The indoor Panorama Lounge is where most of the ship’s socializing takes place. // © 2016 Avalon Waterways
Feature image (above): Avalon Myanmar was built to sail the less-traveled northern part of the Irrawaddy River. // © 2016 Avalon Waterways
Few forms of travel have seen as much growth in recent years as river cruising on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. But despite the number of companies jumping in, Avalon Waterways stands out from the pack thanks to its brand-new ship, Avalon Myanmar. This vessel was built by local shipbuilders and is specifically designed for the Irrawaddy’s challenging northern stretch. Beyond its engineering achievements, however, the ship offers an impressive standard of luxury on the exotic river.
Avalon Myanmar’s 14-day Golden Myanmar & Alluring Irrawaddy itinerary begins and ends in Yangon and includes a remote part of the river, as well as incorporating the must-see destinations of Mandalay and Bagan. The ship has 18 cabins, each a whopping 245 square feet. The cabins boast teak wood accents, a large bathroom with a walk-in shower, a small sofa and table, a desk, ample closet space, a ceiling fan and air-conditioning. But the cabin’s best feature is a 14-foot-long, floor-to-ceiling panoramic window facing the bed that opens to a 9-foot-long “open-air balcony” so that passengers can watch the river’s scenery drift by while they lie in bed.
“Guests love our big rooms — 245 square feet is bigger than many hotel rooms — and the extra-large windows that let them just lie back and enjoy the river,” said Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways. “Plus, we also have both indoor and outdoor lounge areas where they can relax in comfort and take it all in.”
Even though Avalon Myanmar has so few cabins, it doesn’t feel cramped. The ship has three levels, and the middle deck is where most of the public space is located. There’s an open observation deck with lounge chairs at the front of the vessel; the indoor Panorama Lounge, with the ship’s bar; and a dining room in the back of the ship. The Panorama Lounge, which features beautiful teak wood details and lots of comfortable seating, is used the most — it’s where guests have evening cocktails, attend lectures, spend movie nights watching films related to Myanmar’s history and more. The top deck has a sunning area, a spa and a small but well-equipped gym.
One of the most impressive aspects of a cruise on Avalon Myanmar is the cuisine. Executive chef Khaing Tun Saw was trained in hotels in Dubai and Yangon, and he and his staff do an exceptional job of creating a wide range of dishes. The Burmese food in particular was very popular on our cruise, as were the fresh breads and pastries baked each morning onboard the ship. There are plenty of Western favorites available as well, including a cooked-to-order egg station each morning.
The routine onboard Avalon Myanmar starts with breakfast, followed by a half-day excursion, followed by lunch. Because of the complexity of this stretch of the Irrawaddy, the ship doesn’t sail at night, so after lunch, there’s downtime as the ship travels to the next port. With relatively little traffic on the river, afternoons exude a quiet tranquility. There is virtually no Wi-Fi access or television reception onboard, so agents should advise clients that they can look forward to lots of relaxation — and that they should download books and movies before leaving home.
“This is a truly exotic experience, so travel agents should prepare their clients to be disconnected from the Internet for at least a few days,” Clark said. “To me, that’s something to take advantage of. I appreciate sitting out on the foredeck in a comfortable chair with a book, watching the river and knowing I’m free from having to check my email.”
Avalon Myanmar is the best choice for clients looking to experience an emerging destination in complete luxury. The ship would be a winner in any locale, but against the backdrop of this unique and exotic country, it’s a true home run.