pagoda, which contains no fewer than four relics of the Buddha.
Yangon itself is a surprisingly green city with a ban on motorcycle traffic; but beyond the city limits, typical south-east Asian road chaos ensues, with the seven-hour coach journey to Pyay, where we will board the Scenic Aura, quite the heart-stopping adventure.
There are no jetties of any note along the Irrawaddy; Aura is instead tethered by ropes to trees on the river bank, and accessed by a gangplank after a steep, sandy descent. Everyone is excited to finally be on board our luxurious floating palace; but even after a welcome reception, we don't set sail until the following morning, with night travel prohibited on the river.
Launched in September 2016, Scenic Aura is arguably the most sophisticated vessel on the Irrawaddy, carrying a maximum of 44 passengers with an almost one-to-one ratio of staff to guests.
Each of if its 22 cabins – ranging in size from an ample 24 square metres to a 70-square-metre Royal Panorama Suite featuring its own private terrace and jacuzzi – boasts a river view, an alcove converting into a outdoor balcony with a touch of a button.
In terms of luxury, Scenic Aura's cabins rival any five-star hotel room, with Egyptian cotton linen, fluffy robes, a complimentary minibar that's restocked daily, Wi-Fi (admittedly a little sketchy on the more remote stretches of the river) and the services of a butler, who will even clean your shoes (without asking) when you return from a shore excursion.
A small plunge pool surrounded by day beds and swinging lounges is a godsend in the heat of day, while every morning I take advantage of an always-deserted fitness centre in an ill-fated attempt to ward off the side-effects of the all-inclusive food and wine policy.
Because – oh my – the food! It's fair to say that no one ever goes hungry on a cruise; but Scenic's offerings are a veritable feast, with delicious meals a constant temptation. Sumptuous buffets include both Western and Burmese dishes, with the local chefs keen to share their traditional cuisine.
The ever-smiling Chef Htet Aung entertains select guests at a Chef's Table teppanyaki experience, his exemplary knife skills learnt at one of Myanmar's only Japanese restaurants and perfected by watching YouTube videos.