Discover Asia on a river cruise along the Irrawaddy and uncover a magical world of temples, palaces and ancient capitals

cruise holiday
The Shwezigon Paya, a Buddist temple near Bagan, Burma

river cruise to the land of pagodas and mist-shrouded jungle – where Buddhist tradition combines with a colonial timelessness – is something special. Burma, even now, treasures its seclusion from the outside world. Here cruises follow two rivers, the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin. The former offers the most options, stretching much of the country’s length, while the latter flows through the wilderness of the north. Cities include Yangon (Rangoon) and Mandalay.

Elephant Bill River Expedition

Following in the footsteps of James Howard (Elephant Bill) Williams, a young Brit who arrived here in 1920 to work for the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation, this trip travels the Chindwin River between Mawlaik and Bagan, through ancient teak forests in the remote north of the country. There’s a trek to Bill’s camp, from where he led refugees on elephants fleeing Japanese troops during World War II and visits to the pagodas and monasteries of Mandalay and Yangon. Nadi Mandala is small and comfy, with simple rooms, shared showers and open-air dining.

The annual 15-day Elephant Bill River Expedition, including nine-day cruise, departs on 16 November 2014 and costs from £3,495, land only, with Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel. Return flights can also be arranged from about £850 (0207 736 3968; wildfrontierstravel.com).

Golden Myanmar

Sail the Irrawaddy (the Ayeyarwady) in a 1947-built luxury steamer. Start your journey in Yangon on the south coast of Burma and continue up to Bagan – one of the wonders of the world, a hazy plain dotted with 1,000-year-old temples – then on to Mandalay and finally reaching Mingun/Sagaing, with its extraordinary stupa and the beautiful white Myatheindan Pagoda.

The 10-day Golden Myanmar cruise, departing regularly from October to March 2014, costs from $4,240 (+95-1-380877 or Skype: Ayravatacruises, ayravatacruises.com).

The Irrawaddy

This cruise concentrates on the upper stretches of the river, from Pyay (Prome) and is a 600-mile journey through the country’s heart. The cruise visits Mandalay, a throbbing city of markets, on trade routes connecting China and India, where grand teak palaces contrast with colonial buildings, as well as the ancient capital, Amarapura. On the way there are rides by horse and cart and World War II Jeeps to see temples and remote villages.

The 14-night cruise departs from October to July and prices start at $4,902, for cruise only (0203 287 6113; pandaw.com).

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© Photo: Robert Harding World Imagery/Alamy

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