The Irrawaddy River (also known as the Ayeyarwady River) has shaped Burma's history; it is not only the country’s economic lifeblood but also the indispensable part of the Burmese spiritual life. Cruises on the Irrawaddy River offer travelers the great opportunity to contemplate incomparable scenery and explore the simple daily life of Burmese people along the river. If you strongly feel that you must travel to the majestic river, here is some practical information for you to have a successful tourist experience.Best time for cruises on the Irrawaddy RiverIt’s better for you to visit the river during cool, dry season between November and February. It’s warm in the daytime but gets cooler at night. In March, the temperature and humidity level are dramatically higher. The rainy season lasts nearly 5 months, from late May through October. Due to the water levels of the Irrawaddy, the best time for cruises on the Irrawaddy River between Mandalay and Bagan runs from September through to April. Longer river cruises between Yangon (in the south) and Bagan and Mandalay (in the north) also happen at the same time. The voyages on the Chindwin River are undertaken in July, August, and September, while the in-depth journeys to Bhamo operate in August and September.
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Irrawaddy River Cruise LinesPandaw (pandawexpeditions.co.uk, 0208 326 5620) has pioneered cruises on the Irrawaddy River since the 1990s, and Pandaw River Cruises has an atmospheric fleet of vessels. Besides, Belmond (formerly Orient Express) has both the acclaimed Road to Mandalay and the Orcaella which is luxury and boutique in style. Sanctuary Retreats operates the brand-new Sanctuary Ananda. Both Scenic and Vantage use the Irrawaddy Explorer, and Grand Circle Cruise Lines sells Ayravatacruises, aboard the traditional R/V Paukan.
Tips for cruises on the Irrawaddy RiverVisa: All visitors to Myanmar can require and obtain their visas through local consulates. From 2014, citizens of 100 countries can apply online for a tourist e-visa for entry by air via Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi using an online application form. It costs US $50 and takes five working days for processing, and applicants will receive an eVisa Approval Letter, which is valid for 90 days.
Bring cash with yourself for Myanmar travel: Only a number of luxury hotels and upmarket restaurants in Myanmar accept credit payment. As a result, bring cash with me is very necessary for Burma travels in general and cruises on the Irrawaddy River in particular. Although US dollar is widely used in Burma, only the Burmese currency, Kyat, is accepted in some particular places, and you can change your money for Kyat at your hotels/guesthouses, airports or banks. The exchange rate hovers around 980 Kyats to the dollar; however, many Burmese people apply 1000 Kyats against one dollar in common transactions.
Look for packages: Most river cruise operators offer ones including international flights into Mandalay or Yangon, as well as pre- and post-cruise hotels. It’s better for you to take advantage of these since you can rarely book online domestic flights from Yangon to Mandalay or Bagan and the flights are subject to change at short notice.
Pre and post tours: Ask your tour representatives to suggest independent sightseeing tours. Pre- and post-cruise extension tours include a few days staying at the peaceful Inle Lake, where you can discover the unique culture of ethnic minority groups surrounding the lake, and admire the stunning natural scenery as well as ancient pagodas. Alternatively, do a relaxing stay at Ngapali, the most unspoiled beach in Myanmar, where you can swim or fish in the crystal-clear waters, enjoying fresh seafood or rejuvenate yourself with spa treatments.
Show respect: Myanmar is quite conservative in dressing under the Buddhist impacts. Shoulders and knees must be covered when visiting temples or religious sites. Sandals and flip-flop are a good idea because shoes and socks must be removed before entering temples and pagodas. Due to high temperature and humidity, clothes made of lightweight materials such as cotton are recommended. As it can cool down in the evenings between October and February, it’s better for you to take jacket or light wrap. Sunglasses, sunhats, sunscreen and mosquito repellent are very necessary. If malaria-preventing medicines are recommended or required on your river cruise, ask the tour operator.
Cruises on the Irrawaddy River may be one of the most memorable parts in your Burma tours. Pay attention to the information about weather conditions, cultural differences, and other tips so that you will be able to have a wonderful trip.