The sundeck on the Sanctuary Ananda
Myanmar is suddenly red-hot. This country, long-veiled from Western eyes, now welcomes tourists, and both river cruise operators and travelers are leaping at the opportunity to explore this exotic country. Many companies are touting Myanmar river cruises, but a premier experience might be aboard Sanctuary Ananda, debuting in late 2014.
Why am I telling you now? Because this new riverboat will probably sell out quickly. Sanctuary Ananda stands out from the pack by providing longer voyages that sail on rivers less commonly traveled. Most riverboats cruise the popular Mandalay-Bagan stretch of the Upper Ayeyarwady River. Sanctuary Ananda also offers voyages on the Lower Ayeyarwady River and the Chindwin River.
What does this mean to passengers? A more experiential trip. One less generic, and with fewer tourists. Opportunities to explore smaller villages, and less-visited temples, monasteries and ancient archaeological sites. Chances to meet Burmese people going about their everyday life on off-the-beaten paths.
Sanctuary Retreats is a leading luxury company best known for its African safari lodges and expedition ships. Their motto is "luxury, naturally," meaning authenticity and sense-of-places guide design and guest experience.
The new ship is comfortable - very comfortable. The 48-passenger Sanctuary Ananda has all-suite accommodations. The top five suites have private butler service. All suites will have iPod docking stations, iPad TV connectivity and air-conditioning (critical in sweltering Myanmar).
Despite the high-tech accoutrements, this ship will deliver a strong sense-of-place. Design elements - including specially commissioned local art - and onboard amenities hail from Myanmar: handmade soap, hand-woven fabrics, lacquer-work. And the company's purchase of these products provides support for small cottage industries in Myanmar. Sanctuary Retreats is also deep in philanthropy in Myanmar; among their projects, helping orphaned children get a secondary education.
Expect many Burmese dishes served onboard that reflect the diversity of the country's ethnicities; Myanmar is home to more than 135 ethnic groups. Guests may enjoy a traditional breakfast of mohinga (fish noodle soup), for instance, instead of eggs or cereal.
Guides are local and guests will experience authentic transport, such as horse-drawn carts, trishaws and small boats. In the afternoons and evenings, passengers can revel in lectures and demonstrations on Myanmar customs.
Here's another way Sanctuary Ananda (which, by the way, means "extreme happiness" in Sanskrit) is different; it's scheduling complimentary early mediation and sunrise yoga on deck each morning. And a gym and spa will provide local treatments and massages.