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Pandaw Cruises

QC Articles About Pandaw Cruises

Masks worn by passengers in the Small-Ship Sector
Small-Ship Sector Still Active By Anne Kalosh. While most travel remains on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, dynamism in the ...
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Pandaw River Cruises Restarts
Pandaw River Cruises Restarts By Heidi Sarna. A specialist and pioneer in river cruises in southeast Asia for more than ...
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Hebridean Princess is on the dream travel list
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Pandaw Cruises
QC Articles About Pandaw Cruises Reader Reviews of Pandaw Cruises Submit Your Own Review Visit Our Reader Review Form QuirkyCruise ...
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Vietnam Red River Cruise
Vietnam 🇻🇳 Red River Cruise with Pandaw By Heidi Sarna. I recently returned from a wonderfully quirky 10-night Vietnam Red ...
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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 ...
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Angkor Pandaw in Vietnam REVIEWER Glenice & Ian Warner from Australia. CRUISE LINE Pandaw. SHIP Angkor Pandaw. DESTINATION Red River, ...
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REVIEWER Derek Rham from the UK. CRUISE LINE Pandaw. SHIP Angkor Pandaw. DESTINATION Vietnam Red River Delta. # OF NIGHTS ...
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REVIEWER Judi Cohen from Canada. CRUISE LINE Pandaw Expeditions. SHIP Kalaw Pandaw. DESTINATION Irrawaddy River, Myanmar. # OF NIGHTS 7 ...
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REVIEWER Avril Collins from the UK. CRUISE LINE Pandaw. SHIP Angkor Pandaw. DESTINATION Vietnam Red River Cruise. # OF NIGHTS ...
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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 25 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, 28 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, 24 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 and the Great Irrawaddy Delta.

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, bottled water and tips, though many passengers do leave something extra in the communal tip box at the end of the cruise.

Reasonably priced drinks package are offer for house wines, free-flow drinks (minus wine), and free-flow drinks including house wines.

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. Note: 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, Pandaw now 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; information@pandaw.com.

HMS

 

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© 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.

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

Cruising for over a quarter century, this chic French line is a Francophile’s dream. Ponant’s crew is discreet, the décor is subtle and the food is tantalizing. French desserts, French cheeses and French wines accompany passengers on cruises around the world, from French Polynesia and the Caribbean to the North and South Poles, and lots in between.

Passengers are a well-traveled, well-dressed international lot and the handsome captains stroll around the ship in short sleeves chatting to guests as if they are one of the passengers. Ponant is a bit of Europe no matter where the ships are sailing.

In late 2014, the company’s name was simplified from the French Compagnie du Ponant, to just Ponant, a simpler name for the company’s growing international audience, though Ponant still remains the only French-flagged, French-flavored cruise line out there. Ponant is in the midst of building frenzy, with six 184-passenger expedition vessels in the pipeline between now and 2021. As they are delivered, itineraries will be expanded to offer more frequent sailings and brand-new destinations.

A hybrid electric icebreaker is to appear in 2021 and be able to make it to Geographic 90 Degrees North — The North Pole.

Note: Some sailings are directly operated by Ponant and others are under charter to well-known firms for individual sales as well as for special interest groups.

N.B. In August 2019, Ponant announced that the French-owned line has bought Paul Gauguin Cruises, operating the ship PAUL GAUGUIN in French Polynesia and that the ship will continue to operate under its current name.

Ponant's fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ponant’s fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

LE BOREAL (built 2010, 132 passengers), L’AUSTRAL (b. 2011, 132 p), LE SOLEAL (b. 2013, 132 p), LE LYRIAL (b. 2014, 122 p), LE PONANT (b. 1991, 64 p), LE LAPEROUSE (b. 2018, 184 p), LE CHAMPLAIN (b. 2018, 184 p),  LE  BOUGAINVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p) and LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p), LE BELLOT (due April 2020, 184p), LE JACQUES CARTIER, the sixth Explorer-class ship (due July 2020, 184p), and LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT (due April 2021, 270 p), specifically designed for polar explorations.

Ponant's mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant’s mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passenger Profile

Mostly Europeans, heavy on French, Swiss and Germans, with a sprinkling of Francophiles from everywhere else — North America, Brazil, you name it. Children are welcome, but are expected to be well behaved; there is a children’s menu, Wii gaming console, and when there are a number of kids on board, a few activities are organized by a staff member.

On a handful of special family-friendly sailings per year (often a Med itinerary in the summer), a Kids Club is offered with kids’ counselors supervising games and activities for ages 4+. Several firms charter Ponant ships, so they will determine the languages, and a number of them are in the English-speaking markets.

Passenger Decks

6 with elevators to all decks (4 on LE PONANT, the motor sailing yatch, and no elevator)

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Open bar throughout ship, stocked cabin mini-bar, and all soft drinks. New for 2019 is free WiFi in all cabin categories on all ships.

PONANT                                                                                 LE BOUGAINVILLE delivered in 2019 as the third ship in the explorer class. * Photo: Ponant

Itineraries

The ships, with such an expanding fleet, roam all over the world on one- to two-week cruises (some longer): Mediterranean and Northern Europe, Alaska and Canada, Caribbean, Central America, both coasts of South America, West Africa and Southern Africa, Madagascar, Seychelles, French Polynesia and Oceania, Hawaii,  Indonesia, East Asia and focus on Japan, Eastern Russia, Australia and New Zealand, Antarctica, the Arctic including the Northwest Passage, trans0ocean positioning voyages. A few highlights include (and it’s a moveable feast:

  • 10- and 16-night Antarctica cruises November – February
  • Iceland & Arctic Circle cruises in summer; also Northwest Passage, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes
  • 6- and 7-night cruises out of Martinique to the Grenadine Islands in the winter; also Cuba (Cuban calls suspended due to a US government ban.
  • 7-night Croatia cruises round-trip out of Venice between May and September; also Western & Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt
  • 9-night New Zealand cruises in January and February; also Australia’s eastern coast
  • 7- to 13-night Alaska cruises in June and July; including Aleutian Islands
  • 13-night Chile cruises in November and February; also Amazon and Orinoco rivers, Sea of Cortez
  • New tropical destinations are being added to include the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, also Maldives and Madagascar, and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, also French Polynesia, Easter Island
  • South and Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Japan, Eastern Russia.
Why Go?

The French flare, the amazing food, the gorgeous interiors — tres chic. In 2018 Ponant signed an agreement with National Geographic Expeditions to have the latter’s experts and photographers come aboard in Australia, New Zealand and Asia/Pacific.

When to Go?

The fleet cruises in different regions of the world at the best time to visit.

Cabins

LE PONANT is an 88-meter, three-masted sailing ship with lots of wood and nautical touches such as navy blue and white bedding and fabrics in the rooms. Most cabins are on the lowest of the four passenger decks and have twin beds — two rooms have king beds — and there are a few triples. Five larger cabins are higher up on the Antigua Deck.

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL are nearly identical sister ships with the majority of cabins measuring between 200 and 236 square feet, not including the balconies (which all but eight cabins have). Cabins are designed in stylish neutrals of champagne, smoky greys or blues, and crisp whites with pops of color, like a red border on a bed throw or pillow.

All cabins are stocked with L’Occitane toiletries, bathrobes, mini bars and iPods, and a have a great split bathroom set-up — toilet in one little room and a large shower (and/or tub) and sink in another. They also have a desk and great adjustable reading lights on either side of the bed. Many standard cabins can accommodate three people with one on a sofa bed; ideal for families are the Prestige suites, which are ostensibly two connecting standard cabins. There are four large suites on the Deck 6 near the top of the ship.

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

The new 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE (2018), LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER  began arriving in mid-2018 and will continue into 2020. A feature on the new ships is the Blue Eye, an underwater sightseeing lounge. They make up what is termed Ponant Explorer Class with enhanced ice-breaking capabilities.

Public Rooms

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL have two restaurants, one main entertainment lounge, one combination lounge/bar, and a lovely outdoor bar with sea views. There is no casino. Each has a spa with a Turkish steam room, hair salon, and an excellent ocean-view gym with a row of treadmills and recumbent bikes, plus a Kinesis wall with weights, pulls and grips for weight training.

A small library area (with a Wii console nearby) and a boutique round out the public areas, unless you also count the medical clinic. The smaller LE PONANT has two restaurants, two indoor lounges and lots of deck space for sunbathing. All five of the vessels have a platform for watersports when anchored in favorable conditions.

Dining

Cuisine is a big part of the Ponant experience, and I still sometimes dream about the dark chocolate mousses we devoured on a L’AUSTRAL cruise to Croatia (I gained several solid pounds on that cruise). Each of the five ships has two restaurants, one a more formal fine-dining multi-course French gourmet venue for dinner and the other a casual buffet restaurant with outdoor and indoor seating and themed offerings. Some of the chefs are French (the pastry chef was on my last cruise) and no matter where they are from, they’ve been schooled in the French culinary tradition.

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Meals incorporate fish and grilled seafood, and plenty of delicious soups and salads of all kinds. When possible, local ingredients are used, from cherries in Kotor, Croatia, to rainbow trout from Nunavut, in the Arctic. Amazing desserts on offer might comprise a hazelnut mousse cake, lemon meringue tarts and that to die-to-for chocolate mousse already mentioned; easily the best desserts I’ve ever had on a cruise ship.

A selection of cheeses from France and Italy are a staple in the buffet and of the complimentary wines generously poured, I remember an especially refreshing French rose at lunch on route to our next Croatian port of call. You can always order a bottle off the extensive menu if you want something extra special.

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

Activities & Entertainment

The ships are in port every day, or nearly so, but if there’s a sea day, most people enjoy simply sunbathing by the pool and soaking up the scenery. In the French way of doing things, there isn’t an abundance of scheduled activities or group events. There are theme cruises from time to time focused on gourmet food and wine, film and topics like oceanography, with experts on board giving talks and demonstrations.

Evenings, a singing duo moves around the ship before and after dinner to serenade passengers as they sip cocktails and chat about the day’s adventures and the ones that lay ahead. At the top of the tiered decks at the stern on LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL is a wonderful al-fresco bar, an ideal place to plant yourself as the ship sails off into the sunset — likewise on LE PONANT’s sun deck. After dinner from time to time, a dance performance or film screening may be scheduled in the show lounge of the four sister ships.

The new and larger 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE, LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER started to debut in mid-2018 and continued into 2020, and the larger 270-passenger LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT will launch polar explorations in April 2021.

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions, 420 Lexington Avenue, Suite 2838, New York, NY 10170; us.ponant.com, 1-888-400-1082.

— HMS

 

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© 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.

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of Star Clippers

Star Clippers offers the perfect marriage of adventure, romance and comfort, not to mention the thrill of sailing on a gorgeous replica of a 19th-century Clipper Ship. The company’s trio of swashbucklers feels like they belong in the Caribbean,  Mediterranean and Far East, bucking through the surf and wind like ships are meant to. Watching sunsets melt behind the rigging or a port come into focus from a front row perch at the rails, a Star Clippers cruise is best spent on deck — that is whenever you’re not relaxing in the cozy nautical cabins or having a tasty meal in the dining room.

Owner and company founder Mikael Krafft, a Swedish-born industrialist and real estate developer, spared no detail or expense to design and build his fleet of three square-rigged clippers in the likeness of their speedy predecessors — Krafft and his team referred to the original drawings and specifications of Scottish-born Donald McKay, a leading naval architect of 19th-century clipper-ship technology.

The newest and largest of the three (until the new 300-passenger FLYING CLIPPER launches), the 227-passenger five-masted ROYAL CLIPPER, was modeled on the famed Preussen, a 1902-built German clipper. She is the largest square-rigged in service with 5,202 square meters of sail, hence she holds the honorary title Queen of the Seas. All three sport towering masts, sails, rigging, wooden decks and chunky ventilators. Facing forward on the top deck, if you didn’t hear the murmur of the engines much of the time (and could ignore the small pool and all those people in 21st century clothes), it’s not a leap to imagine being a crew member cranking winches on a three-month run to England with a cargo of tea and opium from China.

The Star Clippers’ ships typically rely on sails alone about 25% to 50% of the time; otherwise, the sails are used with the engines to maintain speeds of about 9 to 14 knots for the comfort of passengers — though occasionally in strong winds they clock speeds in the neighborhood of 15 knots. Hold on!

Sunset through the sails

Sunset through the sails. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Of course the beauty of a Star Clippers cruise is you feel like you’re on a real working ship without having to doing any work. While you can help pull in the sails a few times throughout the week or climb the masts (with a harness) at designated times, most passengers choose to be voyeurs, gazing out at the sea and distant landscape through the lens of the ships’ masts and lines. Sunrise and sunset through the sails, lines and masts are magical.

Fans were thrilled to learn that Star Clippers would be building a fourth ship, the FLYING CLIPPER, a much anticipated and complex construction project that has been an ongoing saga due to two years of shipyard delays. Now completed there is a dispute between Star Clippers and the shipyard, and it is unclear what will transpire. The FLYING CLIPPER’s details are 300 passengers and measures 8,770 tons. It is powered by more than 6,350 square meters of sails.  Technically a five-masted, square-rigged barque, it’s a near-replica of the FRANCE II, commissioned in 1911 and the largest square rigger ever built.

Just as the original FRANCE II eclipsed PREUSSEN (which the line’s ROYAL CLIPPER is modeled on) more than a century ago as the world’s largest square rigger, the newbuild will replace the ROYAL CLIPPER, as the largest ship of its kind afloat today. The vessel has have generous deck space, three pools, and a watersports platform in the stern. One restaurant will accommodate all guests and cabin choices include 34 suites with balconies and four luxurious owner’s suites. Like those of the Star Clippers’ fleet, there will also be a library and an al fresco Tropical Bar. The ship will likely start out sailing in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Stayed tuned to when all this begins to happen!

Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger Count 

STAR FLYER (built 1991 & 172 passengers); STAR CLIPPER (b. 1992 & 172 p); ROYAL CLIPPER (b. 2000 & 227 p); and FLYING CLIPPER (2019 & 300p)

Star Clippers Passenger Profile

A mix of mostly Europeans, British and Americans in their 50s on up, plus a fair number of families with children aboard in summer and holiday weeks. In our opinion, it’s best for children to be at least 10 years old. Many passengers own their boats and just love to sail, with a huge number of repeat passengers who keep coming back for more. Repeaters get a 3% discount, not a lot yet a nod to their loyalty. Some passengers would never consider a standard cruise ship. Note: Announcements are made in English, German, and French.

Passenger Decks

4: No elevators.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Watersports, weather and conditions permitting.

Star Clippers Itineraries
  • Generally, all three ships  (only two in 2019)  summer in the Mediterranean between late April and October doing mostly one-week itineraries, plus a handful of longer 10- and 11-night sailings. ROYAL CLIPPER is based in the Western Mediterranean calling at ports in Spain, France and Italy and the islands: Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and the Balearics. STAR FLYER undertakes some cruises in the Western Medit. to then position in the Adriatic along the Croatian coast, Greek islands and the Turkish coast but not Istanbul, for mostly 7 nights but a few 10 and 11. To reposition between the Mediterranean and the Caribbean in the spring and fall, longer trans-oceanic positioning voyages are the target for those who wants days under sail between ports with perhaps calls in the Canaries or Azores, and of course, one may begin or finish the voyage  with a string of Western Mediterranean ports calls. These voyages may be as short as 15 nights or as long as 28.
  • Two ships winter in Caribbean on mostly 7-night sailings (November-March), ROYAL CLIPPER offers varied 7-night itineraries from Barbados, longer 14-nighters through the islands and along the coast of Colombia to Panama including a canal transit.  STAR FLYER makes 7-night cruises from St. Maarten and longer 14-nighters along the coast and amongst the island to Panama including canal transit.
  • Through 2019, the STAR CLIPPER is in Asia spending half the year doing Andaman Sea mostly 7-night cruises off the coast of southwestern Thailand (October-April) and 7-, 10- & 11-night itineraries in the Indonesian archipelago the other half of the year. New 10- and 11-night itineraries will sail from Singapore to ports along the Malaysian coast and to the island of Borneo, including Kota Kinabalu and Brunei.
Approaching lovely Monemvassia. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Approaching lovely Monemvassia. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Why Go?

For the great mix of adventure and comfort, you can feel like an old salt soaking in the sailing scene without giving up the luxury of nice cabins, good dining and even massages.

When to Go?

Two generally winter in the Caribbean and Central America and this pair then spends the summer in various parts of the Mediterranean with spring and fall transats to connect the two seasons.. The third is based in Southeast Asia and the Indonesian islands for the foreseeable future.

Star Clippers Cabins

Cabins are nautical, with wood-paneling, navy blue fabrics and brass details. The ROYAL CLIPPER’s standard cabins measure 148 square feet, while the CLIPPER’s and FLYER’s are a bit smaller at 120 to 130 square feet. The vast majority of cabins on all three ships are outside rooms with portholes (some with a pull down third birth); a handful is smaller inside cabins without portholes.

Each of the trio has a handful of suites, including six on the CLIPPER and FLYER, plus one large oddly configured owners’ suite. The 14 Deluxe Suites on ROYAL CLIPPER’s Main Deck measure 255 square feet and have private balconies, sitting areas, minibars, whirlpool tubs and 24-hour butler service; the two Owner’s Suites measure 355 square feet and have two marble bathrooms, though no balcony.

All cabins have TVs with DVD players, private bathrooms with showers, hair dryers, small vanity table with stool, and surprisingly ample storage space unless you’re a major clothes horse.

Consider that the lowest deck cabins near the stern will be close to the rumbling engines, and the cabins bordering the entrance to the dining room get residual noise and traffic and meal time.

A triple cabin, room 206.

A triple cabin, room 206. When not in use, the upper berth will be folded up and away.* Photo: Heidi Sarna

Star Clippers Public Rooms

On all three ships, the open air Tropical Bar is the hub of activity. Passengers gather around the chunky wooden bar for drinks and daily afternoon canapés are served there, and sometimes special theme lunch bunches as well. It’s the spot for evening entertainment (local talent that often comes aboard while the ship is at anchor) and informal briefings about the day’s schedules.

Adjacent is an indoor wood-paneled Edwardian-style library and card room, and also an indoor piano lounge mainly used for people who want a quiet place to read during the day. Each of the trio has one restaurant; the ROYAL CLIPPER’s fussier and multi-level. The ROYAL CLIPPER also has a small gym and spa and health club on a lower deck below the waterline with portholes to look out into the deep.

Star Clippers Dining

Each ship has one restaurant with open seating and tables for mostly six or eight, encouraging passengers to meet and mingle. The dress code is casual, though some guests enjoy wearing jackets on the captain’s gala night. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style, with made-to-order omelet and pasta stations, respectively, while dinner is served a la carte. The FLYER and CLIPPER’s restaurant is one story, while the frillier dining room on the ROYAL CLIPPER is multi-level with a vaguely 19th-century Mississippi steamboat look.

The continental cuisine is simple and delicately spiced, with several options for dinner entrees, plus soup, salad and appetisers. To please the mainly European clientele, there are plenty of cheeses and marinated meats and fish at breakfast and lunch, and at dinner there are always pasta and fish dishes, plus choices like eggplant Parmesan and broiled lobster.

The staff is happy to accommodate special orders and second helpings, and several theme nights per cruise see them donning Italian garb or other fun costumes. A 24-hour coffee and tea station is set up on the bar, and each afternoon a complimentary snack is offered at the Tropical Bar, from waffles with chocolate sauce to fried plantains and salsa. About 11:30pm each night, a cheese board, fruit, or another snack is set out by the piano bar for late-night noshing.

Passengers are free to climb on the bowsprit mast. Weeeeee! Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

Passengers are free to climb on the bowsprit mast. Weeeeee! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Star Clippers Activities & Entertainment

There is rarely more than one sea day on a Star Clippers cruise, though the ships are usually on the move before dinner and early mornings so guests get plenty of time to enjoy the ships at sea. When weather conditions cooperate, the sails are put up and the engines are turned off; otherwise engines power the ship as well as a few sails up for show. The cruise director or captain does at least one talk a day about the ships or the destination, and passengers are welcome to crawl into the bowsprit netting at the front of the ships for an exciting stint sunbathing above the crashing surf.

When in port several times per cruise, you can climb a mast in a harness and stand on the crow’s next 55 feet up for sweeping views. Passengers are free to stroll into the chart house to chat with the captain or officer on duty, and occasionally there are engine room tours, excursions via tender to photograph the ships under sail, and exercise classes on deck. The ROYAL CLIPPER has a small gym and “spa,” while STAR CLIPPER and FLYER offer massages from a tent-like room up on deck within earshot of the crashing surf.

In port, if you don’t go off on a guided excursion or a walkabout on your own, there is free watersports equipment including paddle boards, windsurfers and snorkeling gear which are hauled to a nearby beach (passengers are shuttled back and forth on one of the ships’ pair of zodiac boats, which also offer water skiing) or used right next to the ship if anchored in an appropriate spot, inviting passengers to hop right into the sea. Some itineraries offer scuba diving opportunities for certified divers, including equipment (for an extra charge).

photo safari

The beloved “photo safari” when passengers can take photos of the ship from tenders. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Evenings, it’s drinks before and after dinner at the Tropical Bar, when a key board player is often on had to serenade passengers with evergreens. After dinner, there’s an hour or so of entertainment offered, from a local folk dance troupe when in port late (ie steel drummers in the Caribbean to whirling dervishes in Turkey) to a crew talent show, trivia contest or dress-up dance party. Once in a while a movie may be shown on deck, projected onto a sail. Things rarely howl on too late.

Along the Same Lines

Windstar’s sailing ships are the closest, and Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II are in the ballpark too.

Star Clippers Contact Info

Star Clipper Palace, 4, rue de la Turbie, 98000 Monaco; www.starclippers.com; (377) 97-97-84-00.    

— HMS/TWS

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star clippers in thailand

Star Clippers in Thailand.

By Heidi Sarna.

With our beach bags and snorkeling gear slung over our shoulders, we filed down the metal staircase extended along side the 170-passenger Star Clipper and into a tender that would transport us to a Thai beach for the day. A short ride later, the boat was nudged into the sandy shoreline and we climbed out of the forward hatch, up and over the bow, and down a short ladder into the surf.

These wet landings would be the norm for the week; part of the adventure of visiting beaches without infrastructure. This was precisely why most of us had signed up for the 7-night Andaman Sea cruise in the first place, to go somewhere warm, sunny and remote, and to get there on a cool tall ship.

star clippers in thailand

Wet landings are business as usual on the Thailand itineraries. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Tall Ship Beauty

Star Clippers‘ four-masted Star Clipper itself was a destination. In fact some passengers didn’t care where the ship was going, they were there for the nostalgic sailing ship experience. About 25% to 50% of the time the engines are shut off and the ship moves under sail power alone — otherwise a combination of the two are used to propel the ship at speeds of about 9 to 14 knots — and it’s a sight to behold.

On the Star Clipper cruise I recently took with two friends Beth and Sheila, each evening, usually before dinner, passengers gathered on deck, many of us with a glass of wine or tropical concoction in hand. We were there to watch the Indian sailors nimbly handle coils of thick rope, wrapping and unwrapping it from pegs and cleats and pulling it along winches, to unfurl whichever of the 16 sails the captain wished to release to help us on our way.

As the sails inched skyward, the solemn theme song from the film “1492: Conquest of Paradise” was broadcast to set the mood. Passengers fixed their gaze on the sails and the twilight sky as the canvas flapped in the wind and the ship creaked through the waves like ships did centuries before.

RELATED: 10 Reasons to do a Star Clippers cruise in Thailand.  by Heidi Sarna

star clippers in thailand

Sunsets through the rigging are breathtaking. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

This appreciation for the experience is exactly what Swedish businessman Mikael Krafft had in mind when he started Star Clippers. He spared no detail or expense to design and build his fleet of three square-rigged clippers in the likeness of their speedy predecessors. Krafft and his team were guided by the original drawings and specifications of Scottish-born Donald McKay, a leading naval architect of 19th-century clipper-ship technology.

The result is a trio of tall ships with few rivals and lots of repeat passengers. The four-masted Star Clipper and twin Star Flyer were launched in 1992 and 1993, respectively, while in 2000, came the 227-passenger five-masted Royal Clipper. A fourth new tall ship, the Flying Clipper, is being built and will debut later this year.

UPDATE: While the Flying Clipper has been completed, a dispute between Star Clippers and the shipyard has delayed its debut; stay tuned. 

The fleet plies the waters of the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia, aiming for yacht harbors and remote bays and islands.

star clippers in thailand

The Star Clipper cruise sails round-trip from Phuket (yellow star) to islands in the Andaman Sea.

Andaman Sea Island Hopping

Round-trip from Phuket, we traveled 533 nautical miles around the Andaman Sea, as far north as the lower tip of Myanmar and south again to Langkawi in northern Malaysia. Most of our ports for the week were part of national parks and clusters of islands with names that weren’t easy to remember. But it didn’t matter what the kohs (also spelled ko) were called, what you remember about this itinerary are the beaches, the bright teal-blue water and those craggy towers and mounds of ancient limestone — partially submerged hills and mountains formed over millions of years.

star clippers in thailand

Some of Asia’s best beaches are in the Andaman Sea. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Each day took on a similar rhythm. After breakfast was a port talk up on deck by the captain or the funny and unflappable Brazilian Cruise Director Monica who loved repeating each morning on the approach to a new port: “Let’s go to paradise.”

The first visit was to KOH SURIN to the north of Phuket. We first snorkeled around reefs some distance from the beach, hopping in the sea right from a tender, ogling giant clams, brain coral and rainbow-striped fish. Then we hit the beach, where the ship’s watersports team had set up kayaks, sailboats and paddleboards. After successfully paddleboarding, a pleasant triumph when you’re no longer a spring chicken, we relaxed on the sand sipping water from coconuts.

star clippers in thailand

Beth gets up on the paddle board after the first try! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The busiest beach we’d encounter all week was in the SIMILAN ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK archipelago. As one German passenger joked after attempting to snorkel: “There were 3 fish and 2,000 legs.” Dozens of buzzing speedboats brought the mostly Chinese tourists on day trips from Phuket or Krabi, their revving outboard engines spitting water as they dropped off and collected their passengers from the beach.

We joined the multitude, finding a space for our towels in the soft, white sand that was surprisingly clean. We enjoyed the people watching, smiling at the throngs in their orange lifejackets taking endless selfies and playing in the sand. Most of the boats had departed by 4pm, leaving the beach nearly deserted with just a handful of Star Clippers passengers.

star clippers in thailand

An afternoon in the Similan Islands with lots of day trippers. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

In KOH KRADAN, part of the Hat Jao Nai National Park, we snorkeled near spiny sea urchins, mounds of brain coral and schools of neon fish. We floated in the water to keep cool and Beth went paddleboarding again, her favorite new activity. Dressed in floral shirts and white pants, the crew set up lunch on the beach, grilling delicious chicken, sausages and burgers that we ate sitting in the sand or on low hanging tree branches.

star clippers in thailand

Lunch on the beach, completed with grilled burgers and chicken. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The perfect ending to our favorite beach day of the week was a half-hour walk across the island to the other side and down a steep path to a secluded, rock-framed cove that could have been the setting for a cover of a Harlequin romance novel.

star clippers in thailand

Where’s the film crew?? * Photo: Mark

The week’s two non-beach days included LANGKAWI, the one Malaysian port of the week. Beth and I signed up for the guided kayaking through the mangroves of the Kilim Geopark followed by lunch and then a sweaty 3km jungle hike in the Raya mountains with an enthusiastic machete-carrying guide Hizam who pointed out monkeys and exotic birds the likes of the Great Horn Bill and Longtail Macaque. Sheila chose a thrilling tour I couldn’t have handled — a mile-long 2,000-foot-high cable car ride between the peaks of the Machincang Mountains on Langkawi’s west coast.

Star Clippers in Thailand

A kayaking excursion through the mangroves of the Kilim Geopark on Langkawi. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

We anchored in AO PHANG NGA (Bay) on the final day or our cruise and signed up for the “James Bond Island” speedboat excursion. We stopped at the Panyi Muslim village on stilts for a walk around the maze of small wooden shops and homes crammed together on rickety boardwalks.

The other stop was scenic James Bond Island, otherwise known as Khao Phing Kan, where parts of the “Man With a Golden Gun” were filmed back in the 1970s thanks to its spectacular rock formations, some resembling giant dripping icicles.

star clippers in thailand

James Bond Island. * Photo; Beth Crow

The best part of the tour was sitting at the back of the boat near the outboard motors as the speeding vessel bounced through the water for several hours between stops. The views of the karsts, some smooth, some rough and covered with tufts of green foliage, unfolded like a 3D movie.

star clippers in thailand

The breathtaking speedboat ride to James Bond Island. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Besides the handful of excursions offered during the week, there were optional daily diving opportunities with the ship’s dive master. There was also Star Clippers’ beloved “photo safari,” when passengers pile into the tenders to circle the ship and take photos under full sail.

star clippers in thailand

The ship’s two tenders circled the Star Clipper for more than an hour on the beloved photo safari. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Onboard Fun & Games

On board, the main activity for the week was mast climbing, when those interested strapped on a harness and climbed up some 65 feet onto a small platform.  For me, massages were the favorite extracurricular; the masseuse was excellent and the prices reasonable, probably because the treatments were doled out in a humble canvas cabana wedged between the diving tanks and ship tenders. Book a massage when the ship is moving to avail of the breeze and soothing ocean sounds.

star clippers in thailand

View from the top, WOW ! * Photo: Doug Stavoe

With three of us sharing a cabin, we didn’t spend much time hanging out in the room, a cozy 130-square-foot abode with portholes, twin beds and a bunk-style third berth. Designed in nautical navy blue fabrics and wood trim, there was a TV, safe, decent storage space, and bathroom with showers. The ship also has eight deluxe cabins that open right up to deck; one large owner’s suite with a sitting area, mini bar and whirlpool bath; and six inside cabins.

Star clippers in thailand

Some standards cabins have a third berth. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

A Social Affair

Chatting and mingling on a small ship like the Star Clipper is inevitable. We became buddies with Monica and Doug, two easy-to-talk-to fellow Americans in their 50s, and Mark, a good-natured 30-something English chap traveling solo. A group of Germans, led by the gregarious Roland, had an infectious sense of humor that made many of us laugh out loud. Of the 114 passengers our week, a third were Germans, 18 were from the UK, a dozen from North America, and the rest a mix from Australia and other corners of Europe — most were 50+.

RELATED: Reader Review of this Star Clippers Thailand cruise. 

Mealtime encouraged socializing as tables were open seating for 6 or 8. Breakfast with a made-to-order omelet station, and lunch with a featured pasta or meat, were buffet-style and generous, while dinner was ala carte with continental choices and a few Asian offerings as well such as Pad Thai. Dishes ranged from so-so (a rib-eye steak and pork stir fry were disappointing and the cheese plate came with Ritz crackers) to very tasty, including the chicken curry, shrimp tarts, and raviolis. But a Star Clipper’s cruise isn’t about the food, it’s about being outside on deck.

Star clippers in thailand

Pad Thai is a classic dish of Thailand. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The open-air Tropical Bar with its thick wooden bar top was the hub, where passengers congregated before and after dinner as the ship’s musician played happy pop tunes on his electric piano. Each evening, some light-hearted entertainment was featured, including a crew and passenger talent show, a traditional Thai dance from a shore-side troupe, and a silly “Pirate Night” party that was great fun.

Star Clippers in Thailand

Thai folk dancing with passengers * Photo: Roland Fella

Afterward, hits from the 60s and 70s were played on the sound system, putting us and new friends in the mood for some dancing as our gorgeous tall ship sailed through the Andaman Sea to our next port of call.

star clippers in thailand

Hotel director Herman at the ship’s hub, the Tropical Bar. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Fast Facts

Itineraries & Fares: Back in Asia after a long absence, through 2019, Star Clipper is doing 7-night Andaman Sea cruises between October and April starting at $1,360 per person, and spending the other half of the year cruising the Indonesian archipelago round-trip from Bali on mostly 7-night sailings.

Getting There: Most US flights come through Bangkok or Singapore, then it’s a short flight to Phuket. We stayed one night in the pretty Amari Phuket hotel along Patong Beach, near the ship’s anchorage.

star clippers in thailand

A relaxing stay at the Amari Phuket the day before the cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna Selfie

Weather & Dress Code: Thailand is just north of the equator, so it will be hot in the 80s and 90s and with short rain storms the norm. You’ll live in beachwear and cover-ups most of the time; at dinner, smart casual works — sundresses, skirts and pants for women and for men, khaki’s and polo shirts or short-sleeved button-downs.

Money Matters: The Thai Baht is the official currency, but there is virtually no opportunity to shop.

star clippers in thailand

Nature’s bounty is the entertainment on a Star Clipper’s Thailand cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

 

RELATED: The Royal Clipper to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia.   by Christina Colon.

And here’s  Star Clipper’s website.

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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

 

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QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer

Andrea Stoeber from Germany

Cruise Line

Star Clippers

Ship

Star Clipper

Destination

Thailand

# of Nights

7

Departure Date & Ports

April 2017, from Patong Bay in Phuket, Thailand to Ko Surin, Similan Islands, Ko Rok Nok, Langkawi, Ko Kraden, Phang Nga and Ko Hong

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars      (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 4

Have you been on a small ship cruise before?

No, this was my first.

Review

Ooops, we will do it again!

Yes, we were bloody beginners, rookies! Our first cruise at all.

My in-laws, who had been on Star Clipper and Royal Clipper before, decided it was time for the four of us to experience our first cruise with them.

Thailand — the Andaman Sea.
We started with Singapore for a few days, flew to Phuket and checked-in on the Star Clipper.

And — I was full of prejudice:
Too many people (maybe Germans?), too many waves, too little space for me (with two teenagers on our side) in between the other guests.

I learned — thankfully the nice way — how wonderful a cruise can be and how addicted you can get.

My first lesson: Wonderful, not too many Germans , it was so international — a little bit of almost every continent. Not more then 170 guests, a seat for everyone while having dinner at the same time, enough room for all of us on “our“ Star Clipper and such a nice staff/crew, who did everything to make our time on that sail boat wonderful.

The second: No, not one of us got problems with being seasick, even in a little bit rough night we did fine and felt safe.

The third: I got addicted to the wonderful sunset time, when you sit on the main deck, they play the same music and set sail — and you’re in between everything of it, can watch how they do it.

A sundowner in your hand and the experience of a terrific beach day on one of the islands we visited, or sightseeing on Langkawi, on my mind.

Of course, we were not the only ones on some islands — but that’s how it is. Everyone wants to see the wonderful beaches, do snorkeling in clear warm water and enjoy the terrific scenery. But most other visitors left early — so there was some quite time left for us. The ship was decorated a little bit old fashioned — but so what. And of course — we have no other cruise to compare it to.

Consequence: We have to do it again in the not so far future and discover more on that “little big sailboat“, with the perfect amount of guests and space for us

Let them spoil us with a delicious breakfast buffet, lunch, happy hour with freshly made finger food when you come from your trip back to the ship

And a wonderful dinner menu, where everyone can find something for themselves. Even our “baby teenager” — who is crazy about pasta……

MY advice: You should try it, too !!

Andrea Stoeber
with her family

PS. No wifi is terrific !!

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews HERE, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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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

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Thailand cruise

by Heidi Sarna.

In April, I took a 7-night Star Clippers Thailand cruise round-trip from Phuket aboard the 170-passenger tall ship Star Clipper. We tootled around the gorgeous rocky islands of the Andaman Sea in search of beaches and snorkeling sites. It was my fifth Star Clippers cruise — and it won’t be my last.

Here are 10 great reasons to take a Star Clippers cruise in Thailand. And here’s Heidi’s full feature article!

The Rocks.

The peaks of craggy ancient mountains poke out of the Andaman Sea like clusters of wild mushrooms, the result of tectonic activity eons ago. Scenic and very photographable, cruising among them on a tall ship is wonderous.

Thailand cruise

The rocky islands and formations of the Andaman Sea. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Beaches.

Beach bums will love this itinerary. The region’s islands, most of which are part of Thai national parks, are rimmed with arcs of white sand framed by picturesque rock formations and shaded by lush tropical foliage.

Thailand cruise

A gorgeous beach on Koh Surin. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

 

The Sunsets.

There’s just something about watching the sun set through the rigging of a sailing ship. Just about every night on this itinerary, a moody orange sunset slowly melted into the horizon to the delight of passengers gathered up on deck to watch the show.

Thailand cruise

Stunning sunsets are a daily affair in the Andaman Sea. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Ship.

The four-masted Star Clipper, like her two fleetmates, was built in the image of a 19th-century clipper, the fast kind that used to race across the ocean by sail power alone to transport tea and opium between China, India and England.  The Star Clipper is a beauty from stem to stern, and her sails, rigging and teak are constant reminders you’re on a classic tall ship.

thailand cruise

Star Clipper in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Snorkeling & Diving.

We snorkelled around shallow reefs and saw giant clams with purple lips, black spiny sea urchins and huge brain corals. Schools of fish, some cheeky enough to swim within inches of my mask, provided a constant stream of marine TV with their neon stripes and spots. All guests are issued free snorkeling equipment and a dive master is on board to take divers on optional excursions daily, to reefs further afield and around submerged black volcanic lava.

Thailand cruise

Snorkeling off the side of a tender near Koh Surin. * Photo: Sheila Healey

The Watersports.

The Star Clipper carries along paddle boards, kayaks, windsurfers and sail boats, and offers them for use right off the side of the ship when anchored in the right conditions and also sets up the equipment on the beach.

Thailand cruise

Paddleboarding is offered on every beach. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Massages.

Marietta the masseuse was excellent; she had just the right firm touch, working out the knots and kinks in a very relaxing and soothing way. The jury-rigged massage cabana is up on a sequestered section of deck near the dive tanks and tender boats.

The humble cabana where excellent massages were performed. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Other Passengers.

Star Clippers attracts an international mix of folks from mostly Europe, the UK and North America who appreciate traditional sailing, offbeat itineraries and good old-fashioned socializing.

Thailand cruise

On route to the next great beach! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Thailand.

Thailand is a cool, historic, quirky place, there’s no two ways about it. Many passengers spend a few days in Phuket, nearby Krabi, and/or Bangkok, before or after the cruise, to enjoy the country’s delectable cuisine, famous friendly hospitality, and stunning gilded temples.

Thailand cruise

Bangkok’s gilded temples and stupas. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Singapore.

Ok, maybe this one’s cheating, but I love the fact that this cruise could happen after just a short 1.5-hour flight to Phuket from Singapore where I live! From North America, on the other hand, it’s a full-day’s schlep to get to Thailand, but it’s worth it, trust me.

Through 2019, Star Clipper is doing weeklong Andaman Sea cruises between October and April starting at $1,360 per person and spending the other half of the year cruising in the Indonesia archipelago round-trip from Bali.

And here’s Heidi’s full feature article!

Visit Star Clippers for booking info.

Star Clippers Thailand

A Star Clippers cruise in Thailand is one photo op after another. * Photo: Mark Brompton

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QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: Sheila Healey from USA.

Cruise Line: Star Clippers.

Ship: Star Clipper.

Destination: Thailand, Asia.

# of Nights: 7.

Departure Date & Ports: April, 2017, round-trip from Patong Bay in Phuket, Thailand to Ko Surin, Similan Islands, Ko Rok Nok, Langkawi, Ko Kraden, Phang Nga and Ko Hong.

OVERALL RATING: 4 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? I’ve been on 4 small ship cruises.

Review: Spring Adventure

I usually do not review things but have to for this trip!

Overall, a wonderful adventure visiting pristine beaches and areas off the grid for larger ships.  This was my first time sailing on a tall ship and it was pure joy! I plan to do this again — the feeling of being at one with the sea was omni present. If you want ports of call with shopping and western ways — not for you — if you want to get away from it all, a must go.

Great staff/crew and decent (sometimes slow but sweet) service made the cruise quite enjoyable. Food was ok but hey we are on a ship — the decor (especially the dining area) was a bit dated, but as the week wore on it bothered me less. Loved the bar and the daily special drinks.  The team kept you busy with various levels of exercise including diving and snorkeling — no TV was sooooo wonderful. As a small ship, you do get to chat with others on the ship — if you are a recluse this is not the ship for you.

My favorite time of day was dawn sitting on deck with nobody around and taking in the beauty of the sky and sea.

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer

Mark from England

Cruise Line

Star Clippers

Ship

Star Clipper

Destination

Thailand, Asia

# of Nights

14 (I did 2 back-to-back cruises)

Departure Date & Ports

April, 2017, round-trip from Phuket, Thailand toKo Surin, Similan Islands, Ko Rok Nok, Langkawi, Ko Kraden, Phang Nga and Ko Hong

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars      (5=EXCELLENT; 4=VERY GOOD; 3=GOOD; 2=POOR; 1=TERRIBLE)

Have you been on a small ship cruise before?

I’ve been on 1

Review

Massive Sunsets in Thailand

I was Initially apprehensive about going on a two week cruise solo, I rarely go on holiday as my job sees me travelling quite a lot. But I took the plunge and went all out, both my fingers were crossed.

Having arrived at the hotel to collect my boarding pass early there was no rush for me to get all the paperwork sorted. A slow walk along the beach gave me a view of my home for the next 2 weeks.  When I arrived on the ship I found a very competent and well worked team looking out for me. The informal bar and restaurant allowed me to mix with people from all round the world. Many were couples, small groups and a smattering of other solos. The atmosphere was perfect for a holiday — regular food at a high standard, room on deck to catch the sun and 2 pools to cool yourself in. The excursions were well thought out and the daily trips to the beaches did not get boring due to the sandy environment we arrived onto.

I have recommended the cruise to my family and anyone at work who asks me about trips to go on; whether to Thailand or at least onto Star Clipper.

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer

Huber Hannelore from Germany

Cruise Line

Star Clippers

Ship

Star Clipper

Destination

Thailand

# of Nights

7

Departure Date & Ports

April 15-22, 2017, round-trip from Patong Beach in Phuket to Langkawi and other islands

OVERALL RATING

3 out of 5 stars       (5=EXCELLENT; 4=VERY GOOD; 3=GOOD; 2=POOR; 1=TERRIBLE)

Have you been on a small ship cruise before?

I’ve been on 2 small ship cruises

Review 

It was a great trip! I enjoyed it very very much!!!!!

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

 

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Star Legend heads back to Asia, including Thailand's Ko Yao Noi. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Star Legend heads back to Asia, including Thailand’s Ko Yao Noi. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Windstar is Asia bound again after a three-year hiatus, positioning the 212-passenger STAR LEGEND there beginning in November 2017 through April 2018. Offering a varied repertoire of mostly 14-night itineraries, including some brand new routes for the line, the cruises start and end in Asia’s most culturally rich cities, from Hong Kong to Tokyo, Singapore and Bangkok, making it convenient to spend a few days exploring before and after the cruise. Here are some highlights of Windstar’s upcoming Asia plans:

14 nights, Best of the Philippines & Borneo. This brand-new route for Windstar sails between Singapore and Hong Kong via Malaysia and Borneo, with a focus on the beautiful islands of the Philippines, including Palawan, Boracay and Hundred Islands National Park.

10 nights, Grand Japan. Another new itinerary sails between Tokyo and Osaka, with highlights including Busan, South Korea, famous for its beaches and hot springs; Hiroshima to visit the Memorial Peace Arch (a UNESCO historical site); and the sacred shrines of Shingu with their traditional torii gates.

14 nights, Marvels of China & the Japanese Islands. This one cruises from Hong Kong to Beijing via Taiwan, Japan, and Mainland China, berthing in Hong Kong’s  gorgeous Victoria Harbour, which is only accessible to smaller ships. Calls include cosmopolitan Taipei, Taiwan; tropical Japanese islands; and Shanghai via the scenic  Huangpu River, which is only navigable by small ships.

14 nights, Splendors of Japan & South Korea. Cruise between Beijing, China and Tokyo, Japan, and visit South Korea’s Jeju City to see the world’s largest lava tunnels, and Japan’s scenic Shikoku Island, known for its temples. This cruise is offered at the end of the Asia season in spring, the ideal time to see the country’s legendary cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Bangkok's gilded Royal Palace. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Bangkok’s gilded Royal Palace. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

14 nights, Icons of Southeast Asia. Sail between Hong Kong and Bangkok and visit ports in Thailand, Vietnam and China. Highlights include Vietnam’s Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; stops in historic Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City; and a call on exotic Bangkok, docking right in town as only small ships can do.

18 nights, The Wonders of Arabia. This Athens to Dubai repositioning cruise in the fall of 2017 on route to Asia includes a daylight transit of the Suez Canal; time in historic Petra, Jordan; and an opportunity to see the stunning pyramids in Luxor, Egypt. 

16 nights, Pearls of the Indian Ocean. Continuing on to Asia, journey from Dubai to Singapore via India (Mumbai, Mangalore, Cochin), Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia, visiting both pristine natural sites and teeming metropolises.

 

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