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Cruising down the river

One of our favourite ways to travel is cruising along the rivers of South East Asia on a Pandaw river boat.

No dragging suitcases from place to place, no unpacking and packing, just relaxing on deck as the world passes slowly by.

It’s like taking a step back in time and the boats add to that feeling, with lovely teak woodwork and brass fittings. They’re replicas of ships that plied the Irrawaddy from the 1930s until they were scuttled in the second world war to stop them falling into the hands of the Japanese army.

South East Asia River Cruise

Pandaws vary in size. The largest we’ve been on is the Orient Pandaw with 28 cabins, the smallest the Laos Pandaw with 10. We like the smaller ones best – you can really get to know everyone on these, but whatever the size the people on board are always fascinating. Lots of retirees like ourselves but we’ve also met artists, archaeologists, diplomats, soldiers and spies (but not, as far as I know any tinkers or tailors).

Meals are great. There’s always a western option but the local food is much more colourful and tasty.

It’s a good idea to take along some loose-fitting clothes – it’s way too easy to put on a pound or two, although some of the excursions give you a chance to walk it off.

Irrawaddy River Cruise

We’ve also ridden in cyclos, ox carts, horse carts, and rickshaws that were like metal coracles towed by bicycles. Many were supremely uncomfortable but all were an experience. On our excursions we’ve visited factories, farms, markets, monasteries, weddings, waterfalls, workshops and lots of wats.

We’ve seen elephants (both real and played by two men pantomime-horse style), birds, butterflies and bears, a venomous snake (a krait), wild horses and tame tarantulas.

Burma River Cruise

A Pandaw cruise is not unexciting. We witnessed an earthquake and a collapsing bridge in Burma; a rampaging bull gored one of us (a small bull but fast moving); there were floods in Cambodia; we got stuck in the mud in Laos when the Chinese closed a dam upstream; and we sailed through the night in Borneo to reach a hospital where a passenger could have her broken arm set.

Pandaw says a flexible approach is required if you book their cruises. They’re not joking.

Can’t wait to our next one, Halong Bay in March.



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