Who goes there: AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Azamara Club Cruises, Belmond, Pandaw, Sanctuary Ananda, Scenic (from late 2016), Travelmarvel.
Cruisers like: Over three centuries, more than 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the area, formerly known as Pagan. More than 2,200 survive, dotted on the Bagan plains. Ananda is one of the most famous temples, built in the 12th century with four gilded Buddhas, and Dhammayangyi Temple is the largest, however only the outer areas are now accessible. Three-storey Bagan Archaeological Museum is a thousand-year-old field museum housing rare objects including the original Myazedi inscriptions, the Rosetta stone of Burma. Anawrahta’s Palace was recently rebuilt on the foundations of the old palace site.
Best for: Adventurers, photographers, couples.
Who goes there: Avalon Waterways, Sanctuary Ananda.
Cruisers like: The northernmost point for navigating the Irrawaddy River, and close to the Chinese border, Bhamo has long been a trading town. It’s subtropical and very relaxed, although the central riverfront, lined with ancient teak houses and leafy “rain trees”, gets lively on Friday market day. Take a taxi, motorised tri-shaw or bicycle to the Shwekyinar Pagoda with two gold-topped stupas marking the site of fifth-century Shan city, north of town. The Theindawgyi Pagoda in town has a gilded bell-shaped stupa. Burmese food is a blend of neighbouring cuisines. Rice, vegetables and seafood feature strongly. See the ingredients at the pre-dawn vegetable market.
Best for: Couples, adventurers, photographers.
Who goes there: AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Belmond, Pandaw, Sanctuary Ananda, Scenic (from late 2016), Travelmarvel.
Cruisers like: Visitors need to choose between dozens of spectacular temples and Buddhas. Worth seeing is Kuthodaw Pagoda, dubbed The World’s Biggest Book because it is surrounded by hundreds of stone slabs inscribed with the entire Buddhist Scriptures. The holiest pagoda is Maha Muni Pagoda. Visit early to see the ritual washing of the Face of Buddha. Although the original complex was destroyed by fire 70 years ago, the Mandalay Palace walls, city gates crowned by wooden pavilions and surrounding moat are still impressive. Shwenandaw Monastery, with its intricate wood carvings was part of the old palace before being moved in 1880.
Best for: All ages, adventurers, photographers.
Who goes there: Avalon Waterways, Azamara Club Cruises, Holland America Line, Oceania Cruises, Pandaw, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea, Travelmarvel.
Cruisers like: Formerly Rangoon, Myanmar’s largest city was isolated for five decades. Called the Garden City of the East, its web of historic streets reveals some showpieces of British colonial architecture. It’s a busy place with shops and vibrant open-air markets, but the biggest draw card is the friendly locals. The golden stupa, Shwedagon Paya, the oldest in the world, can be sighted from almost anywhere in town, its glittering pinnacle studded with priceless gems. The 10-metre century-old Chauk Htat Gyi Buddha, carved from one block of marble, was shipped down the Irrawaddy River, a journey depicted as you enter. By contrast the sobering Taukkyan War Cemetery, out of town, recalls the terrible legacy of the Burma Railway where thousands died.
Best for: Adventurer seekers, history buffs, literary fans.