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Irrawaddy River Cruises

Much like the Mekong, which begins in the mountains of Tibet and flows south through China, the Golden Triangle, Cambodia and Vietnam, the Irrawaddy River can be traced to the glaciers of the Himalayan Mountains. It is from those glaciers that the Nmai and Mali Rivers flow south, and it is the confluence of those two rivers that form the Irrawaddy—the principal and most important commercial waterway of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Unlike a Mekong River Cruise, however, the Irrawaddy, whose name is thought to mean “Elephant River,” only flows through one nation. But despite only flowing through one country, the river offers an experience unlike any other, making Irrawaddy river cruises some of the most sought after travel experiences in all of Asia. 

For more than 1,300 miles, the Irrawaddy River flows through the center of Myanmar, the largest mainland nation of Southeast Asia, and one of the destinations guests will explore on an Irrawaddy river cruise with Scenic. The river also flows through Mandalay—Myanmar’s second largest city and the last royal capital of Burma—and, as such, it is often referred to as the “Road to Mandalay.” In fact, British author Rudyard Kipling made the Burmese countryside and the Irrawaddy River the subjects of a poem that he wrote in 1890, titled simply “Mandalay,” which several times repeats the phrase, “on the road to Mandalay.” Kipling only spent three days in Burma, but it was during a time when the region was being colonized by the British. Almost a decade after his visit to Burma and the Irrawaddy River valley, Kipling again made mention of the region in his works, writing, “This is Burma, and it is quite unlike any land you know about.” 

Given the fact that Rudyard Kipling visited the region more than 120 years ago, one would think that the enchanting and exotic land that he had witnessed and wrote about would be far different today. Yet, such is not the case. Much of the region has remained unchanged since the British Empire began its rule and colonization of the countryside during the final two decades of the 19th century.

Myanmar: The “Golden Land”

Because more than 90 percent of the Burmese population practices Buddhism, the countryside is adorned with numerous gold-painted pagodas, which is why Myanmar is often referred to as the “Golden Land.” One of the more visually impressive ones that guests can visit on an Irrawaddy river cruise is Shwesandaw Pagoda (sometimes referred to as Shwesandaw Paya). Believed by many to be the world’s oldest pagoda, the site is one of Myanmar’s most important Buddhist pilgrimage destinations. When translated, the pagoda’s name means “golden hair relic,” which reflects the belief that some of Buddha’s hairs have been preserved there. Scenic passengers can also visit Ananda Temple, an esteemed Buddhist temple that was built in Bagan in 1105. Often referred to as the Westminster Abbey of Burma, the temple is one of only four in the region to still exist. 

Another historic site of great importance along the Irrawaddy river is Pyu Ancient Cities, a World Heritage Site made up of the remains of three brick cities protected by walls and moats. The three ancient cities—Halin, Beikthano, and Sri Ksetra—were built during Pyu Kingdom, which came to power in 200 B.C. and reigned until 900 A.D. The site is made up of excavated palace citadels and burial grounds, as well as brick Buddhist stupas, and it preserves some of the developments of the Pyu civilization, which played a vital role in the urbanization of Southeast Asia and the dissemination Buddhism.

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