Pandaw River Cruises Restarts
By Heidi Sarna.
A specialist and pioneer in river cruises in southeast Asia for more than 25 years, Pandaw River Cruises paused its operations when the COVID19 pandemic hit in March, and is now gearing up to restart its wonderfully quirky and charming river cruises in September in six countries.
Pandaw’s fleet of 17 colonial-style teak riverboats were 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 tasty meals reflect local flavors.
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.
Start dates for Pandaw River Cruises
Irrawaddy River in Burma — September 24
* The 7-night Irrawaddy “Mandalay Pagan Packet” starts at $1,885 USD per person
Chindwin River in Burma — September 5
* The 7-night “Chindwin” expedition starts at $3,307 USD per person
Red River & Halong Bay in Vietnam — September 13
* The 10-night “Halong Bay & Red River” adventure starts at $3,069 USD per person
Mekong River in Cambodia & Vietnam — October 17
* The 7-night “Classic Mekong between Siem Reap & Saigon” starts at $2,596 USD per person
Mekong River in Laos — September 24
* The 10-night “Upper Mekong in Laos” expedition starts at $3,924 USD per person
Mekong River in Laos & China — October 12
* The 14-night “Mekong from Laos to China” cruise starts at $4,708 USD per person
Ganges & Brahmaputra Rivers in India — October 2121
* The 7-night “Lower Ganges” cruise starts at $3,069 USD per person
* The 7-night “Brahmaputra” cruise starts at $2,861 USD per person
Flexible Booking Options
For new bookings, Pandaw requires just a $100 deposit to secure a cabin between now and September 1, 2020. On their website, Pandaw says: “This means that you can book now to get a guaranteed cabin but if you change your mind for whatever you can walk away without too much of a hit. If you want to go ahead with the trip then we will ask you to make up the deposit to the usual amount by 1st September 2020 (or balance if due beforehand).”
Further, if you make a booking for next season and then, for whatever reason, want to change the date of travel or the routing, Pandaw will transfer any monies paid as a credit to another date or route within 12 months of that sailing date without penalty, subject to availability of a cabin.
Like other travel companies, Pandaw is continuously monitoring the situation and will decide at least 30 days prior to departure if operation is possible, if borders are open and if it’s safe to travel.
Health & Safety Protocols
To ensure maximum safety for all Pandaw guests and crew, Pandaw has just released an outline of its health and safety measures created by Pandaw senior management and based on the current available guidelines of the WHO as well as on the regulations of the individual countries involved.
General rules for social distancing entail new operational procedures on board to ensure a minimum distance of 2.0 meters(6.5ft) between each person. Passengers are required to wear face masks (covering mouth and nose) in public areas onboard if the required minimum distance is not possible. Further, crew will forego usual welcome rituals such as shaking hands, etc. until further notice.
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