Our selection of Myanmar Burma tours and river cruises take place on either the Irrawaddy River, the largest in Myanmar, or the Chindwin River, its main tributary. Flowing 1,384 miles from Myanmar’s mountainous north to its southern delta plains, the Irrawaddy river has been the main economic and cultural artery in Myanmar for ages, enabling travel and exchange, and bringing together more than 100 diverse ethnic groups. A river cruise in Myanmar is the ideal way to tour this emerging destination as it affords you a close look at life on the river as it was centuries ago, with the unspoiled beauty of ancient temples, surrounding landscape, and local people.
Why do we refer to Myanmar as Burma? Officially, on paper, the country’s name is Myanmar. In 1989, the ruling military government changed the name from Burma to Myanmar after thousands were killed in an uprising. Sometimes, Burma is just an easier word to pronounce. Both words have the same origin, linguistically. Myanmar is the literary, written name of the country and Burma is more colloquial. One is more formal than the other.
Add a Pre or Post Cruise Land Tour Extension to your Irrawaddy River Cruise
All of our Pre-Post Extensions are all-inclusive with: Hotel Accommodations, Select Meals, Airport & Ship Transfers, Sightseeing, Domestic Airfare, English Speaking Guide, and Entrance Fees. Please Contact Us and a Travel Advisor will help build your custom Myanmar tour itinerary to go before or after your cruise.
Irrawaddy River Cruise
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. You will journey along this mighty waterway on one of several of our boats of your choosing. On board, you will 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.
Yangon - Myanmar (Burma)
Any trips to Myanmar should include her largest city and former capital,Yangon. Known for the impressive 344 ft (105 m) golden Shwedagon Pagoda, and imposing British colonial architecture throughout the city, Yangon is one of the most important commercial and cultural centers in Myanmar. The city is located in Lower Myanmar at the convergence of the Yangon and Bago Rivers, and has a tropical monsoon climate. Yangon, originally Dagon, was founded in the early 11th century as a small fishing village and was later renamed Yangon, meaning “End of Strife,” after being conquered in the mid-18th century by King Alaungpaya.
In 1885, after the Third Anglo-Burmese War, Myanmar was annexed by the British Empire and Yangon, renamed Rangoon, became the capital of all British Burma. Today, Yangon is home to many notable religious, cultural, and recreational sites. A few days touring Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist Pagoda in Myanmar, Sule Pagoda, a focal point of Burmese politics, Bogyoke Market, a major bazaar and tourist destination, and the National Museum, home of Burmese art, history, and culture are a must.
Soak up the rich culture of Yangon and take in the juxtaposition of old and new as you meander amid gleaming high-rises and colonial-era buildings. Gaze at the great, gilded stupa of Shwedagon Pagoda, the spiritual heart of the city, and visit a traditional fishing village to get a taste of rural life. Take part in a lamp-lighting ceremony alongside local pilgrims, then cap off your stay with a memorable meal at the Strand Hotel, one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. This extension to your Myanmar river cruise should not be missed.
Inle Lake - Myanmar (Burma)
Inle lake is the hidden jewel of Myanmar. It is surrounded by mountainous landscape and located in the Shan state, which is bordered by both Thailand and Laos. The 45 sq. mi (116 sq km) freshwater lake features breathtaking views with bamboo stilted houses, flowing marshes, and floating gardens that surround the lake, along with local fishermen casting their nets from small handmade boats.
The boatmen and fishermen of the area – known as the Intha – are famous for their unique way of rowing their boats. The Intha stand on one leg while using the other leg to push the oar through the water. In the unique watery world of Inle Lake, Intha fisherman row canoes with one leg, gardens float, and wooden homes perch above the water on rickety stilts. Take some time to explore one of Myanmar's most iconic destinations with an early-morning cruise, a cycle through the countryside, or sojourns into the surrounding hills and villages.
The impressive ‘Phaung Daw Oo’ Pagoda is also located on in lnle Lake, featuring five small gilded Buddha images that have been covered in gold leaf to the point that their original form cannot be seen. Every morning a flotilla of slender wooden canoes fitted with long-tailed outboard motors surges forth, transporting visitors to various natural, cultural, religious and historic sites. Nyaungshwe, on the northern edge of the lake, is the base for setting out on motorboat trips – every hotel and guesthouse in town can help arrange one, or just wait for a boat captain to approach you in the street.Another highlight of Inle Lake is the small village of Indein known for its market and two groups of ancient pagodas: ‘Nyaung Ohak’ and ‘Shwe Inn Thein’.
The Best of Myanmar (Burma)
Early civilizations in Myanmar (Burma) included the Pyu city-states in Upper Burma and the Mon kingdoms in Lower Burma. In the 9th century, the Bamar people entered the upper Irrawaddy valley followed by the establishment of the Pagan Kingdom in the 1050's. Soon after, the Burmese language, culture, and Theravada Buddhism slowly became dominant in the country. The Pagan Kingdom fell during the Mongol invasions, and several warring micro states emerged. In the 16th century, reunified by the Taungoo Dynasty, the country was for a brief period the largest empire in the history of Mainland Southeast Asia.
The British conquered Myanmar (Burma) after three Anglo-Burmese Wars in the 19th century and the country became a British colony. Myanmar became an independent nation in 1948, initially as a democratic nation, and then, following a coup d'état in 1962, a military dictatorship.
For most of its independent years, Myanmar (Burma) has been burdened by widespread ethnic feuding. In 2011, the military junta was officially dissolved following a 2010 general election, and a nominally civilian government was installed.
While former military leaders still wield some power in the country, the Burmese military took steps toward relinquishing control of the government. This, along with the release of political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, had improved the country's human rights record and foreign relations, and led to the easing of trade and other economic sanctions.
On March 28, 2018, the Assembly of the Union elected Win Myint as the 10th President of Myanmar.
A diverse range of indigenous cultures exist in Myanmar, the majority culture is primarily Buddhist and Bamar. Bamar culture has been influenced by the cultures of neighboring countries. This has come in the form of language, cuisine, music, dance and theater. The arts have historically been influenced by the local form of Theravāda Buddhism.
Theravāda - literally translated as ‘school of the elder monks’ - is a branch of Buddhism that uses the teachings of the Pāli Canon as its core doctrine. The Pāli Canon is the standard collection of scriptures preserved in the Pāli language. It is the first known and most complete existing early Buddhist canon. Theravāda promotes the teaching of analysis and says that insight must come from the person’s experience, application of knowledge, and critical reasoning. However, Theravāda Buddhist tradition also calls attentions to heeding the advice of the wise, considering such advice and then evaluation of one's own experiences.
In a traditional village, the monastery is the center of cultural life. Monks are well respected and supported by the local people. A novitiation ceremony is the most important coming of age event for a boy. For a short time, he enters the monastery for training. All male children in Buddhist families are encouraged to be a novice (beginner in the study of Buddhism) before the age of twenty and to be a monk after the age of twenty.
However, British colonial rule introduced Western elements to the culture. Myanmar's education system, for example, is modeled after that of the United Kingdom. Also, colonial architectural influences can be seen throughout the country.
Any travel to Burma will include sampling her exquisite cuisine which varies considerably depending on the region you visit. The diversity and richness of Myanmar's cuisine has a lot to do with the varying customs of its myriad local ethnic minorities. Burmese cuisine is characterized by extensive use of fish products and fish sauce; however, other proteins are used such as poultry and beef. Due to the geographic location of Myanmar, Burmese cuisine has been influenced by Chinese, Indian, and Thai cuisine. Indian influences can be found in Burmese versions of dishes such as samosas, biryani, curries, spices and breads. Chinese influences in Burmese cuisine are shown in the use of ingredients like bean curd, soy sauce, various noodles, and in stir fry techniques.
Burmese cuisine also includes a variety of salads, centered on a major ingredient. These ingredients include but are not limited to rice, wheat, rice noodles, glass noodles, vermicelli, potato, ginger (a traditional favorite), tomato, kaffir lime, long bean, pickled tea leaves (another traditional favorite), various proteins, and fish paste. These salads have always been popular as 'fast foods' in cities around Myanmar.
Mohinga is a traditional dish and is considered by many to be Myanmar's national dish. Seafood is a common, while poultry is more commonly used in the landlocked areas of the country. Mohinga is mostly eaten for breakfast and a must-have for anyone visiting Myanmar. There are many different variations of this dish depending on what region, city, or even in which restaurant you are eating. Traditionally, the main ingredients of mohinga are chickpea flour, crushed toasted rice, garlic, onions, lemongrass, banana tree stem, ginger, fish paste, fish sauce, and catfish in a flavorful broth served with rice vermicelli and garnished with lime juice, spring onions, and crushed dried chilies.
Best Time to Visit Myanmar (Burma)
Most of Myanmar (Burma) has a tropical monsoon climate with three seasons: cool, hot, and rainy. The best season depends on your travel goals and personal preference. Below is a short explanation of the seasons:
The “cool” season, the ideal travel period for trips on the Irrawaddy River, runs from November to February, and is generally warm to hot during the day with the air being relatively dry. This time of year is considered the most comfortable time to travel in Myanmar having the least humidity and the clearest conditions. However, the “cool” period is also the peak travel season for this part of the world, so expect to see less vacancy and higher prices for hotels and airfare.
If you don’t mind the heat and a little more humidity, the “hot” season, March to May, is still a great time to cruise the Irrawaddy. During this time of year, you will often find that the popular destinations will be less crowded and you may even find better deals on hotels and airfare. In both the “cool” and “dry” seasons, it is very unlikely that you will experience any rain.
The “rainy” season, also known as the monsoon season, runs from June to October having the most intense rainfall occurring between June and August with intermittent rainfall in September and October. While these conditions may appear unattractive for river cruising, the increased rainfall and rising level of the river create a lush, green landscape and allow cruises farther north into the shallower Chindwin River. The ideal time for a Chindwin River cruise is between July and September as the river level will accommodate touring vessels.
Myanmar Closer Look
An Irrawaddy River Cruise gives you an unforgettable experience and look into the history, culture, and lives of the people and country of Myanmar (Burma). It is said that the Irrawaddy River carries life throughout Myanmar, making the river one of the finest ways to tour this unique destination..
Once the center of the Pagan Empire, Bagan today is a tourist, artist, and archaeological mecca featuring more than 2,000 unique temples and pagodas of the over 10,000 originally constructed from the 9th to 13th centuries. Not only does the sheer number of religious structures stand out, but the beautiful and unique design of these structures stand alone as superb examples ancient architecture. The Bagan landscape is dotted with the temples and in the far distance looms the crest of Mount Popa, abode of the 'nat' (spirits).
Since King Anawrahta of Bagan (1044 – 1077 AD) first gave full support to Buddhism, there was Spirit worship which he could not be entirely remove from the land. Buddhism can be a difficult philosophy to live by with each person being entirely responsible for his or her own actions, good or bad, without any help from any other 'forces'. Anawrahta knew that he had to let some people believe in favors granted to them by the 'nats'. The 'nat' mediums also took care not to be antagonistic of Buddhism; instead they insist that the 'nats', like all good Buddhists, aspire to end their cycle of rebirth and enter Nirvana.
The village dwellers of Myanmar (Burma) are hardworking. Days are spent tending to their fields, plots, and small chicken coops all day under the harsh tropical sun. Villagers lives are not easy, but they share their affection and humor with their neighbors. Their main forms of entertainment are the annual pagoda festivals, or a weekly movie at the video hall in larger villages.
Young boys spend their evenings courting girls who walk to and from the river carrying water pots on their heads. Some evenings, the young lads share a drink of 'toddy wine' (fermented palm sugar juice) with their friends, under the toddy palm trees (the village version of a corner pub). If the village girls are weaving or spinning cloth by moonlight, that is another chance for the village boys to walk around and speak with them. Of course, the young lady is discreetly chaperoned by her mother, looking and listening from a distance.
Villagers tend not to frequent the crowded, bigger cities. However, one reason to occasionally visit is to pray at the great pagodas like the Shwedagon of Yangon or the Mahamuni of Mandalay.
Terra-cotta and clay pottery have a long history along the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar (Burma). Fine samples have been unearthed from ancient city sites well over two-thousand years old.
Turned on a wheel, these excavated pots were utilitarian, used for cooking, storage, and as burial urns with some having elegant shapes and designs. Still to this day, the type of potter's wheel and clay used remains the same. Silt from the Irrawaddy River along with white or red clay is pounded into a fine powder and mix in an ancient technique, and worked by hand and foot to the proper texture. The potter's wheel is set on a stake driven into the bottom of a shallow pit dug into the ground. The wheel is turned by one hand while the other works on shaping the pot. If two hands are needed to work the clay, a second person will turn the wheel by hand or foot.
Drinking water is normally stored in terra-cotta pots. These pots keep the water inside cool, with a freshness that villagers prefer over ice water. Also, for cooking rice, there is never a more pleasant aroma than when cooked in a terra-cotta pot created in a centuries old technique.
Top Tip: A single-entry visa is required for all foreign citizens traveling to Myanmar before entry. It will typically cost around US $50. Depending on which country you are applying from, the application procedures may vary, but it is usually a simple process. More information about obtaining a tourist visa can be found by contacting us, your local embassy, or your preferred travel visa service.