The Strand Cruise
There is surely no need to introduce The Strand, as it is arguably one of the most iconic brands operating in Myanmar, and it has been for over 100 years. Compared with the likes of the Raffles in Singapore and the The Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang (both of which were also managed by the Sarkies brothers), The Strand has long epitomised luxury, even thorough the country’s more turbulent times.Looking to expand, or should we say, work their way “upstream” to Mandalay and Bagan, The Strand have recently introduced a luxury river cruise that will be sure to emulate everything the hotel has to offer and more.
After having inspected the ship a few months back, Tour Mandalay were kindly invited by The Strand to set sail on a three night cruise from Mandalay to Bagan. Here is a summary of the highlights, which we hope helps to provide you with a better idea of what is in store.
The cruise’s group rendezvous point was a restaurant, just on the edge of Taung Tha Man Lake; we were escorted here (from our Mandalay hotel) by a representative from the Strand guide to a tasty breakfast spread consisting of bagels, vegetarian wraps, pain au chocolat and fruit. Unfortunately Myanmar was still seeing off the last of its wet weather at the time, but that did not stop us from wanting to complete the obligatory crossing over U Being’s Bridge. Having completed this a number of times, we were pleasantly surprised to find very few people on it. Although it was necessary to tread carefully to avoid slipping off, it certainly made for some great photo opportunities.
From Amarapura, we drove directly to Amarapura, one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Burma. Regardless of how many times you visit, there is always something that leaves you wanting to come back for more. Other than paying our respects to the beautiful image of Buddha, we took great wonder in the intricate design features that subtly adorn the inside of the temple. Take these jade tiles for example with carefully choreographed shell-shaped patterns.
We then proceeded to Shwe In Bin Kyaung (monastery), an exquisite example of teak monastery, located a short drive southwest of Mandalay’s centre. Built over 120 years ago by a Sino-Burmese merchant, the features of this monastery are extremely well preserved and a stop here will instantly delight those with an interest in architecture, or arts and crafts.
After a leisurely stroll around the monastery’s grounds, it was time to embark the ship and meet the crew who would spoil us rotten for the next four days.
Once the briefing had been completed, and a couple of glasses of Bucks Fizz consumed, we were ushered to our room. Due to low occupancy we were upgraded to the Strand’s State Suite, the second most spacious and luxuriously appointed cabin. Due to it being designed around the ship’s stairwell, it boasts a very unique design, which partially divides the bedroom and lounge area. With a double French balcony, the room has the ability to open up almost completely to the elements, which we found to be a real pleasure as the Strand Cruise started its short journey upstream towards Mingun.
Having worked up a voracious appetite, we were keen to make our way to The Strand Restaurant, a beautiful and carefully appointed dining space, which would set the scene for a number of memorable dining experiences. They often say first impressions are everything, and if the herb crusted fillet of steak was anything to go by, we were going to be in for a very special treat.
Once the steak had settled, the group disembarked to explore Mingun. Concentrated groups of tourists and hawkers are common here, but the Strand Cruise did everything possible to steer passengers away from this. Rather than coming in from the front for example, they entered by the side, which believe provides a much better view of the unfinished, earthquake damaged stupa.
In the lingering October humidity, the group was extremely grateful to be greeted by a Strand representative carrying a tray of chilled fruit juice, which was to be a regular offering during the ship’s shore excursions.
After a brisk stroll up to the top of Hsinbyume Pagoda and back down, we were driven back to the Strand Cruise by tuk-tuk and given a couple of hours to freshen up before sunset cocktails. Served in the bar, these cocktails were expertly made by the ever-attentive Mr Win and complemented by the magic tricks of Mr Bilu.
The Strand Cruise’s original plan for dinner that evening was for the passengers to enjoy a BBQ on the sandbanks, alas the weather conditions did not permit this. As a result, they went ahead with the BBQ inside the restaurant instead, with the golden pagodas of Sagaing providing a remarkably picturesque backdrop. This coupled with great food and a wine provided an unforgettable dining experience.
For one couple on board it proved to be even more unforgettable, as they were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary and the entire crew got together to sing a love song (in Burmese) especially. This was extremely well executed and there’s no doubt it helped to highlight that this is a great cruise option for special occasions.
To finish off the evening, The Strand Cruise served up one of the best presented and tastiest millefeuilles we have ever tasted. At times it was easy to forget that we were on-board a cruise ship.