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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.

For Golf Fans

Fans of golf history can enjoy a visit to Thayetmyo, a city that is home to well-preserved British colonial buildings and the nation’s first golf course, Thayet Golf Club. The 9-hole, private golf club was established by the British in 1887, and through the club, its members enjoy honorary guest privileges at the Royal St. Andrews Golf Club in Scotland. 

While there are many sites along the Irrawaddy River that preserve the ancient Burmese culture, as well as evidence of Britain’s colonial developments, there is one, a colonial fort in the town of Minhla, that preserves the Burmese attempts to prevent a British invasion. The fort was built by two Italian engineers in 1860 while the Konbaung Dynasty remained in power.

Cultural Experiences

Travelers who wish to see an exotic Asian land devoid of Western influences will find a Scenic Irrawaddy River Cruise highly satisfying. Much of the countryside’s preserved authenticity stems from the fact that, up until recently, Myanmar’s borders were not open to foreign travelers. Because of that, the Burmese economy is based largely on agriculture and some specialty crafts. In the middle and lower river basins, wheat, cotton, and oil seeds are primary exports. Further south and in the Irrawaddy delta region, rice and jute (a shiny, soft vegetable fiber used to make burlap or gunny cloth) are the primary economic staples. Cruisers can expect to see numerous teak logs floating down stream, as Myanmar is one of the world’s largest exporters of the sought after hardwood.

Local Arts And Crafts

In some regions of the country, lacquerware is a highly practiced skill and art form, which is evident at certain religious sites, such as a teak monastery in Youqson Kyaung, which is home to the largest lacquer image of Buddha in the country. Travelers hoping to take some lacquerware home will have a chance to shop in Myinkaba, a small village dedicated to the craft; but they can also learn more about the technique at the Lacquerware Museum and workshop in Old Bagan. Pottery-making is another trade that can be found within the towns and villages along the Irrawaddy, and Scenic guests can witness local craftspeople honing their skills in the village of Schwe Pyi Thar.

Scenic Space-Ships: All-Inclusive Luxury Riverboats

Every Scenic Asian River Cruise begins aboard one of the company’s boutique vessels or custom-built Space-Ships, so named for their spacious guest cabins, dining, and entertaining areas. Each of these four-deck Scenic Space-Ships includes numerous dining and sightseeing areas, as well as a lounge and bar area that offers panoramic views. Additionally, guests can soak up the rays at the top-deck swimming pool or retreat to the wellness center, which is equipped with a fitness area, beauty salon, and massage rooms. These ships are also noteworthy for their luxury suites, which are outfitted with sun lounges, 32-inch high-definition TVs, and complimentary wireless internet access.

Scenic Aura

Myanmar

Scenic’s Irrawaddy River cruises take place aboard Scenic Aura, a 213-foot vessel that was launched in 2016 and can accommodate 44 passengers in 22 one-bedroom balcony suites, as well as 35 crew members. The Scenic Aura, which offers an almost 1:1 staff-to-guest ratio, is equipped with a sleek swimming pool, a steam sauna, and an open-air cinema, among other amenities.

The Wonders of Southeast Asia

The Irrawaddy River is a tranquil gateway into Myanmar, providing Scenic travelers a peek behind the veil of a country ripe with history, culture and spiritualism. Our Irrawaddy river cruises take you through the most sought-after sites of Myanmar.

You’ll experience your first taste of Burmese culture in Yangon, the nation’s capital city, where you’ll get the opportunity to explore the blossoming art scene and food markets.  As you float down the Irrawaddy River, you’ll get a chance to see ancient history in Sri Ksetra, the ancient Pyu Kingdom’s capital.  Visit your first monastery in Salay and explore the city of Magwe by trishaw, a common mode of transport in Myanmar.

As the Irrawaddy River guides your cruise onwards towards Bagan, you’ll have further chances to take in the country’s historic sites. Bagan hosts the most ancient temples in Myanmar, and Scenic guests will get a first-hand look at the beauty and history that encompasses these temples, including the iconic Ananda Temple, often referred to as the “Westminster Abbey of Burma.”  With its gleaming golden ornaments, the Ananda Temple is one of four surviving Buddhist temples in Bagan and also one of the oldest, having been built in 1105 AD.  89% of Myanmar residents are Buddhist and Scenic travelers have an exclusive opportunity to not only explore old Bagan and all of its breathtaking temples, but to develop a further understanding of the deep spiritualism that resides in this beautiful country as well.

The river cruise continues north past Bagan and into majestic Mandalay, a former royal city situated right on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. This city features many world-renowned sites, including the stunning Mandalay Palace, Mandalay Hill with its sweeping panoramic city views, the Kuthodaw Pagoda at the foot of Mandalay Hill that houses the “world’s largest book”, and the wooden Shwenandaw Monastery.

With an 11-day Luxury Irrawaddy tour, a 14-day Mystical Irrawaddy tour and the extended 18-day Mystical Myanmartour, Scenic guests can travel through Myanmar and the Irrawaddy River that ties all the cultural cities together, 100% their way and of their choosing. No matter which Asian river cruise you choose, the Irrawaddy River will make sure to take you on a decadent spiritual journey of a lifetime, filled with old-world sites and breathtaking natural wonders.

Browse Irrawaddy River Cruises

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