Barry J Atkinson discusses life on the Ayeyarwady River. Photography by the writer.
There are few final frontiers left in the world that remain unexplored. Established tourist destinations in South East Asia abound, but remarkably, Myanmar stands apart as a place where intrigue and discovery are still possible. Iconic landmarks such as Bagan, Mandalay, Ngapali, Inle and Yangon have long called to curious, seasoned travelers, eager to explore the Golden Land and to meet its people. But set apart from the paths that link those well-trodden routes is the magnificent, mercurial Ayeyarwady River.
Linking the north to the south, this twisting blue ribbon of water is naturally best explored by boat. Established in 2016, Irrawaddy Voyages comprises of four stylish river cruise vessels, each designed to navigate the uncharted waterways of Myanmar.
The RV Irrawaddy Voyager I provides guests with a unique cruise experience, plying the waters between the historic city of Mandalay and the iconic destination of Bagan. A variety of short cruises, ranging from one to seven nights, provides guests with the flexibility to suit their specific travel plans and budgets.
For expedition cruises, both Myanmar and foreign guest lecturers are invited to speak during carefully prepared daily presentations. On occasion, particularly between Mandalay and Myitkyina, guests and crew can enjoy sightings of the rare and endangered Ayeyarwady dolphin.
Each day guests step ashore for a cultural excursion, designed to help enhance their understanding of remote and rural Myanmar. Each trip has also been meticulously researched to embrace the company vision of sustainable, environmentally conscious and minimum impact tourism. In accordance with this and as part of the From The Roots Up Campaign, guests will also be invited to plant their own sapling during one of the shore excursions along the way.
Another popular place for guests to visit along the banks of the Ayeyarwady is the village of Yandabo, which has become famous for its clay pottery. Within the village are around 400 homes, each housing several family members. Approximately thirty of the families are potters, while the rest of the village are farmers, fishermen or suppliers of raw materials, such as clay or wood for the kilns. One potter can make 30 to 50 pots daily. These are typically used for storing food and water and are distributed throughout Myanmar. Yandabo was also the site of the signing of the Treaty of Yandabo on 24th of February 1826, which ended the first Anglo-Burmese War. After nearly two years of war, the treaty was signed by General Sir Archibald Campbell on the British side and the Governor of Legaing, Maha Min Hla Kyaw Htin from the Burmese side. With the British army in force at Yandabo village, only 80kms from the capital Ava, the Burmese were forced to accept the British terms without negotiation.
While onboard guests are treated to organic gourmet dining, sampling both traditional Myanmar cuisine as well as popular western dishes; all made with fresh seasonal produce from local markets, select suppliers and remote farmsteads.
September 2019 will see the RV Irrawaddy Voyager II, a pioneering ship specifically designed for long distance river cruising, undertake the first ever “Source to Sea Expedition”. Departing from a northerly location between Myitkyina and Bhamo, this adventure cruise covers 1500kms over sixteen days, to the final destination of Yangon.