The Road to Mandalay – 1

Mekong Map
Mandalay Pagan Packet Route

“Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the Old Flotilla lay;
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay,
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”
–Rudyard Kipling

Just the title of Kipling’s haunting, romantic poem always stirred our sense of adventure. So, when we had the chance to travel that “road,” we made the quickest travel decision ever–we didn’t have to think about it.

We are heading for Myanmar (Burma) to embark the RV Kindat Pandaw for a 7-day river cruise from Bagan (Pagan) to Mandalay. According to operator Pandaw River Adventures, we should expect a relaxed, informal atmosphere aboard our modern, locally built, 36-passenger vessel resembling ships of the “Old Flotilla.” That would be The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, who operated fleets of river vessels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, back when Burma was part of the British Raj.

The Kindat Pandaw

Bagan seems an auspicious place to begin our river journey. Marco Polo considered it, “one of the finest sights in the world,” even after spending time in the court of Kublai Khan. The imperial capital of Burma’s Bagan dynasty in Marco’s time, today Bagan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing a couple of thousand temples, monasteries and stupas. After departing Bagan, we will visit several towns and villages along the Irrawaddy River before arriving in Mandalay, a more recent former capital and a bustling city.

This will be our third river cruise, including one in China over a decade ago and our Rhone River wine cruise in France last fall. That latter journey turned us into river cruising fans. We do expect this one to be quite different: more adventurous, and more intimate, given the smaller vessel, but no less rewarding.

Pandaw, interestingly, got its start in Burma in the 1990s, before any other foreign cruise operations began here, and its Scottish owners trace Pandaw’s lineage back to the colonial-era Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, as evidenced by the cruise line’s logo. Pandaw offers a number of cruise itineraries in Burma plus several elsewhere, primarily Southeast Asia.

Pandaw River Adventures Logo
Pandaw River Adventures Logo

We also plan to spend some extra days in Burma: two nights in Yangon (Rangoon) upon arrival, and a couple more in Kalaw and Inle Lake following disembarkation. These arrangements were made through China Travel Service (U.S.A.), Inc., based in Los Angeles. It’s possible to make similar arrangements with Pandaw, or other travel services. We think our itinerary is pretty typical for first-time foreign visitors to this still exotic country.

While we plan to post blogs regularly during this entire trip, we have been advised that internet connections are not always reliable, or indeed, even available. So, any irregularity in our reporting will be due to technological issues, not a lack of interesting sights and experiences. Perhaps we’ll even experience some “thunderous dawns.” We hope you’ll follow our adventures on “The Road to Mandalay,” and check back regularly for new posts. Who knows, maybe it will inspire your next adventure.

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