Flowing from the Himalaya to the Indian Ocean, the Irrawaddy winds through the heart of Myanmar (Burma), providing essential resources and livelihoods to the people who reside on its shores. Journey along this mighty waterway on Scenic Aura, and witness an ever-changing landscape of timeless villages, shimmering stupas, and enchanting ancient sites. Experience the daily rhythms along the river and get to know the country’s warm and friendly people on visits to bustling towns, artisan workshops, and monasteries. From the glorious temples of Bagan to the glittering Shwesandaw Pagoda in Pyay, explore some of Myanmar’s most spectacular sights, and experience a culture long cut off from the world.
Meet a representative from the Irrawaddy Community Conservation Project to learn about efforts to protect the Irrawaddy dolphin.
Venture into the historic Minhla Fort, and then spend time in the traditional village of Patho, getting acquainted with everyday life in Myanmar.
Travel through the Bagan plain by horse cart with a local archaeologist to see Bagan’s temples up close and hear about efforts to restore the temples after the 2016 earthquake.
Visit the Lawkananda Wildlife Sanctuary, and learn about a breeding program overseen by National Geographic grantee Kalyar Platt that aims to protect the critically endangered Burmese star tortoise.
Itinerary - 11 Days
Day 1 — Mandalay, Myanmar/Irrawaddy River
Arrive in Mandalay and board Scenic Aura. Enjoy a welcome reception and dinner as we set sail.
Day 2 — Hsithe/Mingun
Begin the day with a visit to the Irrawaddy Community Conservation Project in Hsithe. Meet with one of the project’s representatives to learn about the Irrawaddy dolphin and find out how local communities and fishermen are working together to preserve this critically endangered species. Explore the village and learn to fish as the locals do before discovering the birdlife in nearby Singu. Continue to Mingun—home to the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, a huge, unfinished brick pagoda, and the massive Mingun Bell. Then view the beautiful architecture of the Hsinbyume Pagoda, which consists of seven concentric terraces leading to a central stupa.
(B, L, D)
Day 3 — Sagaing/Amarapura
Surrounded by temple-dotted hills, Sagaing was the capital of the 14th-century Sagaing Kingdom and is today an important religious center. Meet novice monks during a visit to a monastic-supported school, then continue to a nearby nunnery, where we’ll make a traditional donation to the resident nuns before their midday meal. This afternoon, travel to Amarapura and enjoy sundowner drinks on a local boat as we float beneath U Bein Bridge—believed to be the world’s longest teak footbridge. At sunset, capture the iconic shot of the bridge’s silhouette against the orange sky.
(B, L, D)
Day 4 — Myinmu/Monywa
Step ashore at Myinmu and drive through the lush countryside to Monywa. Here, we’ll venture into sandstone grottoes to view spectacular mural paintings and statues dating back to the 14th century. The complex, which includes more than 900 caves, houses one of Southeast Asia’s richest collections of Buddhist mural paintings and images. Later, return to the ship and take in scenes of rural life along the riverbanks as we sail to Yandabo.
(B, L, D)
Day 5 — Yandabo
Arrive in the village of Yandabo, where the peace treaty ending the First Anglo-Burmese War was signed in 1826. Now famous for its pottery, the village offers an opportunity to watch craftsmen at work and to observe their unique artistic methods. We’ll also witness the time-honored tradition of face painting with thanaka, a paste made from ground bark. Later, learn about typical Burmese clothing, including the longyi—a wrap-around skirt commonly worn by women and men. Relax on the sundeck as we sail toward Bagan, watching for the many pagodas and temples that line the river banks. After dinner this evening, we will be joined by U Aung Aung Kyaw, director of Bagan's Archaeological Department, who will discuss the efforts to repair the Bagan temples in the aftermath of the 2016 earthquake.
(B, L, D)
Day 6 — Bagan
Float above the temple-strewn plain of Bagan on an optional balloon ride this morning (weather permitting). Visit the Lawkananda Wildlife Sanctuary to learn about efforts to protectcritically endangered endemic species, including a breeding program for the Burmese star tortoise overseen by National Geographic grantee Kalyar Platt; then peruse the colorful markets at Nyaung-u and see a few of Bagan’s many temples Alternatively, travel to Mount Popa, which features prominently in Burmese mythology and is considered the home of powerful nats, or spirits; or explore the sites around Old Bagan town. This afternoon, join a local archaeologist on a tour of the Bagan plain by horse cart, and learn about ongoing restoration on visits to some of the site’s most significant temples. Cap off the evening with a traditional string puppet show.
(B, L, D)
Day 7 — Bagan/Salay
Rise early and attend a morning almsgiving with local monks. Back on board, try a traditional breakfast of mohinga, a classic noodle dish. Later, encounter the most iconic sight of this mesmerizing region: the impressive Ananda Temple. Then visit artisans to see firsthand the production of Burmese lacquerware—a Bagan tradition. This afternoon, continue cruising downstream to Salay. Set out to explore the area’s highlights, including Mann Paya, which houses a 20-foot gold buddha image made of lacquer straw, and Youqson Kyaung, a beautiful wooden monastery. Then soak up the ambience along the riverside while enjoying a traditional Burmese tea in a restored colonial villa.
(B, L, D)
Day 8 — Magwe
Enjoy the views from the deck of our ship as we sail to Magwe, where in the cool of the afternoon we will explore the town by trishaw. Glide past traditional homes and shops, and witness scenes of daily life. Later, take in a spectacular panorama from Magwe’s largest shrine, Mya Tha Lun Pagoda, which overlooks the river from atop Naguttama Hill.
(B, L, D)
Day 9 — Minhla/Patho
Start the day with a morning tour of Minhla Fort. During the Third Anglo–Burmese War, these 13th-century forts were updated by Italian engineers to keep British forces out of Royal Burma. With their capture came an end to an independent Burma and the beginning of full British colonial control. Further downstream, stop at Patho, one of the smaller villages along the river. Set out on a walking tour of the village, visiting a school and monastery. Enjoy an opportunity to meet some of the local monks and observe their daily rituals. Later,
Day 10 — Pyay
Arrive in the riverside town of Pyay. In the afternoon set out to explore Sri Ksetra, one of the ancient Pyu Kingdoms that flourished between the fifth and ninth centuries, and which became Myanmar’s first World Heritage-listed site in 2014. This intriguing site includes stupas and temples that are among the earliest Buddhist monuments in the world. Later, visit the glittering Shwesandaw Pagoda, one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Myanmar, which is believed to house some hairs of the Buddha. Enjoy a farewell dinner with the crew tonight.
(B, L, D)
Day 11 — Yangon
After breakfast, disembark with a picnic lunch and drive to Yangon. Just outside of Yangon, stop in Htauk Kyant to visit the poignant Allied War Cemetery, dedicated to the Allied soldiers who lost their lives in the country during WWII. From here, continue to the airport to connect with your flight home.
This trip is offered in partnership with Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours.
Book by June 30, 2018 and receive round-trip economy airfare between the U.S. and Myanmar (Burma) for $295 per person on the 2018 departure, and $395 per person in 2019. Offer is subject to availability and valid for new bookings only, and may not be combined with other promotions. Please call for details.
Paula Swart is an expert on Asian culture and history with a special interest in Buddhism, and has been a museum curator for more than 20 years. A popular expert on more than 30 expeditions for National Geographic , her travels have taken her to Southeast Asia numerous times. She recently organized the Visions of Enlightenment exhibition on Buddhist art, which featured pieces from Myanmar (Burma). Paula holds degrees in archaeology, Asian art history, and Chinese history. She speaks five languages, including Mandarin, and has published several books and numerous articles on the art and architecture of Asian cultures. Paula also studied and lectures on artifacts from the wreck of a Dutch East India company ship that was found off the island of St. Helena and documented in the October 1978 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives on bumpy roads, or easy hikes.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.