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Sailing at Last

Sailing at Last

An update on Pandaw's revival by Paul Strachan, Pandaw Founder

My wife, Roser, and I have just returned from an exciting month on the rivers of Asia totally thrilled to see everything running so well. One year ago, depressed and broke, we decided to close the business down after nearly thirty years successful operation. Who would of thought it would all come back so smoothly. Thank you to all our supporters whose messages of encouragement persuaded us not to close down.

Currently we have six vessels operating: one on the Red River; one on the Mekong between Cambodia and Vietnam; two in Laos and two in India. An additional two ships will start on in January. After exactly two years and six months of lay up all these ships needed to be refitted and now glisten as if new. It was a huge amount of work and investment to get them all ship shape again, with engines overhauled and all woodwork stripped back and repolished, not to mention new fabrics and soft furnishings.

RV Angkor Pandaw crew
RV Angkor Pandaw crew
RV Laos Pandaw Crew and Guests
RV Laos Pandaw Crew & Guests

It is particularly gratifying that so many of our old crew came back to work for us once more. Given the shut down in Myanmar we have been able to bring a number of experienced Myanmar crew over to the Mekong which has been a great help in getting things going. Likewise in Laos and Vietnam nearly all our old crew were keen to come back and get going again.

Our management team is much the same as it was in 2019 with Ai Uyen, James, Spencer and Stuart, only we now have a much smarter new office in Saigon and they are joined there by An, who takes care of customer services, and Linh who has just joined taking care of graphic design. We have also restructured the business and all ticket sales are now handled by a UK company with banking in London.

RV Bassac Pandaw Crew
RV Bassac Pandaw Crew
Saigon Office Team
Saigon Office Team

There is no hiding the fact that passenger numbers this 22/23 season are lower than expected and this we believe is a consequence of an airline cartel who have reduced capacity to drive up prices. However, there are alternatives to the big flag carriers, for example we now fly without any hold ups from London to Vietnam with Bamboo who have brand new Dreamliners and an excellent no frills but very comfy business class. Likewise, many of our Australian travellers are using Jetstar and other low-cost carriers.

Ban Tanoon Village tour
Ban Tanoon Village tour
Tam Coc-Thung Nang boat ride
Tam Coc-Thung Nang boat ride

Nearly all of our travellers this year are Pandaw members who have travelled with us before and know and trust us. We now have 120 Legacy Members who have been with us on five trips or more which says something. Thanks to our members we will make it through this season solvently and in good stead for next season when we anticipate travel agents will have woken to the possibilities of Asian travel, which compared with the current absurd cost of European or American high-end experiences, represents incredible value at a far higher service level.

Many members ask what are our future plans? For Vietnam and Cambodia we have big plans in process to ensure we continue to lead the way with new and exciting expeditions in the region and stay ahead of the 'floating hotels' that are now ubiquitous on the Mekong Delta. We will be able to announce these exciting plans shortly.

The Red River in North Vietnam has proved our most popular expedition this year with most departures on the Angkor Pandaw fully booked so we plan next year to launch a sister ship and ideally explore further on the Red and Black river networks. Last trip, Roser and I spent a few days on the Red River and the thing that struck us was just how varied and interesting the shore excursions were, from a Soviet built hydro power station that was like something out of an early Bond movie, to Unesco world heritage villages of temples, and timeless delta towns where water puppeteers just seem to pop up from the paddy fields.

Dolphin watching at Kratie
Dolphin watching at Kratie
Birthday celebrations
Birthday celebrations

On the Cambodian Mekong we were more than pleased to discover that the river dolphins at Kratie were not extinct as the international press had made out a couple of years ago. So far, all our Classic Mekong sailings have been able to get up there and from small boats passengers have seen the river dolphins in action.

For India we are more than pleasantly surprised. Those who travelled to India with us in 2019 and 2020 will recall we had a number of service issues when we were using a local management company who were not up to scratch. We now have our own management team in place and food, service and excursions are now running as well as on any Pandaw expedition anywhere – perhaps even better! At the end of the day, there is far more to see and more to do on an Indian river cruise than in any other river cruising destination – the variety of what is on offer is incredible. A big thanks to our India team who have really worked hard to achieve this.

Off the back of this, our new itinerary in India, the Mighty Brahmaputra is due to launch November 2023 and has so far been extremely popular with our members. We also recently launched a new 21-night 'Grand tour of India' combo, combining the Brahmaputra cruise with our Upper Ganges sailings and this has likewise been a big hit with advance bookings very strong.

Upper Ganges traditional dress
Upper Ganges traditional dress
Satna visit
Satna visit

All in all, Roser and I experienced on all the ships we sailed on a far higher level of cuisine than we remember from before we were paused. I think our teams are really trying their hardest and all-round service levels were excellent despite a bit of rustiness at the start. Our crews and management team are to be congratulated for this great achievement. We also want to thank our members for their support in keeping the Pandaw ships going and the Pandaw spirit alive.

Pandaw Images

Click here to view more photos of our recent expeditions taken by our pursers and crew on board our ships.

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