The Strand Cruise in Myanmar – Floating Through a Dreamland

The Strand Cruise Myanmar

When considering how best to visit the somewhat mysterious country of Myanmar for the first time, a river cruise had honestly not occurred to me. But then, thanks almost entirely to social media, I saw more and more mentions of various luxury river cruises that sail on the mighty Ayeyarwady River, either from Bagan to Mandalay or the reverse. The trips looked amazing and seemed to highlight some of the country’s most iconic cities and experiences. So when it came time to plan a much needed vacation, I leapt at the opportunity to experience life on the Strand Cruise.

Yangon Myanmar

Legacy of The Strand

First opening its doors in 1901, The Strand in Yangon is one of the world’s great historic luxury hotels. Throughout the decades, The Strand has been the place to stay in this part of the world, attracting luminaries throughout the ages from Orwell to Bowie. It was, and still is really, at the geographic center of cultural life in Yangon, and although it’s changed hands many times over the years, it still stands. Through wars, neglect and political upheaval, The Strand Hotel has always remained at 92 Strand Road and now, thanks to a massive remodel last year, it’s been returned to its former glory but with all the modern conveniences. A couple of years ago the owners decided to bring that same level of luxury, service and comfort to the water and launched The Strand luxury cruise.

The Ship and Onboard Life

Now in its third season, The Strand Cruise is the latest luxury cruise to hit the river, taking a maximum of just 56 passengers in 28 cabin suites to some of the most remote and beautiful areas of Myanmar. The Strand Cruise truly is an extension of the hotel in nearly every way. That beautifully designed lobby of the hotel is reflected in the teaks and colors of the boat and even the cabins felt more like hotel rooms than cramped cruise ship berths. Walking into my bedroom for the first time I couldn’t believe I was on a boat, every amenity and special luxury touch I loved about the hotel was there onboard the ship as well. This isn’t an easy achievement, but The Strand has turned a nice hotel stay in Yangon into an all-encompassing travel experience in Myanmar.

But that was purposeful. The ship was built to order by The Strand, every design detail and embellishment carefully selected to represent the best of Burmese luxury and refinement, while also being a cozy place for guests to relax. Within a few minutes it was easy to forget that I was on a river cruise ship. The room was spacious, well designed with warm teak wood floors and floor to ceiling windows allowing the landscapes to be the showcase, as they should be. The bathroom was the largest I’ve seen on a river cruise ship with amenities that mirrored my experience at The Strand Hotel in Yangon. Add in conveniences like air conditioning that actually kept up with the temperatures and onboard WiFi, and it’s a modern experience as well as a classically designed one.

My only wish is that the itinerary had been longer than 4 days, but that’s the norm for the ship – trips are either 3 or 4 days depending on which direction along the river you’re traveling. But it was more than enough time to get to know the ship and all of its incredible little touches. By designing the ship themselves, The Strand guaranteed a certain level of sophistication but also of ease for the traveler. Nothing seemed out of place or forced, from the stunning pool deck to the lounge with specially made board games with a Burmese twist, all of the spaces and features coexist in perfect harmony. Aside from the public spaces, the food was of course one of the highlights of the experience, just as it is at The Strand Hotel in Yangon. Employing different themes for lunches and dinners throughout the voyage, each dish is individually prepared, creating a restaurant experience on the water, which many times does not occur on some river cruise ships. It felt as if I were enjoying a fine dining experience at every meal because, well, I was. Even breakfasts became an important occasion, choosing between a myriad of choices and, after just the first day, servers remembered my preferences and insatiable need for coffee.

That level of service is what is most impressive though, and transforms the experience into something truly special. Being met with a smile by every staff member, those same individuals remembering all of my likes and dislikes, which I think is noteworthy for such a short cruise. That’s no small effort and has been missing on some other cruises I’ve taken. Ultimately, remembering that I like Diet Coke at dinner doesn’t make or break a trip, but it’s a welcome embellishment, it made me feel special and valued and that, that is ultimately what luxury travel is all about.

Bagan Myanmar

Exceptional Experiences

I wasn’t sailing on the Ayeyarwady though to enjoy perfectly cooked eggs. I was there to experience Myanmar for the first time, to see and learn as much as I could and The Strand became an integral partner in the adventure. Immediately after landing in Bagan the experience started and just as quickly I knew that I would be well looked after throughout the week. The Strand not only uses local guides and experts at every stop along the river, but the groups are never more than 5 or 6 people. They want to keep everything intimate and special, ensuring everyone enjoys what really is a bucket list adventure for most travelers.

The excursions include some of the country’s most famous sights such as the main temples in Bagan, the highlights of Mandalay and other important sites along the way like Mingun and Amarapura. But The Strand also includes special experiences during the trip like horse drawn cart rides to major sights and special embellishments I don’t want to spoil.



More than that though, The Strand Cruise enabled me to see and experience Myanmar in a way that was perfect for me and my travel style. Since it was my first trip to the country I wanted to see some of the most important sights, while also learning as much as I could along the way. I also just wanted to BE, to enjoy the moment and the incredible otherness that traveling in Myanmar can be like at times. The Strand enabled this in ways I could never have duplicated on my own, all with flair, comfort and ease. It was the ideal way for me to experience Myanmar and I know I’m well prepared to further that education the next time I visit.

Immersive Luxury

The Strand Cruise exemplifies everything that luxury travel should be in the 21st century. During the cruise I had the opportunity to chat with most of the other folks sailing with me that week. We all came from a variety of backgrounds, but we also had a lot in common. Most of us were between 35-50 years old, came from professional backgrounds but, more importantly, we all had a fierce love of travel and a strong, unabiding desire to see the world. None of us would have elected to sail with The Strand had we not believed the experience to be immersive and personal while, simultaneously, creating special moments and offering certain luxuries that are impossible to find elsewhere. It’s a special combination and, from my experience, not easy to execute, but The Strand accomplishes this lofty goal of immersive luxury with ease.

The modern traveler does not want to be removed from the places they visit, they want to get up close and personal and to really and truly experience special places around the world. That’s especially true I think for the luxury traveler who understands the inherent value of experiences over things, of memories over mementos. The Strand is the ideal embodiment of these ideals, offering up incredible experiences in a dreamlike setting with ease and comfort. I can honestly think of no better way to experience Myanmar and I hope, very sincerely, to return and further my own education into the culture of this wonderful country.

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My Crash Course in Burmese Food on a Yangon Food Tour

Yangon Myanmar

Until just a few years ago, Myanmar, or Burma if you prefer, was as mysterious as North Korea. People just didn’t go there and the average person knew little to nothing about it. But with the change from military to civilian rule many changes have occurred, including the opening of the country to the rest of the world and the rest of the world has responded in kind. Tourists have begun to descend on Myanmar in huge numbers, curious about the country but also eager to experience a region of Southeast Asia that hasn’t seen the same tourism infrastructure development as some of its neighbors. My own education started where it normally does, with the food. I knew absolutely nothing about Burmese food or even what I’d expect to find in Yangon, the country’s largest city. While I could have clumsily eaten my way around the city, I wanted to take a food tour for a more organized immersion into Myanmar’s foodie scene. I did some research and didn’t find many options, but then I discovered Yangon Food Tours. In operation for just a few months, this is very much a business with passion and I was excited not just to enjoy a food tour dinner, but also to support a truly local startup.

I met the owner Phone at the tour gathering point along with a few other tourists, all there for the same reason – to eat themselves silly. I purposefully joined the tour on my first day in the city, really wanting to understand the food before heading out on my own. What followed was not only one of the best food tours I’ve ever been on, but one of the most fun as well. It was an eclectic group, Brits and Americans mostly and none of us knew a lot about Myanmar in general, much less the food culture. Phone understood that and at each of the seven stops made sure to explain not only what we were eating, but why it’s popular and why it’s important to Burmese culture.

Staying at The Strand Hotel, the meeting location in front of Maha Bandula Park couldn’t have been more convenient, yet another perk to staying at this iconic property. Another was that I was able to follow the advice of the kind staff at The Strand, which was to enjoy some of Yangon’s street food. The Yangon Food Tour is a good mix of stall and restaurant food, which, honestly perfectly reflects the style of eating in Yangon. And eating is serious business in the city, I marveled at how many restaurants and other opportunities to eat there were everywhere around town. Not unlike other countries in the region, food is at the heart of the experience and to truly start to understand the culture and people, you have to understand what they eat and how they enjoy food.

Yangon Myanmar

Moving from stall to stall, enjoying local delicacies such as samosa salad, fried chicken wontons and something mysteriously named a Gangster Snack was fun, informative and of course delicious. Almost more important than the food though was spending the evening walking around the streets of Yangon with a local. Instead of guessing where to go and what to eat, Phone was there to guide us every step of the way, introducing me to areas of the city I know I would’ve missed on my own. Ultimately, that’s the great benefit of any well-executed food tour. Sure, the food is usually amazing but what we learn about the culture and the city itself is almost more important. For most societies, food and how it is consumed is at the center of daily life and to be brought into that secret world is something special and memorable.

Before the tour I was slightly worried though. As a picky eater, I had no idea whether or not I’d be able to eat everything on the tour, even though I had emailed Phone in advance about my concerns. While he’s new to the business, he handled my needs with ease, offering me alternatives when needed or avoiding certain stalls altogether. That’s a certain level of professionalism I don’t always see in even seasoned veterans of the industry and exemplifies, I think, a level of true care and concern that will ensure his business thrives well into the future.

After the stall snacks, we sampled more robust plates at neighborhood restaurants. Places I would’ve walked by without a second glance but which are home to some of the best food in the city. Tasty Burmese tea, Shan noodles and a table full of small plates that could’ve fed an army. There was no walking away hungry that night, Phone wouldn’t allow it. At our last stop this unlikely group of new friends laughed over bowls of ice cream and custard, taking photos with one another and reveling in an evening well spent. It was the ideal first night out on the town, but not necessarily for the reasons I thought before arriving. Yes, the Yangon Food Tour was the ideal introduction to the cuisine of Yangon and Myanmar, but it did more than that. It was also the perfect way for me to get used to the city, to shed any concerns or fears I may have had in a new city and to learn to enjoy Yangon for everything that makes it so great. It was one of the highlights of my time in Myanmar, well worth the investment of $35 and a few hours of my time.

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