New Pandaw Borneo cruise proves a hit


RV Orient Pandaw anchored in the Rajang River on new Borneo cruise
Guide Andreas Bato demonstrates his jungle knife on rainforest excursion
Traditional drummer in longhouse
Kapit Market on Rajang River
Selection of fruit aboard RV Orient Pandaw

Pandaw Cruises, operator of evocative, colonial-inspired river cruise vessels in Asia, is notching up strong bookings as cruise enthusiasts around the world move to try the product.

Pandaw’s cabin load factor is 70% or more fleet-wide, with new routes opening up – the latest being Borneo. RV Orient Pandaw, 55 metres long with berths for 60 passengers, has begun operating on Borneo’s Rajang River, longest river in Malaysia. The vessel is currently making its second trip up the river, with passengers declaring themselves happy with the vessel (designed to resemble the original Irrawaddy Flotilla Company ships of the 1920s) and satisfied with the cruise. The cruise carried a mix of Australians (including a retired rear admiral and his wife), Americans and British.

On the RV Orient Pandaw in Borneo this week, John Boyd, Pandaw’s representative in Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia, predicted the new cruise would double the number of international tourists visiting the region. The current number arriving annually in Sibu (biggest town on the Rajang River) is just 2000, with far fewer making their way upstream. The RV Orient Pandaw is the first passenger ship to ply the river since 1942.

Like other Pandaw ships, RV Orient Pandaw comes with mod-cons unheard of on the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company’s Edwardian-age originals – such as air-conditioning, hot showers (of commendable force), an extensive wine list and a varied and imaginative menu. Even with these added luxuries, the shipboard environment evokes the British Raj, rich in teak, brass, linen and gin-and-tonics. The Borneo itinerary enhances this. Shore excursions visit everything from Chinese temples to sago factories run by local villagers and longhouses complete with skulls and friendly inhabitants. There are jungle excursions and visits to 18th-century forts.

Borneo is one of two new destinations Pandaw will launch this year. The other is the Ganges in India. Founder Paul Strachan set up the Pandaw operation in Burma in 1995 as the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, changing the name to Pandaw Cruises in 2003 when the company inaugurated new routes on the Mekong in Vietnam. All Pandaws have very shallow drafts and can travel to remote areas unreachable by other vessels.

RV Orient Pandaw will operate the Rajang cruise every 10 days. The river level can fluctuate swiftly and greatly, affected not so much by tides as by sudden, torrential downpours in the mountainous, jungle-clad catchment area. The draft (depth below the water-line) of the RV Orient Pandaw is just 1.5 metres, and although the Rajang and tributaaries are usually deep enough to accommodate this, the river depth fell by 1 metre in 12 hours during the cruise. This means that places visited and timings have to be kept flexible. The passengers aboard RV Orient Pandaw’s second cruise seemed easy with this. Shore excursion timings might be made easier if tenders were carried aboard. They are being considered.

Boyd travelled on the first cruise in Borneo as well as on the second. Many improvements had taken place in just a couple of weeks, he noted, “and this itinerary is very different from the first one”. Australian cruisers loved Pandaws’s ships, Boyd said. Cruiseco has chartered 44 departures of a newly built Pandaw ship on the Mekong (Saigon and Angkor) between October 2009 and September 2010. A Melbourne agent has just chartered three Pandaw sailings and bookings are streaming in.

One bonus for passengers is liquor prices. All beer is free, including canned Stella Artois and Tiger. Local spirits are also free; wine and name-band spirits are reasonably priced.
Source = e-Travel Blackboard: P.N
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