4 Aug

Heritage Line’s Anawrahta Cruise

Named after King Anawrahta Minsaw, the founder of the Pagan (Bagan) empire and considered by some to be the father of the Burmese nation, it is made immediately apparent that Heritage Line mean business with the launch of their most recent cruise ship. Not only is it the largest in their existing fleet, but it is also the most luxurious and arguably the most eye catching. Then again, some might say it needs to be if the experience is going to effectively compete with likes of Orcaella, Road to Mandalay, Sanctuary Ananda and the recently launched Strand Cruise ships.

 

On the back of an action packed 4-night itinerary, here is Tour Mandalay’s complete and unbiased take on the experience.

 

On the morning of embarkation, it was a depressingly grey day in Mandalay, but our senses were immediately brightened as we laid eyes on the 65-metre long Anawrahta cruise ship, with its four classically designed wooden decks. Built in the style of a colonial river steamer, the ship exudes an incredible amount of charm and we would even go so far as to say that it is now the best looking vessel operating on any of Myanmar’s waters.

 

Even on a wet and windy grey day, the Anawrahta still managed to look picture perfect

Even on a wet and windy grey day, the Anawrahta still managed to look picture perfect

 

From the moment we stepped foot on board, it was clear that the Anawrahta was going to provide a red carpet experience from start to finish. Take our room for example, the Deluxe Stateroom, which was tastefully decorated in luxurious linen, locally carved wooden panels and a carefully thought selection of traditional Myanmar handicrafts. The large bay view window and sliding doors leading to the private balcony also allowed for plenty of light to filter through, which immediately stood the room apart from any other entry level cabin we know of. This, combined with the generous 32-square metres of space will be sure to appeal to anyone looking to avoid mild bouts of cabin fever.

 

The Anawrahta's Deluxe Stateroom, which at 32 square metres is the largest entry level cabin on the river

The Anawrahta’s Deluxe Stateroom, which at 32-square metres is the largest entry level cabin on the river

 

Size, layout and quality of the room aside, Tour Mandalay were equally impressed with the amount of care and attention Heritage Line put into getting the small details right. On arrival, our beds for example were neatly adorned with bamboo safari hats, a leather bound itinerary (updated daily), a bronze coloured metallic periscope, stringed water bottle holders and an immaculately presented bowl of fresh fruit. With so many wide angle, “photoshopped” images making their way to print these days it is quite easy to become underwhelmed with reality, but this was certainly not the case when we first stepped inside the Anawrahta’s Deluxe Stateroom. In fact, we distinctly remember gasping out the word, “Wow!” in amazement.

 

It is often the finer details that provide the biggest impact

It is often the small details that make the biggest difference

 

If the 32-square metres on offer in the Deluxe Stateroom is not going to be adequate, then you also have the option of upgrading to a Junior Suite, Executive Suite or one of the two Royal Suites, which can be found at the front of the terrace deck. In short, the main difference between these categories and the Deluxe Stateroom is that you will get access to even more space, the interior decoration is slightly more refined, access to either the upper or terrace deck is guaranteed and each room comes complete with a standing bathtub and TV cabinet. The Royal Suite also boasts a ginormous private terrace and a jacuzzi area, making it by far the largest and most impressive premium suite on the river.

 

Each of the Anawrahta's two Royal Suites boasts a private jacuzzi

Each of the Anawrahta’s two Royal Suites boasts a private jacuzzi

 

Realistically however, we think very few will stay confined to the comfort of their rooms due to the abundance of quality public space on offer – for Tour Mandalay, this is what really sets the Anawrahta apart from any other cruise operator out there. The ship is huge and even when each of its 23 cabins are occupied, we think it is unlikely that it would ever feel cramped or crowded. Perhaps this also has something to do with the colourful acrylic paintings depicting local Myanmar scenes, or the replica Pagan era temple paintings that breathe life, colour and character to every wall and hallway?

 

The Anawrahta's winding central staircase

The Anawrahta’s winding central staircase

 

Our personal favourite area was the sun deck, with its unobscured 360-degree panoramic, cushioned sun loungers and swimming pool. Alas, the sun did not shine much during our time, but we still tried to make the most of the area whenever opportunity permitted. On the subject of the swimming pool, although it was not large enough to carry out consecutive 25-metre lengths, it certainly provided an idyllic setting from which to marvel at the colourful, albeit moody monsoon sunsets, whilst sipping on a chilled Myanmar Beer. Those looking to carry out a bit of exercise mid-cruise will be pleased to know that the Anawrahta has a small, yet practical gym room installed at the front of the main deck.

 

The Anawrahta's pool could surely make a case for the best in Myanmar. What do you think?

The Anawrahta’s pool could surely make a case for the best in Myanmar. What do you think?

 

Another area we particularly enjoyed was the Thazin Spa room (located on the main deck) with its relaxed setting, exceptional range of high quality treatments and experienced team. Although the price was a little bit higher than some of the other spas we have tried out, it clearly didn’t put us off as we ended up visiting a total of three times.

 

Anawrahta's Thazin Spa provided the perfect environment in which to unwind after tour

Anawrahta’s Thazin Spa provided the perfect environment in which to unwind after tour

 

Sometimes a spa treatment alone isn’t going to be enough to relieve every ache and pain, which is why we were especially grateful for the Anawrahta spacious bar area (the Kipling’s Bar) that occupies the central section of the terrace deck. This ended up being the venue for cocktails, the longyi demonstration and a casual place to mingle with other guests looking to let their hair down. The bar staff were exceptionally attentive and all of the drinks served, alcoholic or non, were expertly presented and prepared. Local beer and wine (including one international red and one white) were served on a free flow basis, with an extensive range of imported options being available for purchase.

 

Enjoying a tipple or two in the Anawrahta's Kipling's Bar became a nightly addiction

Enjoying a tipple or two in the Anawrahta’s Kipling’s Bar became a nightly addiction

 

Breakfast, lunch and dinner was always a pleasure thanks to the elegant setting of the terrace deck’s Hintha Hall Restaurant. At 141 square metres, it is one of the largest dining spaces on the river and even with seating for 48, dining here never once felt crowded. The main challenge is trying to decide where to sit no thanks to almost every table commanding a premium position and an ever changing view of the river’s scenery. In terms of how the meals are served, at the time of inspection, breakfast and lunch were buffet style, whilst dinner was a combination of Asian or Western à la carte that could be altered or adapted to your heart’s content if desired. Again, service was exceptionally well oiled and the chef never once failed to cook up a storm.

 

Thanks to the spacious, light and area dining area, meals onboard the Anawrahta were always a treat

Thanks to the spacious, light and area dining area, meals onboard the Anawrahta were always a treat

 

One dish Tour Mandalay particularly enjoyed was the melt in your mouth lamb shank, a Western entrée that graced our eyes and quickly our palates on the first night. This combined very well with an imported bottle of French red and the chocolate brownie that followed shorty after.

 

The Anawrahta's melt in your mouth lamb shank

The Anawrahta’s melt in your mouth lamb shank

 

Directly below the Anawrahta’s Hintha Hall Restaurant you will find the slightly more spacious Mandalay Lounge, which is where the guests will check-in and gather in the afternoons/evenings to enjoy specialist lectures, Myanmar-related films and live cultural performances. A special mention needs to go to the small team from the Mandalay School of Arts, who ended up putting on one of the finest cultural performances Tour Mandalay have witnessed in recent years (and believe us when we say that this is coming from a company that has seen a lot!).

 

A cultural performance performed by the Mandalay School of Art

A cultural performance performed by the Mandalay School of Art

 

In between dining and touring, passengers were also treated to Myanmar cooking and ‘how to tie a longyi’ demonstrations – both were very well organised and most importantly, they provided a relaxed and fun setting in which the passengers could let their hair down and interact amicably with one another. The photograph below shows Tin (one of the ship’s full-time guides) explaining how to turn a longyi into a backpack – we hope you will agree, but the smiles on the faces of Anawrahta’s staff says it all.

 

The Anawrahta's longyi demonstration was certainly not short of smiles

The Anawrahta’s longyi demonstration was certainly not short of smiles

 

On the subject of guides, the two we were assigned for the duration of the cruise (Tin and Tow) really helped to bring the daily touring activities to life. They both had a strong command of English language, unrivalled knowledge of the local area and we enjoyed many an interesting Myanmar-related discussion in the evening. The 2015-16 season saw a few complaints and niggles in regards to guide quality on-board high end cruise ships, but thanks to the two guides mentioned, we feel confident that anyone looking to travel on-board the Anawrahta will be in very good hands.

 

Tow demonstrating how to put on a safety jacket during the Anawrahta's initial cruise briefing

Tow demonstrating how to put on a safety jacket during the Anawrahta’s initial cruise briefing

 

Over the course of the action packed four-night program, the majority of famous sights in the Mandalay/Bagan region were covered including Mingun, Sagaing, Inwa (Ava), Yandabo, Mount Popa and Bagan (touring here focused on temples, villages and traditional handicraft production). Some passengers felt that there were too many excursions, but it is important to mention that this is the nature of travelling in Myanmar – unless you spend four nights in each destination, it is very difficult to carry out anything at a relaxed pace. Ultimately, each passenger has the freedom to join/not join any of the scheduled excursions so this should not be a cause for concern.

 

Tow stops to briefly explain the pottery making technique in Yandabo

Tow stops to talk about the pottery making technique in Yandabo

 

Keen to differentiate their product offering and set themselves apart from the rest, Anawrahta will not be offering 1-2 night tours from Bagan to Mandalay (or vice versa). Instead, their Ancient Capitals (Mandalay to Bagan) and Golden Land Voyage (Bagan to Mandalay) itineraries will start from 4-nights, with a range of 6, 7 and 11 night itineraries also available. We have to admit that this will help to massively simply things seeing as 1) it will require less moving around 2) quality accommodation is assured and 3) there will be more time for the passengers and guide to bond. Due to the longer duration, it of course means that travelling with Heritage Line’s Anawrahta will be more expensive but overall we think the experience represents great value for money. It is the most eye catching ship in Myanmar, the rooms are the largest, most luxuriously appointed and best designed, the food served will satisfy the tastebuds of even the toughest food critic, the dedicated guides are of an extremely high-calibre and the experienced, service savvy crew will be guarantee each passenger is treated like royalty from start to finish. For Tour Mandalay however, the biggest advantage Anawrahta has over its competitors is the ship’s distinct abundance of quality public space. There is no need to worry about stepping on anyone’s toes and come rain or come shine, there will always be something to keep even the most restless of travellers occupied.

 

In short, if you are looking to book onto a luxury cruise and do not choose Anawrahta, there is a very strong chance you will be turning your head in envy when it eventually sails past.

 

For details of 2016-18 sailing dates, please click here. For pricing, it will be necessary to contact Tour Mandalay directly by writing to info@tourmandalay.travel.

 

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