Bright orange sunset and temple complex silhouette along the Irrawaddy River

Irrawaddy River - Best Tours & Trips 2019

The Irrawaddy River, which flows for 1,300 miles through exotic Burma (Myanmar), has become one of the most popular river cruising destinations in Asia, with new cruise lines and vessels proliferating along the country’s longest waterway. Itineraries typically run between Yangon (Rangoon) or Bagan and Mandalay, with unforgettable views of pagodas, Buddhist temples, villages, mountains, jungles, gorges, and rice paddies.
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Trip Type Trip Type Classic Tour Groups are between 25-60 people, typically ~30-40. Usually there will be many opportunities to split off and enjoy meals and excursions in smaller groups. This is the most economical way to travel, saving up to 40% versus booking the same itinerary yourself.
Small Group Guided Experiences Small groups are usually defined as between 10 and 24 travelers, often less. If you're the kind of person who enjoys more intimate experiences and personal service this is a good choice. All else being equal you will pay a premium for this style vs a larger group tour.
River Cruise These vessels are smaller than most ocean cruisers, limiting which amenties are available. Passenger counts can vary. One of the biggest advantages of a river cruise is the ability to dock at smaller ports and local villages.
Small Ocean Cruise Small ship cruises usually have a max passenger count of 500. The primary purpose of these trips is to spend time off the vessel in local ports (e.g. Mediterranean) or experiencing nature (e.g Galapagos or Antarctica). Cabins can vary from budget to luxury.
Private Tour Private tours give you the undivided attention of a guide, and often involve special access to sites and unique experiences not available to larger groups. This is a great option for families, couples, and small friend groups. Expect to pay a bit more for the extra service.
Independent Package A travel company plans your itinerary and arranges all the logistics including lodging, local activities, and transportantion. You have the flexibility of a solo trip while still getting the convience and time savings of expert planning. Get 90% of the benefits of a tour, without a guide.
Vacation / Holiday Package Similar to a self guided tour, this usually involves a home base, such as a hotel or resort, with packaged activities and day tours as a part of the stay.
Large Ocean Cruise This is the "floating city" experience, with multiple ways to enjoy your vacation aboard the ship as much as on land. Ships are multiple floors, provide several activities, culinary, and shopping options. They often make fewer stops and have less time available for shore excursions.

Tour Styles

Lodging Level Lodging Level Camping Typically involves most nights sleeping in tents (sometimes permanent tented sites) or in rustic cabins and lodges.
Basic - 2 star You'll stay in no-frills, but clean and comfortable, hotels or guesthouses. A 'Basic' trip might also involve a few nights of camping.
Value - 3 star Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels.
Premium - 4 star 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards.
Luxury - 5 star The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays.

Price From*

$ 750 $ 8,599

Price Per Day

Trip Length

Countries

Physical Level Physical Level Very Easy Minimal walking - motor vehicles available for all major parts of trip.
Easy Normal generally flat walking in urban or suburban environments.
Moderate Walking or physical activity half to most of day - no carrying equipment.
Strenuous All or most of day hiking or biking, hills included.
Extreme Very challenging all day hiking and backpacking carrying significant equipment.

Travel Theme

Travelers Age

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Top Irrawaddy River Experiences and Attractions

Top Irrawaddy River Experiences

Gazing in wonderment at the thousands of colorful temples, pagodas, and monasteries in Bagan (Pagan) that make this a “Buddhist wonderland.”

Taking a hot air balloon ride over Bagan for a bird’s eye view of the temples. 

Viewing the world’s largest reclining Buddha in Bagan. 

Visiting legendary Mandalay, the last royal capital and center of Buddhist culture.

Spending time in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), where British colonial architecture mixes with ancient Buddhist temples.

Gliding past remote villages and spotting saffron-robed Buddhist monks walking briskly to a temple. 

Encountering a pagoda made of solid gold bricks in Minhla. 

Being unexpectedly invited into a villager’s modest bamboo house for tea.

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Irrawaddy River Trip Reviews

13 Irrawaddy River Tour Reviews - Summary 100% Recommend

5.0 out of 5
Excellent 13
Great 0
Average 0
Disappointing 0
Terrible 0
Value
5.0
Guide
5.0
Activities
5.0
Lodging
5.0
Transportation
5.0
Meals
5.0

Tour Reviews Write a Review

An unforgettable trip

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

May was an excellent guide, very kind and always wanting to help, great attention to detail

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Operator EPG Travel

Bottom line is that we had a wonderful time, guides and accommodations were excellent and we were impressed that your local tour operator, had our backs.

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

All of our interactions with Toni and Jen were totally professional. Your rapid responses were appreciated, since we were working on a relatively abbreviated time line. We realize that we're pretty nit-picky and demanding in a way that differs from your usual cliental since we're much more comfortable handling things on our own. We were very satisfied with your flexibility and knowledge -- you pushed hard for things you felt important (i.e. the city tour and marionette show in Yangon -- both of which you were totally right) and let other things slide (i.e. Mt. Popa). The final product was a compromise that accommodated our style and your expertise -- it looked great on paper and translated into a fascinating trip.

Above all else -- our choice to go with local guides rather than a national guide was perhaps the most crucial decision in making our trip so spectacular. Each of our four guides was wonderful and their expertise in their local region shined through. We are so, so happy that we chose this option.

You planned a great trip for us -- accommodations, guide, and local travel agency back-up were all top-notch.

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Operator Myths and Mountains

Irrawaddy River Tours and Travel Guide

Irrawaddy River Attractions & Landmarks Guide

The Irrawaddy River, which flows for 1,300 miles through exotic Burma (Myanmar), has become one of the most popular river cruising destinations in Asia, with new cruise lines and vessels proliferating along the country’s longest waterway.

Itineraries typically run between Yangon (Rangoon) or Bagan and Mandalay, with unforgettable views of pagodas, Buddhist temples, villages, mountains, jungles, gorges, and rice paddies.

Long shunned by the international community for its human-rights violations, Burma has reformed and opened up to the world. A cruise on the Irrawaddy, Burma’s longest river – navigable for nearly 900 miles – is its economic lifeline and offers front-row seats for viewing what is now one of Southeast Asia’s most sought-after destinations. The river (also spelled Ayeyarwady) links Burma’s major cities and many rural villages as it flows south from the Himalayas into the Andaman Sea. 

Because Burma was a mostly closed society for so long, it hasn’t changed much – yet – and is still largely untouched by mass tourism. But some of its official nomenclature has changed: “Myanmar” replaced “Burma” some years ago, though it’s still better known by its former name. And you will most likely visit Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, on your river cruise. 

Burma is rooted in the Theravada Buddhist philosophy of metta: benevolence, friendship, goodwill, and kindness. Prepare to receive smiles and perhaps generous invitations from villagers who may greet you on the street. Buddhist monks and nuns in long, flowing robes are treated with great respect; take photos only with permission. Other Burmese women and men wear a traditional sarong, called a longhi.

Irrawaddy River Highlights

1. Rural Burma

The Irrawaddy riverfront offers an ever-changing kaleidoscope of gorges, mountains, lush jungles, verdant rice paddies. tiny villages of bamboo thatched-roof dwellings sometimes built on stilts, small fishing vessels, families on boats selling fruits and vegetables, riverside temples, monasteries, and  pagodas – many painted bright gold or white – as well as sarong-clad villagers, saffron-robed monks, and pink-robed nuns.

Stops may include archaeological sites rich in ancient Buddhist artifacts, as well as remnants of the British colonial period – including forts dating from the second Anglo-Myanmar War in the mid-19th century. If you stop in the village of Minhla, you’ll find a pagoda made of solid gold bricks.

2. Mandalay

Made famous in the West by Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Mandalay” (…An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells; On the road to Mandalay…”), this is Burma’s second largest city and served as the country’s last royal capital.

Still the spiritual center of Burma’s Buddhist culture, it’s home to thousands of Buddhist monks, an array of colorful pagodas and monasteries, and more than 2,500 Buddha images, many carved from alabaster. Cruises often embark or disembark in Mandalay, offering extra time for sightseeing there.

3.Bagan

An UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bagan is Burma’s most spectacular city, featuring thousands of temples, pagodas and Buddhas – including the world’s largest reclining Buddha.

In good weather conditions, hot air ballooning rides are available to take in the entire scene from above. Short Irrawaddy cruises (3-4 days) make the voyage from Bagan north to Mandalay, while some cruises embark in Bagan for the journey south to Yangon.

4. Yangon (Rangoon)

Yangon is Burma’s premier city and the usual southern embarkation point for Irrawaddy cruises, which typically include sightseeing here first. It’s a good place to see British colonial architecture side by side with Buddhist religious structures.

Some boats explore the Irrawaddy Delta. To the south of Yangon before embarking on the Irrawaddy itself. Other cruises leave from Mandalay or Bagan and travel south to disembark at Yangon.

Chindwin River Side Trip

The Chindwin is a tributary of the Irrawaddy that offers a scenic add-on possibility to your cruise, complete with temples, cave pagodas, mountains, gorges, jungles and villages. One temple contains some 600,000 Buddha images. Watch for orcaella, the beakless dolphins that inhabit the river.

Top Irrawaddy River Travel Companies

All Irrawaddy River cruises, tours, and adventure trips. Find the best guided trips and expert planned vacation and holiday packages. Average rating of 5.0 for all Irrawaddy River trips.

15 trips from 13 tour companies with 13 reviews

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