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Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River Ship Overview
The 36-passenger Avalon Myanmar was built in 2015 and sails the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) for Avalon Waterways. Myanmar is the largest mainland country in Southeast Asia and is about the size of the state of Texas in the USA. The 1350-mile long Irrawaddy River runs through the middle of Myanmar and offers diverse scenery and fascinating river traffic.
Avalon Waterways features 14-night cruise/tours in Myanmar, which includes 10 nights on the Avalon Myanmar between Bagan and Bhamo on the Irrawaddy River. The company's cruise/tour package includes two pre-cruise nights in an excellent hotel in Yangon, two intra-country flights to and from the Irrawaddy River, and one post-cruise night at the same hotel in Yangon. All tours in Yangon and from the river ship are also included in the fare.
This small riverboat has a very shallow draft and is the only river ship catering to English-speaking travelers that sails north of Mandalay in Myanmar. This section of the river is less-traveled, less-touristy, and also features the most dramatic section of the Irrawaddy called the second defile.
This 35-page article provides a detailed photo tour of the Avalon Myanmar, information on the onboard activities on the river ship, and some of the tantalizing sights of Myanmar along the way, including some of the best sunrises and sunsets I've ever seen, plus the rare Irrawaddy dolphin.Continue to 2 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar Cabins - Beds and Decor
The 18 cabins on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy Riverboat are identical and spread over two decks. Each cabin measures 245 square feet and has luxurious bedding and spectacular Burmese wood carvings and art decorating the walls. I also loved the ceiling fan, which fit perfectly with the rest of the cabin decor.
The bathroom in each Avalon Myanmar cabin is full-sized, with a toilet, huge shower, and sink area with cabinet space. Premium toiletries accompany the luxurious bathroom, as do bathrobes and slippers. It's among the largest and nicest bathrooms I've seen on any river ship.
One of the best features of the cabins is the huge floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall sliding glass door seen in the next photo.Continue to 3 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar Cabins - Panoramic Views
One whole wall in each cabin on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship is a 14-foot wide, wall-to-wall panoramic window that creates a huge open-air balcony when opened. This window has screens that keep out the bugs and also help to provide shade in the room without having to draw the heavy drapes.
Like many other Avalon Waterways' river ships (e.g. the Avalon Panorama or the Avalon Tapestry II), the beds face the panoramic window, so guests can lie in the bed and watch the river scenery and boat traffic pass by.Continue to 4 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar Cabins - Sitting Area
In addition to the very comfortable beds, which can be made up as twins or king-sized, each cabin on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship has a small table with one chair, a love seat, and a large desk/vanity with another chair and electrical outlets. My friend and I appreciated having an additional electrical outlet next to each of our twin beds, so we could charge up our phones while keeping them near the bedside.
The cabins have plenty of storage space, great lighting, and individual air conditioning controls. Since the ship is only 200 feet long, all the cabins have easy access to the lounges, dining room, and outdoor decks.Continue to 5 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Exterior View
Since all the cabins and public areas have large windows, guests on the Avalon Myanmar have great views throughout the river vessel. The ship does not have an elevator.
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- The Sky Deck (deck 3) of the Avalon Myanmar has the navigational bridge, officers quarters, and sundeck. There is also a small spa treatment room and fitness center.
- The Mandalay Deck (deck 2) on the Avalon Myanmar has the dining room, six cabins, the reception desk, and the observation lounge with a bar and both indoor and outdoor seating.
- The Irrawaddy Deck (deck 1) on the Avalon Myanmar has ten cabins and a small seating area with basket storage for shoes. Guests exit and enter the ship on deck 1.
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Avalon Myanmar - Outdoor Section of Observation Lounge
The forward observation lounge on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship has very comfortable lounge chairs to go along with the amazing views of the river.Continue to 7 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Covered Outdoor Section of Observation Lounge
Not all of the outdoor seating area of the forward observation lounge on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship is filled with lounge chairs. The area also has sofas, chairs, and tables--perfect for socializing.Continue to 8 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Outdoor Deck
Each side of the observation lounge on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship has a covered deck that leads to the forward outdoor observation lounge.Continue to 9 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Bar
The observation lounge on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship has an elegant bar with complimentary local beers and spirits served all day long. Myanmar makes gin, whiskey, and rum, so those are complimentary, but guests have to pay extra for wine, vodka, scotch, tequila, and other spirits since those must be imported into Myanmar. A nice selection of wine is complimentary with lunch and dinner.Continue to 10 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Observation Lounge
The forward observation lounge on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship has the dark teak wood seen in the rest of the ship. The lounge is elegant, but comfortable, and has 270-degree views of the river.
The Avalon Myanmar has complimentary WiFi, and it worked surprisingly well on much of our voyage, given the remote destinations we were visiting.Continue to 11 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Seating in Observation Lounge
With only 36 guests, everyone can have a seat before dinner in the forward observation lounge. The cruise director briefs the guests on the next day's schedule each evening during cocktail hour in this lounge.Continue to 12 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Sun Deck
The sun deck on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship has the same comfortable lounges found in the outdoor section of the forward observation lounge. Only a small section of the sun deck is covered, but it's a great place to watch the sunrise or sunset.Continue to 13 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Dinner Gong
One of the crew walks the decks hitting this dinner gong with a mallet before every lunch and dinner on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship. The sound is deep, resonant, and even mouth-watering after a few times of associating sound with meal time!Continue to 14 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Dining Room
The dining room on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship is comfortable, with booth and table seating. Floor to ceiling windows line both sides of the dining room, so the ever-changing river scenery is always present.Continue to 15 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Breakfast and Lunch Buffet
Breakfast on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship is mostly served from the buffet, and the ship also has an omelet station or freshly cooked eggs and pancakes to order. The galley makes its own yogurt and breads and they were a delicious addition to each breakfast.
My friend Claire and I quickly became addicted to the pomelo, which looks like a giant grapefruit but is peeled and broken into sections. It's less juicy, meatier, and sweeter than a regular grapefruit, but still has the grapefruit taste. Marvelous.
Since the Burmese love soup, the chef always made a hot Burmese soup for breakfast, but it was a little early in the day for me, especially when the omelets and pancakes were so tasty.
Lunch on the Avalon Myanmar was also mostly a buffet, with delicious salads and two soups (hot and cold) available each day. The buffet also had sandwiches and a hot Burmese and/or Asian dish.
In addition to the buffet lunch, most of us quickly learned to love whatever the chef was stir-frying or cooking with noodles. Many of these noodle dishes started with a chicken, beef, or pork broth. Each guest selected which vegetables, spices, minced meats, and sauces we wanted to go along with the rice noodles and broth, and the chef made the dish while we waited. Very fresh and very tasty.Continue to 16 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Dinner - Burmese Tempura Fried Pacific Scallops
Dinner on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship was ordered from a menu and served by the wait staff. Each dinner included a choice of three appetizers, two soups, and four main dishes, one of which was always vegetarian. The other three main dishes were made with different meats like chicken, beef, pork, lamb, goat, fish or other seafood.
Many of the main dishes were Asian; however, guests could always order a grilled chicken breast, sauteed salmon fillet, or pasta with tomato sauce. We usually had three choices for dessert, one of which was a fruit plate and another ice cream.
The scallops shown in the photo above are typical of one of the dinner dishes. They were lightly sauteed and served with sticky black rice, sauteed morning glory, and wasabi soy sauce.Continue to 17 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Dinner Main Dish - Stir-Fried Vegetable Fried Rice
I'm not usually a big fan of fried rice, but the Avalon chef delivered an excellent one. This vegetarian dish on the Avalon Myanmar was filled with eggs, spring vegetables, bok choy, ginger, and garlic. Most of us onboard loved all the different Asian and Burmese dishes prepared in the small galley.Continue to 18 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Lime and Ginger Tea
Our sailing on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship had 16 guests, and I think all of us quickly learned to love the lime and ginger "iced tea" prepared by the bar staff. The bartender peeled fresh ginger and cut it into small pieces before blending it with water until it was a slurry. In a tall glass filled with ice, he mixed 1 jigger of the ginger slurry with 1/2 jigger of fresh lime juice, and a small amount of honey or simple sugar syrup. He filled the glass up with water and stirred. Delicious. I had heard of hot ginger tea, but this one was especially good served over ice in the hot Burmese weather.Continue to 19 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Exterior View
Those sailing on the Avalon Myanmar had to be fairly sure-footed and fit, even though there were always staff willing and eager to lend a hand. This photo shows the gangplank we used to disembark and board the Irrawaddy River ship. It also shows that when the water is low, guests need to be able to walk up a hill or up stairs to reach the river bank.
It's important to bring along some good walking shoes that you don't mind getting dusty or dirty since many of the walking paths are not paved.Continue to 20 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Shoe Storage
The Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship has beautiful dark teak wood floors throughout. Many places visited on the ship are very dusty and guests track this dust onboard. The staff solved the problem by providing a small sitting area, a basket, and sandals for everyone to wear onboard. Whenever we went ashore, we wore the provided sandals (or other shoes that we wanted to wear onboard) to the shoe area, where we changed into our "shore" shoes. Returning to the ship, we reversed the process.Continue to 21 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Learning to Tie a Longyi
While sailing on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship, we enjoyed learning more about the culture of the people who live in Myanmar (Burma). One of the traditions we were most curious about were the longyi worn by both men and women instead of slacks or skirts. All of us on the trip (men and women) bought one or more of these long, skirt-like garments, and we were fascinated to learn about the different ways the longyis were worn. We also had great fun wearing our longyis, even though we still looked like tourists.
The male longyi is like a circular tube that men pull over their heads and then tuck/tie to tighten. The female longyi is a rectangular piece of fabric that is wrapped or stepped into. (Note: When boys first start wearing longyi, they learn to put it over their heads; girls learn to step into them as part of the tradition.) In addition to the basic shape of the garment, different fabrics and prints are used for the male longyi (also called a Pasu) or the female longyi.
The longyi were comfortable and cool. Most Burmese don't wear anything under their longyi, but none of us were confident enough about wrapping the longyi to not wear underwear or shorts underneath.
At the longyi tying demonstration on the ship, we learned about a dozen different ways they could be worn or used. Quite a versatile garment!Continue to 22 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Learning to Wear Thanaka
Many Burmese women (especially those away from the more cosmopolitan Yangon) wear a yellowish-white paste made of sandalwood called thanaka on their faces. The thanaka serves as both a make-up and as a sunscreen. Small sandalwood logs of about 1 to 2 inches in diameter and about a foot long are sold in most of the outdoor markets, and we watched women handling the small logs and sniffing them to find just the right one.
While on the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship, we had a demonstration of how the thanaka is mixed with water and then spread on the face in different patterns. It was fun to try, and the locals seemed to appreciate our efforts to learn their customs.Continue to 23 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Burmese Cooking Demonstration
In addition to the longyi and thanaka lessons, we also had a cooking demonstration led by the executive chef of the Avalon Myanmar Irrawaddy River ship.
Because of its location, it's not surprising that Burmese cuisine shares some of the same ingredients as Thai, Chinese, and Indian food. Many dishes contain curry, but the flavors are distinctively Burmese. We were all delighted to have an executive chef on board who was born in Myanmar, could prepare Burmese food, but who also cater to western tastes.
The chef showed us how to make two popular Burmese salads. The first salad was a tea leaf salad that includes dried tea leaves mixed with peanut oil salt, and garlic. The following are added to the tea leaves--chopped roasted peanuts, fried garlic, chopped roasted split beans, sesame seeds, lemon juice, vegetable oil, chili, diced tomatoes (meat and skin only, no juice or seeds), diced cabbage, diced fresh garlic, dried shrimp, and fish sauce. The chef made the salad in about a minute, but of course, all the prep work was done! This salad was very good, especially the different textures and flavors you got in each bite.
Since Claire and I both love ginger, we liked the ginger salad even better than the tea leaf one. You peel fresh ginger and shred it, then soak it in salt water a few hours to get some of the strong taste out. Then you add chick pea powder, lime juice, chopped roasted peanuts, peanut oil, salt, dried chick peas and dry shrimp powder to the shredded ginger. Delicious, but shredding the ginger could be difficult.Continue to 24 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Local Entertainment
Our first night on the Avalon Myanmar, the Irrawaddy River ship was docked at the ancient city of Bagan. After dinner, we had a traditional Burmese puppet show that lasted about 30 minutes. Two people operated 14 puppets, many with about 20 or so strings. Very talented, and since we saw similar puppets at many handicraft shops along the river, it was interesting to see how complex the puppets were and how complicated it is to pull all those strings at the right time.Continue to 25 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Beach Bonfire
When the Avalon Myanmar left Mandalay and sailed north on the Irrawaddy River, we left most of the tourists behind. Our first evening away from civilization, the Captain pulled the river boat up to a large sand dune in the middle of the river while we were eating dinner.
At 8:30, we went ashore on the sandbar, where the crew had set up tiki lamps, lights, a tarp on the sand for a stage, and chairs and tables for us to sit. They also lit a large bonfire. If we hadn't just eaten dessert, I imagine we would have been looking for the sticks to cook marshmallows (for s'mores).
The real treat of our evening on the sandbar was the traditional Burmese dance performances by a group from Mandalay who arrived by boat--costumes, musical instruments, and all.Continue to 26 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Burmese Cultural Dance Program
We really enjoyed the traditional Burmese dance performances by two women and a man, accompanied by a singer and a three-piece band.
Claire was astute enough to notice that one of the traditional courting dances was identical to the one we had seen with the puppets (marionettes) the first night when the ship was docked at Bagan.
After the 40-minute show, they turned up the volume, put on some modern English/Burmese dance music and we all danced in the cool breeze under the full moon. Crew and guests joined in, and it was quite fun. Fortunately, there were no bugs like you'd find on a Georgia river sandbar.Continue to 27 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Fireworks over the Irrawaddy River
Our evening on the sandbar ended with an amazing fireworks show. Great fun in Myanmar!Continue to 28 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Irrawaddy River Dolphin - Endangered Species
While sailing on the Irrawaddy River and exploring ashore, we saw many birds, a few monkeys, elephants (not wild ones), and lots of Brahman cattle. The rarest wildlife on the river is the endangered Irrawaddy River dolphin. Only about 70 of these dolphins still live in the 1,350-mile long Irrawaddy River, and we were lucky enough to see small pods of them on three different occasions, all north of Mandalay. The Captain always stopped the river boat when the dolphins were spotted, but we never got very good photos of the shy creatures. This fluke reminded me of whales in Alaska!Continue to 29 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Exterior View
This photo of the Avalon Myanmar provides a good look at the observation lounge outdoor seating on deck 2 and the huge panoramic windows on the cabins on deck 1.Continue to 30 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Bridge Over the Irrawaddy River
Burma is a poor country, and the rural areas are lightly populated. So, we didn't see as many bridges upriver on the Irrawaddy. Those we did pass under were spectacular from the Avalon Myanmar.Continue to 31 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Second Defile of the Irrawaddy River
I had never heard the term "defile" as it relates to rivers until I visited Myanmar. Defile is a British word that means "narrow gorge," so the use of this term dates back to when Myanmar was a British colony called Burma.
The Irrawaddy River in Burma has three defiles, and the Avalon Myanmar goes through two of them on the voyage between Bagan and Bhamo. The first defile is north of Bhamo and inaccessible to any passenger ships. The second defile is just south of Bhamo, and the third defile is about 62 miles north of Mandalay, so river ships stopping in Mandalay miss both these dramatic sections of the river.
The second defile is the most spectacular of the two we sailed through. As seen in the photo above, the river narrows (about 300 feet wide), and hills line both sides of the river.
As seen in the next photo, limestone cliffs tower over much of the second defile.Continue to 32 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Second Defile of the Irrawaddy River
The limestone cliffs tower 200-200 feet over the Irrawaddy River (also spelled Ayeyarwaddy River) at the narrow gorges called the second defile. We spent a beautiful Burmese afternoon slowly sailing through this section on the Avalon Myanmar.Continue to 33 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Sunrise on the Irrawaddy River
Every morning, those of us sailing the Irrawaddy River on the Avalon Myanmar were treated to amazing sunrises. They were so spectacular that several of us got up early just to watch the event.
As seen in the next photo, the guests who didn't want to get up early got another "sun show" when the sun set each evening.Continue to 34 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Sunset on the Irrawaddy River
The dusty skies made the daily sunsets over the Irrawaddy River on our Avalon Myanmar cruise more dramatic than I expected.
During our cruise, we also got to experience a full moon, and it was quite visible in the dark skies over the river.Continue to 35 of 35 below.
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Avalon Myanmar - Full Moon over the Irrawaddy River
In hindsight, I'm not sure exactly what I expected on our Irrawaddy River cruise on the Avalon Myanmar river ship. I am sure that the river boat's amenities, cabins, common areas, and cuisine greatly exceeded my expectations, which were high since I had sailed with Avalon three times before in Europe.
As great as the ship was, the people, culture, history, and general excitement of what might be in the future with a new government were the highlight of my time in Myanmar. This is a cruise and destination I would highly recommend to anyone who loves new places but wants to see them from a comfortable, very appealing, almost all-inclusive river ship.