The 1,350-mile-long Irrawaddy (or Ayeyarwady) originates in the Himalayas at the confluence of two rivers in the northern reaches of Myanmar near India and China and winds south before emptying through a vast delta into the Andaman Sea; its main tributary is the Chindwin River. Classic 10- or 14-day Irrawaddy River itineraries travel between Yangon on the southern coast and Mandalay in the central region while shorter versions ply the 110-mile stretch between Mandalay and Bagan, an ancient city carpeted in pagodas and temples. Most Irrawaddy cruises operate between August and April — with October through February the coolest (relatively speaking) and greenest period — and many lines are on hiatus from May to July when it’s extremely hot and dry and river levels are very low.
What We Love
Monk Processions: Myanmar, a Buddhist country, is home to hundreds of thousands of monks. While some dedicate their entire lives to living in a monastery, most serve for only a short period of time as it is considered an auspicious and important thing for boys and men to do. Corteges of monks in burgundy or saffron robes, alms bowls in hand, are a common and beautiful sight.
Best Known For
Pagodas: They’re everywhere — but especially in the photogenic city of Bagan, where thousands of these distinctive structures, along with other Buddhist shrines and temples, decorate the landscape.
Buddhas: White marble, green jade, wooden, and gilded, Myanmar’s Buddhas come in all shapes, styles, and sizes and can be admired all along the Irrawaddy.
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Bagan: Hands down, this ancient city is the big star, thanks to its more than 2,000 towering temples, shrines, and pagodas, many dating from the 11th to 13th centuries.
Mandalay: From Mandalay, you can explore many centuries-old former kingdoms and cities, including Ava (also known as Inwa) and Amarapura (once the country's capital), each with their own impressive monasteries, shrines, and sanctuaries.
Mingun: Located just north of Mandalay, this port is all about the riverside Mingun Pagoda, a massive and intentionally incomplete stupa (a dome-shaped Buddhist shrine) dating back to the late 18th century.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The Souvenir Hawkers Are Relentless: Yes, they’re just trying to make a buck or two, but sometimes you just want to be left alone and not trailed to and from the main sights.
Heidi Sarna is a Singapore-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Condé Nast Traveler and USA Today.