Cruising Asia’s Exotic Rivers

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But it’s the cruise along the Irrawaddy River, or the Ayeyarwady, and the country itself that provides the unforgettable experience, Kishon-Pines says. “As far as the excursions, you’ve got some of the most magnificent sites. You’ve got Bagan with 2,000 temples and pagodas lining the banks of the river dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries. You’ve got people living there the way they’ve lived for hundreds of years—you see them tending their cattle and riding their bicycles. Then you go a little farther north into the Mandalay region and you’ve got the town of Sagaing—the religious center of Burma—and you’ve got 500 temples and pagodas in the area with 6,000 monks and nuns living in the villages. You walk around and smell the incense burning and hear the chanting of the monks and the nuns and see the locals come to make their offerings. It’s really spectacular. There’s Mount Popo, which we visit on some of our longer cruises. It sits high up on a hill and it’s the sacred home of the gods where the local people come and pray.”

Orient-Express offers several sailings aboard the Road to Mandalay, including the 11-night Gorges of the Far North that sails from Mandalay to Bhamo and Bagan, as well as two 7-night Ayeyarwady Adventure programs, one of which sails from Mandalay to Bagan and back to Mandalay and the other from Bagan to Mandalay and back to Bagan. Clients who book either the 7- or 11-night cruises receive a free night at the five-star Governor’s Residence Hotel in Yangon either before or after their cruise.

China river cruising, meanwhile, is coming back sales-wise after taking a severe nose dive last year and Guy Young, president and CEO of Uniworld River Cruises, couldn’t be happier. “It’s been great, more than double what we had last year so there’s definitely an uptick in our business. We’re now about where we were in 2008 and that was a good year for us. Last year, I think—between the Olympics and the recession— people shied away from China a little, because they feared it was going to be too expensive.”

Young is crediting two reasons for the positive rebound in Uniworld’s China business this year—the first is a major upgrade promotion that’s been very successful in getting more bookings. “The upgrade to a jr. suite has been a fantastic promotion for us. It’s the equivalent of a savings of $839 pp. It’s available in three of our itineraries, including the Highlights of China and the Yangtze, our most popular. I think that’s one of the reasons why our sales have been so strong this year.”

The second reason for the China rebound, Young points out, is the fact that the company is selling the new Victoria Cruises ship, the Jenna, which, he says, has been a big draw for them this year. Still, he adds, “While we do use Victoria Cruises for the ship, we have our own ground operation in China; it’s a Uniworld operation and we have our own tour guides and I think if I had to make one distinguishing point between Uniworld and the other operators there, it would have to be our land delivery and certainly our tour managers—they’re absolutely outstanding. The feedback we get on them from virtually every single survey is just absolutely fantastic.… I think that’s definitely a strong sales point for Uniworld. We’ve got our own offices in Beijing, so we’ve got very tight control over the land portion and also the selection of the cruise managers.”

The popular Highlights of China and the Yangtze itinerary runs 10 nights with rates from $2,049-$3,099.