The Pandaw fleet of river ships (www.pandaw.com) started thirteen years ago in Myanmar, and they have been on the Mekong River since 2002. The fleet is currently four purpose-built ships that are replicas of colonial river steamers, and they have two new ships with anticipated launch dates of January, 2009. Two of their current ships are on the Mekong River.
RV Mekong Pandaw
We were on the RV Mekong Pandaw which was built in 2003. This ship is 200 feet long, 36 feet wide, and it draws only 4 feet. It is powered by two 550 hp Isuzu engines. It has four decks. The upper deck is a sun deck, but it also has lots of shade. There is a bar, chairs, loungers, and even a pool table. The third deck is mostly cabins, but this is also where one finds the saloon – an air-conditioned oasis that is actually the ‘multi-purpose room’. The second deck is partly cabins and partly dining room. The lower deck is cabins and work areas. There are a total of 32 double cabins.
Although the ship can carry up to 64 passengers, our trip had 44. Of those 44, about one third were German-speaking, so they immediately formed a sub-group and kept to themselves. We English-speakers numbered around 30, and it seemed to us that there were only 30 on board. Our groups remained relatively separate. Among the English-speaking group, there were four Americans and the remainder were Brits. (We are getting better at understanding British humor, and we are even occasionally finding it funny.)
Our cabin was on the second deck, and it was very comfortable. It was also very attractively fitted out in teak and brass. There are two twin bunks with stowage below. There is also a hanging locker and a personal safe. Our head had a shower with ample hot and cold water and the usual toilet and sink. We had our own air-conditioner to keep the cabin in our comfort zone, and we had opening windows with bug screens for times when air conditioning was not wanted. Outside our cabin, just below our windows were two comfortable rattan chairs and a table. It was a semi-private place to watch the world go by. Our cabin was also remarkable for what it did not have. There was no mini-bar, television, telephone, or internet connection.
The ship carries a crew of 24, and to say they were ‘fabulous’ would not do them justice. Every crewperson with which we had any interaction left us surprised and impressed with their kindness and efficiency. It was some of the best service we have found anywhere, but it was never overbearing or pretentious. The entire crew is Vietnamese, Cambodian, or Burmese. The Pandaw management has trained this crew, and they have done a fine job!
Captain Nguyen Van Hai
Crew of the RV Mekong Pandaw
The food was also outstanding. It was varied, plentiful, and delicious. Breakfast was a buffet and a steam table. Lunch was our favorite. Lunch included good breads, a table full of various salads, and a steam table. And dinner varied. Some nights it was from a menu, and some nights it was buffet. Each meal included local foods as well as Western foods. While in Vietnam, they offered Vietnamese choices. Then while in Cambodia, they offered Cambodian choices. They also had one Burmese dinner – Burma (Myanmar) is the origin of this fleet of ships. It was always very good. Nita gained five pounds. Bud isn’t talking.
The bar is also open – kind of. They do not charge for water, soft drinks, coffee, tea, juices, etc. They also do not charge for ‘local’ beers or ‘house’ wines and liquors. They have a ‘drink of the day’ for which they do not charge. They do, however, charge for bottles of wine or call liquors.
Some kind of entertainment was planned every night. Some nights it was as simple as a movie. However, they showed movies relevant to where we were. While in Vietnam they showed ‘The Quiet American’. While in Cambodia they showed ‘The Killing Fields’. And they had movies on the history of the Angkor temples. They also brought live entertainment on board a few times.
We had both Vietnamese and Cambodian musicians and dancers perform for us. They had a surprise beach party for us that was great fun, and they had a very nice farewell party for us.
The Pandaw outfit also appears to have a social conscience. Rather than just taking from the communities they visit (most of them very small villages), they choose to give back. They have become involved in various ‘pro-bono’ projects in these villages. They have built a school in Myanmar. They are partially supporting an orphanage in Cambodia. We were pleased to visit this orphanage and give to them (we gave school supplies and bought a few of their handicrafts), and we are pleased to spend our travel dollar with the Pandaw fleet. We travel on our own boat with a social conscience, and we were glad to take it along as we cruised the Mekong with Pandaw.
Traditional Vietnamese Musicians