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Pandaw River Cruises
Cruise Line Review

Pandaw river cruises in Vietnam and Cambodia and in Myanmar (Burma) are truly classic experiences from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company!
We know Pandaw River Cruises will truly give you a unique flavor of what it was like during the Colonial period in Southeast Asia. The Pandaw ships, their very local crew and even the food served on board Pandaw will provide guests with an experience that takes you back into the glorious past of Southeast Asia.

Today, Pandaw operates 12 truly magnificent shallow-draft river cruise ships operating on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia and the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers in Myanmar – formerly known as Burma. We’ll talk a bit more about their ships in future articles, but in order for you to get a better feel of what a Pandaw river cruise is like, we think it’s really important to know a bit more about the company’s rich history. After reading the article, why not take a few minutes to enjoy the Pandaw videos? (Just click the "Videos" button at the top of the page to begin.)

To better understand the rich lineage of today’s Pandaw, you need to go back in time to a period around 1865 when Scottish merchants established the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company in the British colony of Burma. It was a family-owned business and by the 1920’s they operated over 650 vessels, some holding as many as 4,000 passengers, plying the many rivers of Burma. As the Japanese moved into Southeast Asia during WWII, the family had a most difficult decision to make: allow the fleet to fall into enemy hands or scuttle them and make them useless to invaders. The family chose to sink the entire fleet.

So play it forward to around 1995, when one of the descendents of the original Scottish owners [Paul Strachan] decided to revive the “Flotilla.” Given his keen interest in the history and culture of the region, Strachan decided to restore one of the original Clyde-built steamers called the Pandaw. The restoration was painstakingly accomplished over a number of years. Subsequent to that restoration, it was decided to build four brand new replicas in order to create a very unique concept and style of river cruising in Southeast Asia, and named the cruise line Pandaw River Cruises after the original steamer.

These new, fully air-conditioned ships were built, designed and outfitted as true replicas of the original colonial river steamers. The smallish ships [170 feet long] accommodate around 70 guests and have the highest space to passenger ratio of any ship afloat [View a typical deck plan.]. The ships have beautifully appointed staterooms average 170-190 square feet and befitting their colonial lineage, elegantly finished out in teak and brass.

As their Chairman, Yim Choong Hing, known to his friends simply as, Yim says, “Whilst we offer a real adventure experience, travelers are cushioned with incredible comfort, fine dining, great cocktails and choice wines, not to mention extraordinary levels of service.”

“Pandaw Cruises are honored by the fact that so many past passengers return on a regular basis. It is always a pleasure for our crew to see familiar faces once again. We are constantly striving to make our cruises evermore interesting, enhancing and embellishing itineraries wherever possible. In fact, our published itineraries are basically just outlines of the cruises – in actuality, we see and do far more than indicated. Many old passengers tell us that no two cruises are ever the same.”

As you might imagine, Pandaw ships are not only known for the destinations they serve and their impeccable river cruise ships, but if you have the opportunity to meet a returning guest, the first thing [after the destination] they will talk about is the genuine warm, friendly and attentive service they experienced from every member of the English-speaking crew.

While the ships’ design and furnishings are incredibly unique and totally different than any other river cruise ships, Pandaw does have one element of a river cruise that is very much in sync with all of the luxury river cruise lines... the wonderful cuisine found on all their ships.

The cuisine is best described as continental by design, and features an ingenious combination of Western cuisine and local regional specialties, all perfectly prepared and elegantly offered by a well trained wait staff. Complimentary international wines and a variety of local spirits are served at dinner.

Okay, the food and service are great, they have beautiful cabins, the ships are cool, and you can have as much complimentary wine as you desire – but if you’re on a Pandaw river cruise, you’re probably primarily there for the destinations they serve. On these particular river trips more than any other, the extraordinary destinations Pandaw visits should be the prime reason for such a long journey, irrespective of how wonderful your accommodations might be.

Pandaw Cruises on the Mekong River. 
Pandaw has been doing river cruising along the Mekong River in Indochina since 2002, and was the first “Western”-style river cruise line to operate in Vietnam and Cambodia. They operate two ships – the Mekong Pandaw and the Tonle Pandaw – sailing between Saigon in Vietnam and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. For a more comprehensive look at what these two Southeast Asian gems have to offer please read our indepth articles on Vietnam and Cambodia.

Pandaw River Cruises in Mysterious Burma.
Burma gained its independence from Britain in 1947, and after a much-publicized political uprising was renamed Myanmar in 1987. Irrespective of all the negative press, we’re sure you’ll feel safe and enjoy the Burmese people who are very warm and friendly.

Burma is the largest mainland Southeast Asian country and displays the greatest variety of scenery from Himalayan peaks to sun-drenched tropical beaches. We have yet to meet a visitor to Burma who does not feel that this is the most beautiful, friendly and culturally interesting Asian country ever visited.Most of the population lives in three great river valleys encircled by impenetrable, horseshoe-shape mountains ranges. River life dominates the country and to this day is still the main system of transportation, irrigation and from its rich fishing grounds, the principal protein source for the majority of the population.

In the great Chindwin, Irrawaddy and Salween valleys two millennia of Buddhist art, architecture and archaeology survive including, of course, the 3000 standing monuments at Pagan. There is no other Asian country with such a vast and diverse range of cultural sites. Almost everywhere there are temples and monasteries, festivals and ceremonies. The Burmese are a deeply pious people, and Buddhist activities dominate every aspect of life.

The Irrawaddy, Chindwin and the Mekong rivers traverse seemingly vertical mountains, primeval jungles and grassy plains, and each empties into the ocean through vast deltas. A variety of cultures, ways of life and religions are dissected by these great water systems. Along their banks may be found a number of the most significant centers of art and architecture in the world including Pagan in Myanmar and Angkor in Cambodia. Myanmar was once the jewel in the British Imperial crown; the countries of L'Indochine were once French protectorates. Today the respective colonial legacies of both the British and the French may be found in the towns along these rivers. They are all definitely worth adding to your bucket list of “Must See” destinations, and Pandaw River Cruises will take you there in luxurious style, comfort, and safety!

Of the three magnificent destinations, we suggest you first experience Southeast Asia by cruising the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia aboard Pandaw, primarily because those countries are further developed with more modern facilities and capabilities, and are easier to travel to. After getting a bit of experience travelling in Southeast Asia we then suggest that Borneo definitely be next on your list, saving beautiful, remote Burma for last.

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