A Guide to Irrawaddy River Cruising with Scenic’s Journey Designer

Whichever corner of the globe you’re yearning to uncover, you can rest assured that every single Scenic itinerary has been carefully handcrafted by our team of Journey Designers. As experts in the destinations we travel to, our Journey Designers are dedicated to taking you beyond the ordinary during a unique array of awe-inspiring experiences. When you travel along the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, you will have the chance to immerse yourself in the heart of Southeast Asia’s culture.
Our seasoned and accomplished team have personally explored and researched every aspect of our Southeast Asia river cruises and tours, combining the very best highlights and hidden gems that will take you off the beaten track. The team have ridden the traditional trishaws, sampled the teas, tried the Asian cooking classes, and visited the incredible landmarks that form our itineraries, so you can expect a truly luxurious, once-in-a-lifetime travel experience. 

We spoke to our Asia Journey Designer, Adam Burke. Be inspired for your next Southeast Asia adventure by learning about his favourite experiences in Myanmar, his advice for exploring this region, and what it’s like to travel with Scenic.

How did you become a Journey Designer for Scenic? 

Having spent over 26 years building my knowledge in Asia, I joined Scenic as a Journey Designer to launch and develop the luxury river cruises and tours for the Scenic Spirit and Scenic Aura ships, as well as Scenic’s escorted tours in China, Japan and India.
My personal journey began in Asia when I traveled for 11 years as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy. It was only natural to continue my passion working within the travel industry. I spent three years working for Travel Indochina as a Vietnam specialist when Vietnam was only beginning to open up to tourism. Then I worked for 11 years with another Asian specialist, in the Product and Marketing department, finishing there as Head of Product.

What is unique about Myanmar? 

Once known as Burma and closed off for so long from the outside world, Myanmar is now at a similar stage of development that Vietnam was 25 years ago. This makes it one of the last destinations where you can experience the ‘Asia of old’ before development takes over. This is a major drawcard for many; you can see the traditional culture and customs in practice before they disappear. The Burmese people are friendly and down to earth, and are happy to share their life experiences with you.

How is Scenic river cruising different in this region to others?

With Scenic Aura only hosting up to 44 guests at a time, onshore excursions are in small groups with no more than 24 guests per Tour Director. This enables Scenic to handcraft unique experiences and interactions with the locals and their customs. Scenic also offers more included touring and surprise activities throughout the journey to ensure guests are able to fully appreciate life in Myanmar.

How does the Myanmar river cruising experience compare to Europe?

Scenic is the only European cruise operating company to deliver the same luxury on board experience in Asia. However, your time spent on shore is vastly different because of where you are. Firstly, you are in a developing country where European river infrastructure does not exist. For example, there is only one wharf along the route of the river cruise and that is in Mandalay. Going on shore is via a gangway to the riverbank or using a sampan (a traditional, relatively flat-bottomed wooden boat). We use various forms of local transport for an authentic experience, while also providing employment to the locals. It is this hands-on interaction with the locals, experiencing their customs and their daily lives, which our guests appreciate the most.

How does Scenic incorporate its promise of the Nth Degree in Myanmar? 

Scenic is the only international cruise and tour operator to design, own, staff and build its own boutique cruise ships in Asia. Our crew are all employed and trained by Scenic and overseen by our regionally-based management teams in Yangon, Mandalay, Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City. This means we are able to deliver a consistent 5-star luxury service, unmatched by other travel operators in Southeast Asia.

What is so unique about the 5-star experience on board Scenic Aura? 

Scenic Aura will be your floating 5-star retreat from the excitement of your touring on shore. With the largest lead-in cabins of any cruise ship on the Irrawaddy River, each suite features a bedroom and a separate living room, a balcony, a walk-in wardrobe, and an en-suite bathroom, giving you plenty of personal space on board.
With a nearly 1:1 staff-to-guest ratio and a maximum of 44 guests, Scenic Aura’s service is unmatched. Indulge in a meal at one of four on board dining venues or sip your preferred drink from an extensive selection of international all-inclusive beverages at the bar, pool or on the Sun Deck – all while watching the ever-changing scenery pass by. Guests can also indulge in a spa service or stay active in the state-of-the-art gym during the relaxing sailing time built into each itinerary.

What is Myanmar best known for? 

The easiest answer would be the Burmese devotion to Buddhism, and the sheer number of ancient temples, shrines and stupas located throughout the country – especially in Bagan and Sagaing. This is only part of the attraction of visiting the country. There’s also the untouched landscapes, the people, the culture, the local customs and the surprising diversity found throughout the country. Workmanship with jade, gold, lacquerware, and stunning paintings are some of the treasures you can find whilst shopping here.

What are your travel tips for people visiting Myanmar, including cultural etiquette? 

Being a very religious Buddhist country, knowing the ‘dos and don’ts’ around the monks and nuns you encounter is essential. It is important to never touch someone on the head, and to not point with or expose the soles of your feet. You should not offer to shake a monk’s hand. Always respect all Buddha images, remove footwear at religious places, and ask before taking someone’s photo. This ensures you are not disrespectful towards the ideals the locals hold dear. 

When is the best time to travel to Myanmar? 

The wet or ‘green’ season is generally petering out by late October and the water level on the Irrawaddy River is at its peak. With pleasant temperatures and little rainfall from this point on, November through to January is the best time overall to travel to Myanmar. As the water level drops on the river from December, we are also then able to offer a few extra surprise inclusions from this point. Mid-February is when the water level on the river is at its lowest and though the level does begin to rise again in March, so does the temperature, particularly in Bagan, as April approaches.

Is Myanmar safe for female and solo travelers?

Absolutely! The destination is perfect for all kinds of travelers, including female and solo travelers. All travelers are expected to take normal safety precautions of not showing signs of wealth when you are sightseeing and to always be aware of your surroundings. I have never had a guest question their safety or felt uneasiness on one of our cruises and tours. 

Have you seen Myanmar change as a travel destination over the years, or has it remained the same? 

As with all of Asia, the region is modernizing, and Myanmar is no different. Particularly because it had not done so for so long, the country has more to catch up on. There is a lot of new infrastructure being built and old buildings being renovated through international investment. The sooner you are able to experience Myanmar, the better, as it has changed so much already over the years.

What are some of your tips on the unique Scenic experiences? 

Myanmar is likely a country you will only visit once. By adding four more nights, you can include Inle Lake as part of your itinerary. This extension will provide you with a more complete understanding of the diversity of life and customs in Myanmar. The scenery, lifestyle, minority tribes of the region, and the life on the lake are very new experiences to those along the river.
Throughout your journey, all of our Scenic Enrich experiences are exclusive to Scenic, not offered by or available to anyone else. In Sagaing, your interactions at one of the nunneries we support and at the monastic-aided school (backed by Scenic) is a very intimate experience. Partaking in rituals like the oil lamp lighting at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, enjoying lunch and interacting with the minority Intha tribe family in Inle Lake, and enjoying a gala dinner and show under the stars in front of Bagan temples, are just some of the much loved Scenic Enrich activities in Myanmar. These immersive cultural and personal experiences help you take home Myanmar memories to last a lifetime. 

Discover Myanmar and the Irrawaddy River with Scenic

With so many diverse wonders to behold, Myanmar is an awe-inspiring destination for the avid traveler. When you travel with Scenic, you can rest assured your river cruise along the Irrawaddy River will be one of all-inclusive luxury, sailing on our 5-star Scenic Aura. Discover this incredible region like never before, witnessing age-old Asian customs, breathtaking natural landscapes and captivating religious monuments. Learn more about the highlights of our itineraries by browsing our complete collection of Irrawaddy river cruises online.