When, what and how

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - RIVER CRUISING - GILL CHARL­TON

• The best time to visit is Oc­to­ber-March, when river lev­els and hu­mid­ity are lower. Ex­pect day­time highs of about 30C but evenings are pleas­antly balmy and rain is rare. Avoid Chi­nese New Year (the week of Fe­bru­ary 8, 2016) when the coun­try is swamped with tour groups. • Pack loose cot­ton cloth­ing; most ho­tels have a 24-hour laun­dry ser­vice. In­clude easy slip-off shoes or san­dals to en­ter tem­ples and a fold­ing um­brella for show­ers and sun. A torch with a strong beam is rec­om­mended as tem­ple in­te­ri­ors are poorly lit; also con­sider binoc­u­lars to watch river­bank life, plus trop­i­cal-strength in­sect spray and anti-bac­te­rial wipes for pol­ish­ing cups and glasses in tea-houses. • Pan­daw pi­o­neered cruises on the Irrawaddy in the 1990s, repli­cat­ing the hand­some pol­ished teak and brass of the orig­i­nal Irrawaddy Flotilla Com­pany steam­ers. There’s a big choice of itin­er­ar­ies. Opt for its Ba­gan and the Up­per Irrawaddy itin­er­ary, which takes in vil­lage Burma and Or­well’s Katha as well as the clas­sic sights. More: pan­daw.com. • The 83-pas­sen­ger Belmond Road to Man­dalay is the river’s grande dame on the Man­dalay-Ba­gan sec­tion while sis­ter ship Or­caella ac­com­mo­dates 50 pas­sen­gers and of­fers one-week cruises from Ba­gan to Yan­gon, in­clud­ing a stop at the an­cient city of Sri Kes­tra near Pyay, re­cently recog­nised as a UNESCO World Her­itage site. Or­caella also plies the Chind­win River on a sea­sonal ba­sis. More: 1800 000 395; belmond.com. • The 21-cabin Sanc­tu­ary Ananda, launched last Novem­ber, has the largest suites on the river and operates July to April. More: aber­crom­biekent.com.au; sanc­tu­aryre­treats.com. • Book an east-fac­ing cabin (port down­stream, star­board up­stream) to avoid the strong af­ter­noon sun. • The river flows fast, es­pe­cially in au­tumn, so choos­ing a down­stream cruise will give more time at sites. • Pre-book a hot-air bal­loon ride over Ba­gan to en­sure a space. • Pan­daw’s ships of­fer no-sin­gle-sup­ple­ment cab­ins on most de­par­tures; check other op­er­a­tors for sim­i­lar of­fers. • Ob­tain a vis­i­tor’s visa well be­fore de­par­ture. More: mecan­berra.com.au. • ATMs and credit cards are slowly com­ing into use. Take US dol­lars in mint con­di­tion with no folds, tears or marks as they will be re­fused, even in banks. • This is a con­ser­va­tive so­ci­ety and dress­ing re­spect­fully means avoid­ing skimpy cloth­ing, bare shoul­ders and seethrough dresses. Shoes and socks must be re­moved in tem­ple precincts. • Tip­ping is not ex­pected out­side of top ho­tels and res­tau­rants, where 10 per cent is usual. Tem­ple guardians will look for a small tip if they of­fer an ex­tra ser­vice. Crew tips are usu­ally in­cluded in cruise pack­ages ex­cept for guides and coach driv­ers.

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