How to Choose Irrawaddy Cruise

Things to consider and options to pick

"In a country filled with strife, the Irrawaddy is a source of hope for the Burmese people." - such a reckon doesn’t solely come from National Geographic. Cruising experience on the great Irrawaddy is simply sublime. Choosing a great ship for your trip to Myanmar gets you more than you'd expect.

Home > Myanmar > Irrawaddy Cruise: How to Plan and Choose

Essentials about The Cruise...

  • The river runs for over 2170km / 1350mi in Myanmar and covers many major towns full of beautiful landscapes and experiences.
  • Often referred as “The Road to Mandalay”, Mandalay - Bagan portion is always a highlight of the cruise while there are many other routes for your choice. Each route can be integrated into any Myanmar trip.
  • All-inclusive package is a smart one-stop solution, also of great value. Budget ranges from USD400/night to USD1000/night on different lines.
  • The cool dry season between November to February is always the best time for a cruise.
yadanarbon-bridge-at-sunset

Factors to Consider: Interests, Duration and Budget

There are two major regions for the cruising: central zone between Bagan and Mandalay as well as sub-towns around; Yangon as the center and the regions around , known as the Irrawaddy Delta; and the two main regions can also be connected by long-duration cruise up to 15 days.
Itineraries are not fixed and every company has their own signatures routes. The cruise journey varies from one nighter to 14 nights onboard. With the most famous routes between Mandalay and Bagan, other popular options are:

  • 4-day Sagaing - Ava - Monywa - Yandabo - Salay
  • 5-day Bagan - Pakokku - Yandabo - Ava - Mandalay
  • 6-day Bagan - Yandabo - Monywa - Mingun - Ava - Amarapura - Mandalay
  • 8-day Mandalay - Ava - Bagan - Mingun
  • 8-day Yangon - Pyapon - Bogale - Myaungmya - Bassein - Wakema - Maubin
  • 11-day Mandalay - Yandabo - Bagan - Magwe - Minhla - Pyay - Danupyu - Twante - Yangon (or vice versa for 12 days)

Basically, planning an Irrawaddy cruise is all about choosing the right boat with your preferable itinerary . These are the factors to consider.

Your Interests: History, Landscapes or The People?

mandalay-city-at-sunset

Vista along the cruising journey is greatly diverse. Nevertheless, the two major cruising regions have different focuses: you get more of historic highlights and natural landscapes in the central zone, also known as the Chindwin Region: Bagan's temple complex, Sagaing ancient city etc; you will have better outlook of cities, villages and local lifestyles while cruising down to the Irrawaddy Delta near Yangon, for example, interesting pottery town of Twante.

Your Time: A Minimum of 3 Days is Needed for The Cruise

a-pagoda-on-the-irrawaddy-river

Nobody has unlimited vacations, so better make it count. Normally, an Irrawaddy cruise requires at least one to three nights onboard for the route between Mandalay and Bagan.
As most first-timers would spend 8 to 12 days in Myanmar, we would suggest a 3-day cruise between Bagan and Mandalay. For travelers with only one week in Myanmar, go straight for the express boat ride between Mandalay and Bagan just to get a taste of it.

Your Budget: Starting from USD400/Night

deluxe-cabin-of-sanctuary-ananda-cruise

While cruising on the Irrawaddy River is often listed under the luxury travel column, it’s still easy to find a proper cruise within your budget. Price vary based on the package: itinerary, cabin type, services and etc.
Starting from USD400 per night on a double-sharing base, the price includes everything: ground transfer, English-speaking tour guide, onboard amenities and facilities, room and meals (mostly drinks excluded) and land excursions.

Irrawaddy River Cruise Companies

The hype of cruising in Myanmar has been up and down over the years, which saw an epic drop due to the Rakhine riot in 2017. The Operation is much subject to the weather as itineraries are designed by the seasonal climate and water level. Nevertheless, more and more beautifully-decorated fleets are still splashing on the Irrawaddy. Here is a list of the most popular cruise companies and their cruise lines. Of course, you can skip this long list and go straight to our recommendations of cruises as below.

Cruise Line /
Launch Year
Staterooms / NumberPopular ItineraryCalendar 2019
Anawrahta by Heritage Line / 2015Deluxe State (Main deck) / 16
Junior Suite (Upper deck) / 02
Executive Suite (Terrace Deck) / 02
Royal Suite (Terrace Deck) / 02
03 Nights Golden Land Voyage: Bagan - Pakokku - Yandabo - Ava - MandalayJan,Feb,Mar,Aug,Oct,Nov,Dec / 2 - 4 departures per month
Sanctuary Ananda by Sanctuary Retreats / 2014Suite (Bagan Deck) / 02
Deluxe Suite (Mandalay Deck and Bagan Deck) / 14
Luxury Suite (Bhamo Deck) / 04
Owner's Suite (Bhamo Deck) / 01
07 Nights Bagan - Mandalay - Bagan: Bagan - Mandalay - Sin Kyun Village - Tan Chi Taung - BaganAll year with 1 - 2 departures per month
Irrawaddy Explorer by Ayravata / 2014Mandalay Suite (Imperial Deck) / 02
Kipling Suite (Imperial Deck) / 02
Orwell Suite (Imperial Deck) / 14
Maugham Suite (Colonial Deck) / 10
07 Nights The Royal Capitals: Bagan - Salay - Yandabo - Monywa - Sagaing - Ava - Amarapura - Mingun - Central Mandalay - MandalayFeb,Mar,Sep,Nov,Oct,Dec / 2 departures per month
RV Paukan 2007 by Ayravata / 2007Single Cabin (Lower deck) / 03
Superior Cabin (Main deck) / 10
Deluxe Cabin (Upper deck) / 14
Suite (Upper deck) / 02
2 Nights Between Ancient Bagan and Royal Mandalay: Bagan - Yandabo - MandalayJan,Feb,Mar,Apr,Sep,Oct,Nov,Dec / 1 - 4 departures per month
RV Paukan 1947 by Ayravata / 1947Main Deck (Main deck) / 06
Upper Deck (Upper deck) / 10
06 Nights Mandalay - Bhamo - Mandalay: Mandalay - Kyauk Myaung - Tagaung - Katha - Mingun - Mandalay1 departure in Feb and 2 departures in March
Irrawaddy Explorer by Ayravata / 2014Mandalay Suite (Imperial Deck) / 02
Kipling Suite (Imperial Deck) / 02
Orwell Suite (Imperial Deck) / 14
Maugham Suite (Colonial Deck) / 10
07 Nights The Royal Capitals: Bagan - Salay - Yandabo - Monywa - Sagaing - Ava - Amarapura - Mingun - Central Mandalay - MandalayFeb,Mar,Sep,Nov,Oct,Dec / 2 departures per month
RV Paukan 2015 by Ayravata / 2015Main Deck (Main deck) / 12
Upper Deck (Upper deck) / 06
07 Nights Burmese Days: Mandalay - Mingun - Kyauk Myaung - Tagaung - Tigyang - Katha - Kyun Daw - Second Defile - BhamoSep,Oct,Nov,Dec / 2 departures per month
The Strand Cruise by The Strand's / 2014Deluxe Cabin (Main deck/Upper deck) / 10
Strand Cabin (Main deck/Upper deck) / 13
State Suite (Main deck/Upper deck) / 02
Strand Suite (Main deck/Upper deck) / 02
03 Nights Mandalay to Bagan: Mandalay - Mingun - Ava - Bagan4 departures per month during February to April
The Strand Cruise by The Strand's / 2014Deluxe Cabin (Main deck/Upper deck) / 10
Strand Cabin (Main deck/Upper deck) / 13
State Suite (Main deck/Upper deck) / 02
Strand Suite (Main deck/Upper deck) / 02
03 Nights Mandalay to Bagan: Mandalay - Mingun - Ava - Bagan4 departures per month during February to April
Belmond Road to Mandalay by Belmond / 1996Single Cabin (Deluxe Deck) / 04
Superior Cabin (State Deck) / 04
Deluxe Cabin (Deluxe Deck) / 16
State Cabin (State Deck) / 18
Governor's Suite (State Deck) / 01
04 Nights Images of a Golden Land: Bagan - Mingun - MandalayJan,Feb,Mar,Apr,Oct,Nov,Dec / 2 - 4 departures per month
RV Pandaw II by Pandaw Cruises / 2002Main Deck (Main deck) / 08
Upper Deck (Upper deck) / 16
10 Nights The Golden Land: Amarapura - Mandalay - Yandabo - Bagan - Magwe - Minhla - Gwechaung - Pyay - YangonJan,Feb,Oct,Nov,Dec / 1 - 2 departures per month
RV Kalay by Pandaw Cruises / 2013Main Deck Stateroom (Main deck) / 04
Upper Deck Owners Suite(Upper deck) / 01
10 Nights Bagan and The Upper Irrawaddy: Bagan - Yandabo - Amarapura - Kyauk - Myoung - Khanyat - Katha - Kyuntdaw Island - Irrawaddy - Tagaung - Mingun - MandalayFeb,Mar,Nov,Dec / 1 - 2 departures per month
RV Kindat by Pandaw Cruises / 2014Main Deck Stateroom (Main deck) / 10
Upper Deck Owners Suite(Upper deck) / 08
07 Nights Mandalay Bagan Packet: Bagan - Yandabo - Salay - Ayardaw - Tan Chi Taung - Pakokku - Yandabo - Ava - Sagaing - Amarapura - Mingun - MandalayFeb,Mar,Nov,Dec / 1 - 2 departures per month
RV Pandaw Kha Byoo by Pandaw Cruises / 2015Main Deck (Main deck) / 05
Upper Deck (Upper deck) / 05
10 Nights The Golden Land: Yangon - Pyay - Thayetmyo - Magwe - Salay - Tan Chi Taung - Bagan - Yandabo - Mandalay - Sagaing - Amarapura - Mingun - Kyauk - Myoung - MandalayMonthly departure from January to March
RV Makara Queen by Makara Queen / 2017Deluxe Cabin / 01
Presidential Suite / 01
07 Nights Pyay - Bagan - Mandalay: Pyay - Thayetmyo - Minhla - Magwe - Yenan Chaung - Salay - Bagan - Yandabo - MandalayJan,Feb,Oct,Nov,Dec / 1 - 2 departures per month
Irrawaddy Princess II by Irrawaddy Princess / 1998Standard (Main deck) / 08
Superior (Upper deck) / 10
Suite(Sun deck) / 02
02 Nights Mandalay to Bagan: Mandalay - Mingun - Sagaing - Yandabo - BaganEvery Sunday during February to April

* Departures and itineraries are subject to change based on the cruise companies and notice will be given within 30 days before the departure date.

Recommendations: Belmond, Sanctuary and Paukan 1947

For those who have cruised in Europe or other parts of Asia, making a pick is easy-peasy. Some would like to stick to their favorite brands while some just go for great deals popping up just in time. It could be a pickle for the first-timers. Gatsby's previous guests and ourselves have been on a fair share of Irrawaddy cruises.
Find more information on our article Best Irrawaddy Cruises.

Myanmar is one of the most laid-back countries in SE Asia. That means getting underneath Myanmar's pagoda-scattering outlying sometimes can clash one's comfort level. Cruising down is clearly a great option for both authentic experience and afforable luxury (luxury much in Burmese standard).
Once you are done with choosing your line and fleet, you might need to learn more about the journey before it starts, here you go: Irrawaddy Cruising Travel Tips. Chat with us or drop us an email to get more personally-tailored instructions for your planning.

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