Hubby and I are so exhausted by the bus trips that we made the last two days, we decide to stay put, rather than another 3-hour return trip to another monastery and a silver shop ready to part us from our money. Seen one pagoda or silver smith, and you’ve got the picture…
So, we settle into the rhythm of our Princess; rise at 7 am for croissants and coffee on the sun lounge where we can watch the rhythms of the locals washing their clothes, their children and their teeth.
We are left wondering how their clothes are deemed ‘clean’ considering the colour and constitution of the river water, where unidentified ‘bits’ float past and the mud swirls up from the muddy banks. Watching a youngster brush his teeth and wash his mouth out, brings out the worried microbiologist in me. I must trust that their constitutions are used to it, and at least he’s brushing his teeth. Me – I’d be in bed for a month with some noxious infection.
The Princess invites us to breakfast on the ‘main’ deck – closest to the water. We are treated to a smorgasbord of choices: fresh fruit, toast or croissants, local soup with noodles or omelettes. Our favourite waiters are Linn and Ko Ko, who serve us on the starboard side (right hand if you are facing the front, for you landlubbers), greeting us with cheeky grins and fresh coffee as soon as we sit down.
Once we are stuffed to the gills with food, we waddle up two flights of stairs back to the sun deck to put our feet up and rest them. I disappear into the air-conditioned lounge (or “longe” as our tour guide says) to sort and edit photos, read one of the books left behind by other passengers, and treat myself to a barista café latte. The book repository is surprisingly good – I manage to find a novel that suits my tastes, not just bodice ripper romances. Every now and then, I dash about with my camera as something catches my eye – a floating bamboo raft, a flock of birds, kids splashing in the shallows.
Lunch is served from 12.30; barely minutes after my stomach has digested breakfast. Four courses are set before us at the door, delicious visions to tempt our palates, and widen our expanding girths. Appetiser, soup, salad, main course and dessert; all beautifully presented and dangerously delicious. Our journey includes free beer or wine with lunch and dinner, and our daily selection is a good choice of French white and red wines, different each meal.
Thank God for those stairs and the often-steep climb up the river bank to our daily sightseeing appointments – I am climbing up and down so many times each day it’s the only thing keeping me from a coronary.
Our travelling companions, who are late back from their trip up to Sagaing hill, are greeted on shore by the daily retinue of staff lining the path to the gangplank; on hand to make sure no-one goes A over T on the way down. Arriving on deck, each one gets a spritz of hand sanitiser, hands back their cabin card in exchange for their keys, accept a cooling (orange) wet towel that smells of some exotic flower, and traipse to their cabins, removing their shoes and slipping into the slippers provided. I am assured by the other photographers that the panoramic view from the top was again obscured by the haze of smoke. And silver gewgaws I definitely didn’t need.
Since it’s our last day before we disembark (not de-ship, as some might say) our afternoon is spent gathering our worldly goods from where they are scattered about the cabin. I have several items that really shouldn’t travel back home with me: a pair of white shorts that had a damaging encounter with an orange towelette given to me as I returned to the boat after one of our excursions; two cakes of thanaka, (the tree paste that the locals spread over their cheeks as sunblock and all-round beauty product) and a pack of local chewing gum that hasn’t made the cut. I wave them in the direction of the ladies washing on shore, and after their enthusiastic nods, fling the offerings down at them, managing not to hit anyone in the head. The little gap-toothed girl splashing about in the shallows is particularly pleased about the chewing gum. There: I hope I’m giving them something that is of value to them, and trust that the lady can pound out the wicked stains on the rocks of the river and have the shorts clean enough again.
By 6 we are invited to a farewell by the crew on the sun deck. The furniture is all arranged in a circle and we seat ourselves as they serve fruit punch and canapes. Then our ship manager, Goran (from Jamaica – no just a joke, it’s Serbia), re-introduces us to the entire crew, from our prosperous captain down to the boys that wade through the water each day to moor the boat and lay out the gang plank for us. Like I do at times, I feel compelled to do a public thank you (exhibitionist that I am). Not only have they all been genuine in their affection towards us, but my observation of the crew when they are not on show has shown me a real ‘family’ feeling between them. When we aren’t around, the boys get on the banks of the river and play football, not required to come to attention when we arrive back after our excursions. That, to me, is the best commendation to the way the Princess Panhwar is run. Rather than shunning me for my egotism, many of my fellow travellers take the time to thank me for my little speech. Well, I just had to, didn’t I?
The crew then sing us a farewell song in Burmese, and after all that we stagger down the stairs back to the dining room for yet another four-course meal, with Ko Ko and Linn having saved us a seat. I only manage appetiser and dessert.. Probably should have left the dessert, but hey – I am on holidays, and I’ll have plenty of time to let out my clothes when I get back home.
The next morning, after our breakfast we say our last farewells, hugging those crew members that feel comfortable with it. The captain takes me in a big bear hug, probably because I asked to be piped aboard on my first day and kept up the saluting. And then it’s one more hike up the river bank and we trade our travelling room for travelling to a room on shore.