Menu
Menu
Short Laos Mekong River Cruises

By Anne Kalosh.

Gourmet meals, plush cabins and curated experiences beckon travelers to a new selection of Mekong River cruises by Minor Hotels, an international hotel group. Mekong Kingdoms cruises are replete with the colonial romance of river travel but with a modern twist.

Cruising the Mekong from Thailand’s Golden Triangle to the ancient Laos capital and now UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang conjures up images of old Indochina, of languorous days gone by, teeming with adventure, mystical temples and stunning scenery.

Laos Mekong River Cruises

The Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos & Myanmar converge.

2- & 3-Night Mekong River Cruises

Travelers can embark Mekong Kingdoms’ flagship BOHEME, a 42-meter/138-foot, 13-cabin luxury barge, at Luang Prabang or Chiang Rai/Chiang Khong in Thailand, located near Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort. Decorated with intricate Indochinese-inspired artwork and fitted with sumptuously comfortable furnishings, BOHEME offers facilities like an expansive sun deck, a wine cellar and a spa.

Short Laos Mekong River Cruises

Boheme offers an expansive sun deck, a wine cellar and a spa. * Photo: Mekong Kingdoms

The journey from Chiang Rai/Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang lasts two nights, heading downstream, or three nights going upstream.

Excursions include guided jungle treks and a visit to the Pak Ou caves, with their dramatic karsts and thousands of Buddhas left by pilgrims over the centuries. Travelers can visit the Hmong Village at Pak Beng or learn traditional weaving at Ban Baw and further explore rural Laos by mountain biking in the village of Ban Houy Phalam.

Activities aboard BOHEME include sunrise yoga, Buddhist meditation, sunset cocktails, cooking demonstrations, jewelry-making classes and fishing for giant catfish.

For an even more intimate experience, Mekong Kingdoms offers GYPSY, a two-cabin cruiser ideal for one or more nights for up to four people, with the itinerary and program customized to suit the travelers.

Short Laos Mekong River Cruises

Gypsy is a two-cabin cruiser for up to four people. * Photo: Mekong Kingdoms

Day Tripping

For shorter day trips in complete privacy, NOMAD provides couples an exclusive romantic getaway for sunset cruises in Luang Prabang.

And for private events or family adventure, the floating lounge PLAY is ideal. Suitable for up to 15 passengers, it offers a sun deck, private room and a sound system. MONSOON, meanwhile, is a scheduled luxury touring shuttle to the Pak Ou caves that serves canapés, coffee, tea and soft drinks.

For info go to mekongkingdoms.com.

Short Laos Mekong River Cruises

Big river views from the bar aboard the day-cruiser Play. * Photo: Mekong Kingdoms

 

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Laos Mekong River

To meet demand for Pandaw’s popular Mekong River cruises between Laos and China’s Yunnan province, Pandaw just announced the addition of a third ship to the region beginning in Sept 2019.  The new two-deck 24-passenger SABEI PANDAW will sail between Vientiane, the Laos capital, and Jinghong in China, traversing Laos, Thailand, Burma and China.

Laos Mekong River

Pandaw is the only line offering this Laos-China Mekong RIver itinerary. * Map: Pandaw Cruises

SABEI PANDAW is being built in Thailand and outfitted in Pandaw’s classic teak and brass. It’s specially designed for sailing on the Upper Mekong with a low draft and extra powerful engines to shoot the rapids in the Laos gorges.

For the first time it is possible for travellers to sail on the Upper Mekong River from Laos to China or vice versa. The pioneering 14-night river expedition that no other line offers acquaints passengers with tribal villages, national parks, pristine jungle, the Golden Triangle (the intersection of Laos, Thailand and Burma), and the emerald green Mekong in China’s Yunnan province. Shore excursions include trekking and mountain biking (this cruise is not for those with mobility difficulties). There are overnight stops in Luang Prabang, Chiang Saen and Jinghong.

Pandaw founder Paul Strachan said: “It has been a long held dream to sail the length of the navigable sections of the Mekong River; now we can. There is much to explore in this undiscovered region; travellers need to be up for a real adventure as the daily itinerary might change, but with a flexible attitude will have the adventure of a lifetime.”

SABEI PANDAW will have just 12 classic Pandaw cabins — eight on the main deck and four on the upper deck as well as an open plan dining room with flexible indoor or outdoor dining.

Laos Mekong River

A roomy Pandaw Sabei cabin. Photo: Pandaw Cruises

Cuisine on board reflects a blending of dishes from Laos and Thailand, with continental options available upon request.

SABEI PANDAW will be Pandaw’s 17th vessel and part of a fleet that currently plies the waterways of six countries in Southeast Asia. The other two vessels on the Laos Mekong River run are the 28-passenger CHAMPA PANDAW (built in 2016 in Thailand) and the 20-passenger LAOS PANDAW (built in 2015 in Laos) doing 10-night Mekong cruises between Vientiane, Laos,and Chian Saen, Thailand. The Laos trio all have roomy 150-square-foot cabins with sliding glass doors.

Fares include all excursions; onboard talks, classes and cultural performances; and complimentary local beer and spirits, plus soft drinks. Wine is available for purchase.

Optional pre- and post-cruise extensions visit China’s Kunming, Dali and Lijiang in Yunnan Province;  and the Plain of Jars in Laos. Go to Pandaw.com to check out special offers.

Laos Mekong River

Like the rest of the Pandaw fleet, Sabei Pandaw is covered in lovely teak wood. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Pandaw Cruises

QC Articles About Pandaw Cruises

Hebridean Princess is on the dream travel list
Places to Travel Next. By the QuirkyCruise crew. Many of us miss the ability to travel right now; to plan, ...
Read More
Vietnam Red River Cruise
Vietnam 🇻🇳 Red River Cruise with Pandaw By Heidi Sarna. I recently returned from a wonderfully quirky 10-night Vietnam Red ...
Read More
quirky-cruise-pandaw-family-cruise-deals-in-asia-family-sitting-on-boat
By Ted Scull. If you have one or two kids who you feel are ready for an eye-opening cruise travel ...
Read More
Laos Mekong River
To meet demand for Pandaw’s popular Mekong River cruises between Laos and China's Yunnan province, Pandaw just announced the addition ...
Read More
Meandering Down Myanmar's Irrawaddy River on a Pandaw Cruise
by Heidi Sarna. I finally managed my first visit to Myanmar and its Irrawaddy River last spring, after inexplicably being ...
Read More

 

Reader Reviews of Pandaw Cruises

Reader Review Angkor Pandaw
Vietnam's Red River (Pandaw) by Rachael REVIEWER Rachael from the US. CRUISE LINE Pandaw. SHIP Angkor Pandaw. DESTINATION Halong Bay ...
Read More
QuirkyCruise reader review
Angkor Pandaw in Vietnam REVIEWER Glenice & Ian Warner from Australia. CRUISE LINE Pandaw. SHIP Angkor Pandaw. DESTINATION Red River, ...
Read More
QuirkyCruise reader review
REVIEWER Derek Rham from the UK. CRUISE LINE Pandaw. SHIP Angkor Pandaw. DESTINATION Vietnam Red River Delta. # OF NIGHTS ...
Read More
QuirkyCruise reader review
REVIEWER Judi Cohen from Canada. CRUISE LINE Pandaw Expeditions. SHIP Kalaw Pandaw. DESTINATION Irrawaddy River, Myanmar. # OF NIGHTS 7 ...
Read More
QuirkyCruise reader review
REVIEWER Avril Collins from the UK. CRUISE LINE Pandaw. SHIP Angkor Pandaw. DESTINATION Vietnam Red River Cruise. # OF NIGHTS ...
Read More

 

Submit Your Own Review

Visit Our Reader Review Form

 

QuirkyCruise ReviewQuirkyCruise Review of Pandaw River Cruises

Pandaw has been offering high-quality expedition-style river cruises in Asia aboard traditional-style boats for more than 20 years. The growing fleet comprises similar-looking colonial-style teakwood riverboats built in Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos in the spirit of the 19th-century Scottish-crafted paddle steamers that plied Burma’s rivers at the height of the British Empire. Each boat carries 10 to 60 passengers and has an ultra-shallow draft, two or three decks, and flat tops so they can slip under bridges and easily navigate small rivers, even when water levels are low. Wood-paneled nautical-style cabins are roomy and very comfortable and meals are tasty enough.

In every way, the Pandaw River Cruises experience is solid, authentic and eminently comfortable just like the boats, with the focus on the destination, not fussy décor or cloying service. Step on board and breathe in the refreshing scent of teak wood before wiping your sweaty brow with a chilled face towel handed out by crew at the gangway.

The company was founded in 1995 by Scotsman and Burma historian Paul Strachan with the re-building of an original Clyde-built steamer called PANDAW 1947, one of the last boats built for the original Irrawaddy Flotilla Company founded by Scots merchants in 1865. The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company was once the finest river fleet in the world with some 500 vessels that carried passengers and cargo, from bags of rice to blocks of jade, silk, tobacco and whisky, on Burma’s Irrawaddy and other rivers from the 1860s until the Japanese invasion in WWII when the British scuttled virtually the entire fleet to keep it out of enemy hands.

Family-run Pandaw was the first company to offer expeditions on both the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers and continues to stay true to its mission of building smaller ships, even as other companies build bigger ones, to offer river adventures in remote areas, especially in Myanmar and more recently in Laos. In 2015, Strachan published a book called The Pandaw Story about his adventures, Pandaw, and the history and culture of Myanmar. He’s also written guides to Bagan’s art and architecture.

Pandaw River Cruises on the Orient Pandaw

The embarkation adventure is half the fun! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger Count

Divided into two classes, the river boats number 16:

The smaller two-deck “K” class river boats — ANGKOR PANDAW (built 2012, 32 passengers), KALAW PANDAW (b. 2014, 36 p), KALAY PANDAW (b. 2013, 10 p), KATHA PANDAW (b. 2011, 32 p), KHA BYOO PANDAW (b. 2014, 20 p), KINDAT PANDAW (b. 2014, 36 p), ZAWGYI (b. 2014, 20 p), LAOS PANDAW (b. 2015, 20 p), CHAMPA PANDAW (b. 2016, 28 p) and SABAIDEE PANDAW (b. 2018, 28 p). On November 7, 2019, the KANEE PANDAW (28 passengers) takes delivery of the latest “K” vessels for Irrawaddy cruises between Prome north of Rangoon and Mandalay.

The larger three-deck “P” class river boats — BASSAC PANDAW (b. 2012, 60 p), INDOCHINA PANDAW (b. 2009, 60 p), MEKONG PANDAW (b. 2003 & totally refitted in 2013, 48 p), ORIENT PANDAW (b. 2008, 60 p), PANDAW II (b. 2002, 48 p), and TONLE PANDAW (b. 2002 & totally refitted in 2013, 56 p).

In addition, Pandaw introduced the coastal cruiser ANDAMAN EXPLORER built for the Norwegian coast guard in 1963 and subsequently converted to a luxury yacht before passing to Pandaw. She carries 20 passengers in ten suites, nine of which have double beds and one twins).

Passenger Profile

Mostly couples, with some singles, in their 50s on up from the UK, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe mostly. Not recommended for children under age 12 or for anyone with trouble walking, as getting on and off the ships usually involves walking across narrow gangways and up and down muddy embankments.

Pandaw River Cruises aboard the Orient Pandaw

Watching the world go by from the bow of the Orient Pandaw. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passenger Decks

2 or 3; no elevators

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

All excursions led by a local tour guide who travels with the boat, plus local beer and spirits (except on boats chartered in India, Thailand and Brazil), soft drinks, bottled water and tips, though many passengers do leave something extra in the communal tip box at the end of the cruise.

Itineraries

The majority of Pandaw’s river expeditions are on three of South-East Asia’s great rivers: the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers in Myanmar, and the Mekong River that flows from China through Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. From time to time the line experiments with new itineraries, for instance in Borneo, offering Pandaw fans great reasons to keep coming back.

A few itineraries venture into northern Vietnam, to Halong Bay and on the Red River that flows past Hanoi into the Gulf of Tonkin. River itineraries in India now number three with three different riverboats. A brand new 10-night itinerary aboard 20-passenger Andaman Explorer sails from the mainland to India’s Andaman Islands, an archipelago rich in its ethnographic mix, biodiversity and marine life. Fly both ways to/from the Andaman’s for a 7-night cruise. Below is an outline of the additional itineraries offered along the coast and to the islands.

  • A wide variety of 1- to 20-night itineraries along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers includes the popular week-long Bagan to Mandalay runs nearly year-round, with the highlight being Bagan’s stunning profusion of Buddhist pagodas. Shallow draft riverboats allow navigation to Katha, 1000 miles above Rangoon (Yangon) well above Mandalay and past the third and second defiles. N.B. These cruises are subject to sufficient depth of water, and the shallow draft of the riverboats deployed on this route is 32 inches or 80 cm.
  • The most popular of the 3- to 14-night Mekong River cruises are the classic week-long journeys between Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, for visits to both rural villages and cities. Most people spend a few days before or after the cruise ogling the stunning monuments of Angkor Wat near Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to take in Vietnam. Other itineraries traverse the more remote Mekong in China and Laos. The boats here have very shallow drafts and powerful engines 3 times the horsepower of the main fleet to “climb” the Laotian Mekong into China.
  • Every year in mid April, May and June, the fleet is taken out of service for maintenance coinciding with the extreme hot weather and very low water levels.
  • The upper Ganges itinerary operates from Kolkata well inland to Varanasi, the lower Ganges, not as far, to Farakka, and a third on the Brahmaputra.
  • The coastal ship ANDAMAN EXPLORER undertakes 7- to 18-day voyages in the Irrawaddy Delta, the length of Myanmar’s coast, amongst the Mergui Archipelago and to India’s Andaman Islands.
  • Note: For Indochina land travelers,, beginning in September 2019, Pandaw offers short, three-day river cruises between Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, passing through the Mekong River Delta with stops at villages and a bird sanctuary. Includes hotel stays at both ends.
Mekong River Cruising

The gorgeous U Min Thone Se Pagoda outside of Mandalay. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Why Go?

To see remote parts of Asia with expert guides on charming period-vessels.

When to Go?

Pandaw cruises July through early April, with water levels the highest and landscape the lushest between about October and February. Even in dry season (March and April), though, the boats with their shallow drafts can navigate the rivers even when waters levels are getting low.

Cabins

Well laid-out with colonial decor, the wood-paneled cabins are roomy with comfy twin captain’s beds with ample storage beneath. There’s a closet, two bedside tables and a small desk. Large glass doors open onto the side promenade decks. Wood paneled bathrooms have very large showers, and shampoo and soap are provided; a few of the older boats, including ORIENT PANDAW, TONLE PANDAW and MEKONG PANDAW have recently refurbished bathrooms with natural stone-clad showers.

Other extras across the fleet include cotton robes, slippers, personal safe, individually controlled AC, and hair dryer. To avoid engine noise, choose a cabin as far forward as possible. There are no TVs and few PA announcements, assuring a peaceful journey.

These ships are not recommended for passengers using wheelchairs, as there are no elevators, only stairs between decks.

Cabins are wood paneled and very comfortable. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Cabins are wood paneled and very comfortable. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Public Rooms

Each has one restaurant, a combination bar and lounge, and lots of covered outdoor space on the uppermost deck for hanging out and scenery viewing. The open design allows air to flow through the vessels providing not only a welcome breeze, but also a stabilizing affect for the boats. The larger “P” class boats have a third deck and amenities including a massage room, small boutique and art gallery, and a lecture and meeting room with a large flatscreen TV, projector and sound system to show movies about the region after dinner (like Indochine or The Quiet American). One of them, MEKONG PANDAW, has a small gym with cardio machines and weights.

Dining

On the larger ships the restaurant is inside, and depending on the temperature, with large French doors open to the river or closed with air-conditioning; on the smaller ships, they’re open-air on the covered top deck. Meals are served in one open seating at tables for four, six or eight, though different configurations can be made on request if there is space. Breakfast and lunch are semi-buffet and dinners are served.

Cuisine incorporates fruits and vegetables from the region into dishes such as chicken breast stuffed with tea leaves, roast pumpkin, prawn curry, fried rice, and various delicious Asian soups made to order with the ingredients laid out for diners to pick and choose from. There are also western staples, from scrambled eggs to salads, fish and chips, and pasta. All meals are prepared onboard and nearly 100% of supplies are sourced from local producers in keeping with Pandaw’s commitment to support the local economies.

Meals incorporate local veggies, yum! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Meals incorporate local veggies, yum! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Activities & Entertainment

The boats make at least one stop a day, sometimes two or three. When sailing, most people are content to relax on a padded wooden deck chair or chaise lounge to watch the river traffic and scenery float by. An expert tour guide from the country visited sails along for the duration of the cruise, leads shore excursions and gives talks on board about various aspects of the destination and local culture, such as demonstrations about how to tie a sarong or make the tree-bark thanaka face paint popular in Myanmar. (On weeklong Mekong itineraries through Cambodia and Vietnam, there is a guide from each country for that half of the journey.)

Generally once or twice per cruise a local dance or singing group, or maybe a troupe of puppeteers, are brought on board to entertain guests after dinner. Otherwise, it’s drinks and chatting about the day’s adventures with new friends before heading off to sleep to rest up before another eventful day begins.

Along the Same Lines

In Myanmar, Paukan and Belmond offer the closest equivalent to Pandaw, and on the Mekong River, Heritage Line does.

Contact

Pandaw Cruises, www.pandaw.com; 001 844 3616281.

HMS

 

Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates!  

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

10 Great Places Only Small Ship Cruises Go

by Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

If you love traveling by water, here are 10 neat places around the world only accessible by our wee quirky fleet of ships, from North America to South America and Europe out to the Far East. Big ships can’t get to any of these cool spots.

The Islands of New England, USA

Yes, a couple of large cruise ships have called at Martha’s Vineyard disgorging many hundreds into poor Vineyard Haven, but they can’t get anywhere near the more charming town of Nantucket. Neither can they get close to the utterly Victorian nature of Block Island, tiny Cutty Hunk in the Elizabeth Islands or through the flood gates to access New Bedford, the former whaling capital of the world.

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

New York State’s Hudson River Valley

A big cruise ship could not get you beyond the New York City limits, while one of our small ship cruises will take you 150 breathtaking miles up America’s Rhine past stately mansions with Hudson River views and the spectacle of fall foliage as breathtaking as Vermont’s.

Walkway over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. * Photo: Ted Scull

Walkway over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. * Photo: Ted Scull

Alaska’s Glacier Bay

Sure, it’s accessible to all sizes of ships with the proper permits — all the big ships sail up to the same glacier then turn around and leave, while small expedition ships do that and more such as venturing up to the Johns Hopkins Glacier, an immense growing glacier that big ship passengers will never see. Hundreds of harbor seals will be lounging on the ice flows.

Glacier Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

Glacier Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Reaches of the Amazon River

Medium-size cruise ships can make it 1,000 miles up the broad Amazon to Manaus where they have to turn around stopping at locations where hundreds go ashore to over-visited villages, while small riverboats sail the Upper Amazon and its amazing network of tributaries to some of the most remote places on earth reached by water. Here riverside villages are completely isolated from one another, except by small boat, and wildlife abounds in the water, in the sky and deep in the rainforest.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

The Length of the Chilean Fjords

The big ships duck in and out where they can safely turnaround while small ship cruises can travel the length of Chile’s inside passage south to the tip of South America while sailing close to numerous glaciers and up narrow inlets to spot mammals and birds, and stopping at islands en route.

Laguna San Rafael, Chilean Fjords. * Photo: Ted Scull

Laguna San Rafael, Chilean Fjords. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mother Russia

Big ships dock at St. Petersburg, a wonderful city with a couple of palaces just outside, but to see Mother Russia, an inland river cruise will expose you to the vast interior countryside and allow you to step ashore to see Russian life in small towns and cities.

Cruising into the heart of Mother Russia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cruising into the heart of Mother Russia. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Interior of France

River cruises take you into the heart of France directly to Claude Monet’s Giverny Gardens, not to a coastal port with a long bus ride inland like the big ships offer. On a small ship river or canal cruise, there’s no need to endure an even longer drive from a Mediterranean port to spend a few hours at the wonder of Avignon as riverboats docs just outside the medieval walls.

Avignon, medieval France. * Photo: Ted Scull

Avignon, medieval France. * Photo: Ted Scull

Fiji’s Out Islands

When ships of all sizes cross the Pacific they may make a stop at Fiji’s major port, but only small ship cruises sail from Fiji to the many nearby out islands and drop anchor in a blue lagoon to go snorkeling, enjoy a beach barbecue, and visit a local village and its school.

Out Islands - Fiji, South Pacific. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Out Islands – Fiji, South Pacific. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

The Interior of Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos

River cruises sail into the interior of all three countries via the Mekong River and its tributaries, visiting exotic cities like Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Luang Prabang (Laos). Meanwhile, big ships can only get to the coastal cities of Vietnam, and it’s still a two- to four-hour drive each way to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Ted samples the local delicacies! * Photo: Ted Scull

Ted samples the local delicacies! * Photo: Ted Scull

Eastern Indonesia

Big ships can get you close enough to Bali to go ashore and join the masses of tourists already there, but small ship cruises explore the eastern end of the archipelago, from the Raja Ampat islands to Papua New Guinea, sailing deep into the island’s interior via the Sepik River.

Outrigger canoes, Indonesia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Outrigger canoes, Indonesia. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

PollypaleGreen2 copy

Don’t miss great articles, reviews, news & tips about small-ship cruising, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates!  

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.