Pandaw River Cruises

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Review of Pandaw River Cruises

"Pandaw River Cruises" is a trademarked brand owned by Pandaw Expeditions Co (1995-founded/2021-defunct). The company is the successor of the 1865-founded "Irrawaddy Flotilla Company", which specialized in passenger and cargo river shipping in Burma.

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, in October 2021 the company officially announced that permanently ceases its cruise shipping operations in Asia (on rivers in India, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam). The main reason for the closure, cited by Pandaw, was the critical political situation in Burma. In February 2021, the military overthrew the government and established a stratocracy (government headed by military chiefs). Following the coup, the country's acting President proclaimed a year-long emergency state. Due to lack of financial liquidity and failure to find investors/funding, Pandaw was unable to sustain its business during the 2+ years of suspension (2020-2022). The main expenses were the cold layups (of the 17 riverboats) and the needed refurbishments before restarting voyages (which timing was also uncertain).

Prior to the COVID crisis, Pandaw enjoyed a high percentage of loyal customers, resulting in high cabin occupancy, growing revenues, and positive financial results. Paul Strachan (the company's founder) commented:

"It marks the end of an era for all of us after twenty-five years of real adventure. We are truly sorry to disappoint our regular passengers who were so looking forward to making a trip after the lifting of travel restrictions. We are also heartbroken for our three hundred plus crew members and shoreside personnel who have stood by Pandaw and were hoping to get going again next year."

Company history

Pandaw (pandaw.com) is a river cruisetour company operating itineraries in Southeast Asia - Burma (Myanmar), Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, China, India and Malaysia (Borneo). The list of rivers on which Pandaw ships navigate includes Mekong, Irrawaddy, Chindwin (Irrawaddy's largest tributary), Ganges, Brahmaputra, Red River (and Halong Bay), Tonle River and Tonle Sap Lake (central Cambodia). The company's out-of-Burma itinerary program was inaugurated in 2002 - with cruises on Mekong River. Laos and China (Upper Mekong) cruises were introduced in 2015 as roundtrips from Bangkok (Thailand) to China's Yunnan province.

Pandaw River Cruises logo - CruiseMapper

In 2015, Pandaw entered the ocean cruising market by purchasing the 1963-built, 22-passenger luxury yacht Andaman Explorer. The vessel started operations in June 2016. After the purchase, the vessel was repositioned from Dubai to Rangoon/Yangon, where was redecorated and drydock-refurbished. The full refit was completed in 2017. In 2019, the superyacht was sold to a Dubai-based family and no longer operates cruises.

In 2018, the company reported over 45% repeat passenger bookings. International travelers prefer Pandaw boats for their traditional Burmese design (all vessels are made of wood and handcrafted), special ambiance (marked by colonial-style furniture, teak wood and brass throughout, highly personalized service), authentic experiences on the ship (gourmet dining and traditional entertainment) and ashore (unique land tours), as well as the amazing scenery along the regularly scheduled itinerary routes.

 

Onboard dining is complimentary and offered indoor (at the Dining Room Restaurant) and outdoor/al-fresco (on Sun Deck). Most dietary requirements are catered for. Company's quality of food and level of service are legendary. The ships are advertised as family-friendly and suitable for all ages. Younger travelers can enjoy mountain biking (quality bicycles are provided complimentary), hiking and trekking ashore, while teenagers can gain valuable real-life experiences from interacting with local kids during port stays in villages along the route. Older tourists will highly appreciate Pandaw expeditions' tranquillity, cultural richness and some of Asia's most unique sceneries.

Due to their small passenger capacity (20-30-60 pax), Pandaw riverboats are regularly chartered (often as rebranded vessels) by some of the world's largest river cruise companies, including Uniworld, Viking, CroisiEurope, Fred Olsen, Saga UK. Private full-boat ("time charter" and "voyage charter") arrangements are also offered.

Fleet's largest boats are named Tonle (2002), Orient (2008), Indochina (2009) and Bassac (2012). The smallest ship is Kalay (2013-built, 10 pax).

Pandaw ships

Pandaw riverboats also feature the highest passenger-to-space ratio on the Asian market. The boats offer plenty of quiet areas for relaxation and spacious partially-covered sundecks. All ships have at least one 360-degree (wraparound) Promenade Deck that also serves as a "common balcony" for all staterooms.

Next video show some of Pandaw's vessel construction stages.

 

Breakfast is buffet-style but preceded by light bites, tea and coffee for early risers. Lunch is either buffet-style or sit-down (waiter-served, with a la carte menu choices), while dinners are 4-course and waiter-served. Pandaw's food ingredients are locally sourced and always fresh. Excepting premium spirits, all beverages on the ship are complimentary, including domestic beers and spirits, soft drinks, coffee and tea, unlimited bottled water. The open-bridge policy allows passengers to visit the Wheelhouse (Navigation Bridge) and interact with the officers on duty.

All cruise cabins offer as standard amenities twin beds (some converting to double, all with premium mattresses, quality linens, duvet, two kinds of pillows), French windows (opening onto Promenade Deck), air-conditioning, spacious wardrobe, electronic safe box (in the closet), writing desk (mirrored vanity table with chair and make-up mirror), under-bed storage, en-suite bathroom (WC, shower, washbasin, hairdryer, towels, slippers, bathrobes/kimonos, Spa-branded premium bath amenities), unlimited bottled water, Yoga mats (for in-cabin use), nightly turndown service.

On all shore excursions are complimentary provided shoe cleaning and cold towel services (upon re-boarding the ship), unlimited bottled water (including Pandaw-branded aluminum bottles as giveaways), English-speaking tour guides, first aid-trained assistant guide. Onboard 24-hour laundry is available at extra charge.

Pandaw cruise deals

Cruise fares are inclusive of all shore excursions (with local guides, also sampan boat tours), onboard meals and drinks (including local alcoholic and non-alcoholic, international wines and beverages cost ~USD 5 per drink), Wi-Fi, domestic flights and bus transfers. Not included in the fares are international flights, visas, laundry, travel insurance.

In January 2021, the company announced its new "Pandaw Suite" offer featuring double-sized cruise suites available for booking on the larger riverboats (P-Class) in Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The new Pandaw Suite (sized 335 ft2 / 31 m2) features a step-out private balcony, separate bedroom-lounge room, bonus perks like dedicated butler service, complimentary bottle of champagne (upon boarding), espresso machine, fully-stocked minibar (complimentary beverages/brand waters, soft drinks), free body massage (1-hour), free foot massage (15-min). Pandaw Suites were also available as upgrades on existing bookings.

In February 2021 were announced new and improved activities providing more choices of shore excursions and entertainment during the voyage. Pandaw's new activities program covers the topics "Food and Drink", "Health and Wellness", Sport and Adventure" and "Wildlife and Conservation". Aslo new are the "Pandaw Golf Packages". Pandaw Activities can be booked before the cruise or shipboard and are optional (additions to the complimentary daily land tours) so surcharge is applied.

(Coronavirus crisis) passenger shipping pause 2020-2021

Due to the Coronavirus crisis, Pandaw suspended its entire fleet's passenger shipping operations (all Asia-deployed riverboats) by canceling all voyages with pre-scheduled departures in the period March 2020 thru July 2021. The officially ceased operations in October 2021.

All affected bookings received a 125% refund as FCC (future cruise credit with rebooking within a year) or a 100% monetary refund. The FCC offer was for all itineraries scheduled for 2021-2022.

Itinerary of Pandaw River Cruises

When Pandaw owned the superyacht Andaman Explorer (2016-2019), the ship cruises in Southeast Asia and Mergui Archipelago, with Indonesian itineraries leaving from homeport Benoa (Bali) and visits to Lombok, Sumbawa Island, Komodo Island and Flores Island. Another itinerary set offered voyages between Ranong (Thailand) and Rangoon (Burma), stopping in Mergui Archipelago and Moulmein (Mawlamyine). Signature destinations included Lampi Marine National Park (mangrove forests, birds), Naung Wee Island (Moken / gipsy village visit), Nga Man Islands (beaches, trekking, snorkelling), Kyun Pila Island (South Bay / kayaking, swimming, beaches).

 

Pandaw also used to operate (in 2018-2019) two "partner boats" (Amazon Dream, and Mahabaahu) deployed, respectively, on Amazon River (Brazil) and Brahmaputra River (India). In 2018, Pandaw introduced a new B2B (back-to-back cruise) itinerary program. The "combo itineraries" offer river cruising in Southeast Asia and India (also coastal cruising in Mergui Archipelago). The combo expeditions range in length between 15-21 nights and can be booked with discount flights and hotels.

Next YouTube videos are official (Pandaw Expeditions) releases that review company's river cruise itineraries by destination.

Mekong River (Cambodia-Vietnam-Laos)

 

Ganges River (India)

 

Brahmaputra River (India)

 

Irrawaddy Delta

 

Chindwin River

 

Halong Bay and Red River (Vietnam)

 

Pandaw River Cruises related cruise news

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