12-Day / 11-Night Cruise: Mandalay - Bhamo - Bagan
Cruise from the city of Mandalay to Bhamo and on to the spellbinding temples of Bagan. This adventurous voyage provides the opportunity to marvel at the gorges from the river.
Set off from the Golden City and travel through the majestic gorges of the Irrawaddy as you discover the secrets of Myanmar on board Belmond Orcaella. This itinerary takes you to the gorges of the far north, an area off the beaten path, to discover the spectacular wonders of this emerging travel destination.
Aboard the Orcaella cruise you will have guided tours of Mingun, Nwe Nyein, Kyan Hnyat, Katha, Bhamo, Weima, Ma Lae Village, Mandalay, Bagan and Shwe Pa Island. The beauty of ancient temples, surrounding landscapes and smiling people will surely amaze you.
The itinerary below is dependent on the river water level, weather conditions, and accessibility to locations, so touring may vary.
Day 1 – Mandalay & Mingun
Please arrive at our jetty in Shwe Kyet Yet village between 10.30 and 11.00.
At 11.30 Belmond Orcaella sets sail. A buffet lunch is served as we cruise past the Sagaing Hills towards Mingun.
After lunch prepare for a short boat transfer to shore. Enjoy a walking tour of Mingun and visit Pahtodawgyi, an enormous unfinished pagoda that was started in the late 18th century by King Bodawpaya but never finished due to a prophecy that the king would die upon its completion. You will have the chance to ring the world’s biggest uncracked bell, which weighs 90 tonnes and stands 13 feet tall. You will also see the dazzling Myatheindan (Hsinbyume) Pagoda, whose seven whitewashed terraces symbolise sacred Mount Meru. Those who wish can climb the 88 steps to the top, which represents obtaining nirvana.
In the evening you are invited to mingle with fellow guests, our Captain and officers at a welcome cocktail party on the Observation Deck. Afterwards enjoy your first enticing dinner in the Restaurant, choosing from Chef’s selection of local specialities and fusion delicacies. House wines are included, or you might prefer to choose a bottle from our onboard Wine Cellar.
Day 2 – Nwe Nyein & Sailing
Early risers may wish to enjoy a refreshing drink from the Healthy Juice Bar on the Observation Deck. An extensive breakfast buffet with à la carte menu is served in the Restaurant, or you can order room service.
During the cruise a variety of activities are available, including morning yoga and meditation and evening tai chi and kickboxing. A daily schedule is provided in your cabin.
After breakfast, board our fast boat for a visit to the village of Nwe Nyein, renowned for its high- quality pottery. During a short walking tour you can witness the age-old methods still used to sculpt and glaze the clay pots, which are popular throughout Myanmar. If you wish, you can try your hand at spinning a pot in the traditional way.
Return to the ship for lunch and continue sailing. This afternoon Belmond Orcaella enters the first scenic defile, or gorge, emerging a few hours later. This is a perfect time to relax on the Observation Deck or by the pool and take in the stunning views.
You may also wish to attend a talk on Myanmar Ways of Life while indulging in afternoon tea.
This evening, after dinner, you are invited to make a wish and release colourful Shan balloons into the night sky, creating a magical, glowing spectacle (weather permitting).
Day 3 – Kyan Hnyat & Sailing
Early this morning we alight at the quaint village of Kyan Hnyat, where a tranquil stroll reveals how life is lived on the riverbank. Experience the vibrant morning market before joining our resident onboard doctor at the local school, where he will donate stationary to the schoolchildren—you are welcome to participate.
After setting sail a leisurely day on board awaits.
Indulge in a treatment at the spa, relax by the pool or practice tai chi. Our doctor will give a presentation on the healthcare system in Myanmar and Belmond’s Social Contribution Projects. These include pop-up health clinics, constructing schools and providing clean water and solar panels in villages we visit along the rivers of Myanmar.
Tonight Chef offers another gourmet menu of Asian and Western delicacies in the Restaurant.
Day 4 – Katha & Sailing
Today Belmond Orcaella arrives in Katha. This was where the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company scuttled a fleet of riverboats in 1942 in order to prevent their use by the invading Japanese. After a transfer to shore, enjoy a walking tour to the bustling, colourful market, then travel local-style by trishaw to the Katha Tennis Club, which remains virtually unchanged since its starring role in George Orwell's 1934 novel, Burmese Days. Visit the house where the author began writing his cutting indictment of British colonial life.
Those feeling particularly energetic are welcome to pedal your own trishaw and take your driver on a trip around town!
Return to the ship and continue the journey north. Our guides will present a showcase of market produce and typical daily items used by Myanmar people.
Later, in the Lounge & Bar, glean an insight into Buddhism in Myanmar at a talk during afternoon tea.
On the Observation Deck this evening prepare to be mesmerised by Shan dancers from Northeast Myanmar, who perform a spiritual dance telling the story of mythical half-human, half-bird creatures.
Day 5 – Shwe Paw Island & Bhamo
Today you visit Shwe Paw Kyun ("kyun" means island in Burmese), where you see the intriguing stilt houses of the Kachin fishermen and visit a small island monastery.
As Belmond Orcaella continues along the Upper Ayeyarwady River, you enter the dramatic, narrow second defile, which takes about two hours to pass through. Soak up the spectacular scenery from the Observation Deck as the ship approaches Bhamo.
Head to shore this afternoon for a visit to Bhamo, the major northern trading post between China and Myanmar, and the northernmost point of our river journey. Board a tuk-tuk and explore the town, first stopping at a local market where our staff will purchase supplies for a donation. Continue to a Buddhist nunnery, where an offering will be made and you will have a fascinating glimpse into the monastic way of life. The nunnery enables poor and orphaned children to receive an education.
Dinner is served on board. Afterwards make your way to the Observation Deck to experience an unforgettable surprise on the river (weather permitting).
Day 6 – Weima Village & Sailing
Early risers may enjoy a sunrise yoga session on the Observation Deck.
This morning you embark on a delightful visit to a remote community of mahouts (elephant trainers), where you can learn all about their way of life and meet the elephants.
A leisurely day of sailing follows. Admire the wonderful views from the Observation Deck, take a dip in the pool, or book an appointment with one of our spa therapists. You may also wish to join our Chief Engineer for a talk about Life on the Rivers of Myanmar, followed by a tour of the ship, including the engine room and bridge.
In the evening we return to Katha to enjoy a sumptuous dinner in one of the town’s original colonial buildings, home to the British District Commissioner in the 1920s.
Day 7 – Naba & Sailing
Today brings an adventure into the countryside. Board local transport for a ride to a train station, where a specially chartered local train has been arranged for a trip to Naba, a small village deep in the teak forest.
Travel along the mainline between Mandalay and Myitkina and through the teak forests of the Gangaw Taung mountain range. This section of the branch line was first opened on October 2nd 1895 with the specific purpose of transporting teak logs down to the steamers waiting on the river to take them downstream.
Journey overland back to Belmond Orcaella and enjoy an afternoon of relaxed cruising. Our Housekeeping staff will give a demonstration of how to tie a longyi, the Myanmar sarong worn by both men and women, and how to prepare thanaka, a paste that serves as both decorative make-up and protection from the sun.
This evening you are invited to a Longyi Cocktail Party, enabling you to practice your longyi-tying skills and dress in your new traditional outfit.
Day 8 – Ma Lae village & Sailing
After breakfast Belmond Orcaella arrives at the small village of Ma Lae where you disembark for a morning walk. Witness a Buddhist Noviciation Ceremony, a rite of passage that signifies boys becoming monks. This auspicious occasion is one of the most important for any Buddhist family and the whole village will often come out to watch. The boys, dressed as princes to symbolise Buddha before his enlightenment, ride in a procession to the monastery on decorated horses. There the head monk presents them with their simple, saffron-coloured robes and their heads are ceremoniously shaved.
Return to the ship and continue sailing south. During afternoon tea one of our guides will give an engaging talk on the Past, Present and Future of Myanmar.
After dinner on board it’s movie night in the Lounge & Bar. Today we are showing “The Lady”, the fascinating story of Aung San Suu Kyi, as Chef serves fresh popcorn and homemade ice cream.
Day 9 – Mandalay
Late morning Belmond Orcaella drops anchor off Htin-Win jetty, where you disembark for a full day of discovery of Mandalay, considered the religious heart of Myanmar and the home of Burmese traditional arts.
Explore some of Mandalay’s great treasures with our guides, including Kuthodaw Pagoda, a UNESCO-listed site with 729 stone tablets inscribed with Buddhist scriptures, and the atmospheric Shwenandaw, an intricately-carved wooden monastery which used to be part of King Mindon’s living quarters.
Stop for a delicious lunch in the city centre at Bistro 82. In the afternoon visit the marble quarter, where artisans sculpt Buddhas of all sizes, before continuing to the workshop of a family of bronze casters to observe, first hand, the creation of statuesque Buddha images and ceremonial gongs. End the day at the magnificent 200-year-old U Bein Bridge, one of Myanmar’s most photographed sites.
Tonight you dine under the stars on the Observation Deck.
Day 10 – Sailing & Bagan
Those who wish may join our guides on an early-morning visit to the village of Shwe Kyet Yet. This small village holds a special place in our hearts, having been the location of the ship’s berth for 20 years. Visit the village p . On the return walk you can observe the bustling activity around the market and teashops.
During the day’s sailing to Bagan you can participate in yoga or meditation on the Observation Deck, have your fortune told by a renowned astrologer, or join a mouth-watering Burmese cookery demonstration by our Chef.
In the late afternoon, as the ship draws nearer to Bagan, one of our guides will give an introduction to the magnificent ancient city. One of the main visitor attractions in Myanmar for many years, Bagan ranks alongside Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Borobudur on Java as the greatest historic sites in Southeast Asia. Over 3,000 temples dot the plain beside the Ayeyarwady River, most of which were built between the 11th and 13th centuries.
On arrival, you disembark for a sunset ride by horse and cart through Old Bagan. Your local driver will take you on a leisurely, scenic route through the heart of the archaeological zone, passing many ancient pagodas and offering plentiful photo opportunities. You then proceed to a small temple close to the jetty to participate in an exclusive Belmond experience—a magical candle-lighting ceremony.
This evening, enjoy a classical marionette performance on board. Historically these shows were royal entertainment, depicting stories from the early life of Buddha, but they were also considered a safe way to deliver messages to the King.
Day 11 – Bagan
Those aching to explore as soon as possible can choose from the following early-morning options:
Sunrise Hot-Air Balloon Ride (Available October-March. Advance reservations essential. Supplement applies): This is one of the most magical experiences in Bagan, a hot-air balloon ride watching the dawn break over the ancient pagodas. Guests are collected at around 05.00 and returned to the ship at 08.30.
Bagan by Bicycle (Advance reservations essential. English-language tour only, Supplement applies): Set off on an independent mountain bike adventure (a map will be provided), or opt to join our staff on a guided ride through Old Bagan. Pedal along small paths and roads that wind their way around ancient temples and pagodas. The ride is suitable for advanced beginners and above and cyclists should expect to bike on dirt road surfaces with patches of sand.
After breakfast on board, disembark for a morning touring of Bagan. Begin with a visit to a small complex near Minnanthu to discover off-the-beaten-track temples, including one with richly coloured murals dating from AD 1225. Also tour one of the most significant pagodas of Bagan, Ananda Temple. This architectural masterpiece was built in AD 1090 and contains four gilded Buddha statues, each standing 30ft tall. You will also visit a lacquerware workshop, where you can marvel at the exquisite patience and skill required to produce these finely detailed pieces.
Return to the ship for lunch.
The afternoon tour takes you to the famous Sulamani (“crowning jewel”) pagoda, with its impressive brick and ornamental work and murals dating from the 12th to 18th centuries. As daylight starts to fade, gather to watch the sun set over plains peppered with hundreds of pagodas.
As an alternative, guests also have the option of an afternoon excursion to Mt Popa, the traditional home of the 37 Nats or animist spirits, which have been worshipped in Myanmar since long before the arrival of Buddhism. The journey overland takes about two hours, but there will be a stop en route at a toddy palm plantation to see the traditional methods still employed to produce jaggery, a palm sugar used in sweets and in an alcoholic drink, which you may try. Mt Popa is actually a 5,000ft extinct volcano, which stands alone on the Myingyan Plain. Its summit, which is home to a mix of Nat and Buddhist shrines, can be reached by climbing 777 steep and sometimes difficult steps (taking about 20 minutes).
Back on board, farewell celebrations await for your final evening, beginning with a cocktail party and an elephant dance on the Observation Deck, and culminating in a splendid farewell dinner in the Restaurant.
Day 12 – Bagan
This morning there is another opportunity to experience a bike ride or a sunrise hot-air balloon ride. Please speak to Reception to arrange it.
An early-bird breakfast is served before you disembark from Belmond Orcaella for your onward travel arrangements. Final disembarkation time from the ship is 10.00.
We wish you a very pleasant onward journey.
NOTICE: The cruise schedule includes the latest information regarding your program, but last minute adjustments may occur. The schedule may shift due to the weather, site closure, or unexpected circumstances beyond our control. The exact time for each activity will be announced or posted by the on-board tour staff. The touring is active, so all participants should be in good health. Due to the rural location, accessibility for those people with disabilities is very limited in Myanmar (Burma).