Asia’s Rivers Of Adventure

RIVERS are generally where most communities spring up — for the source of water and access by boats. With so many neighbouring countries living off the river, that atypical holiday is at your doorstep. Beyond the shopping centres, discount stores, restaurants, food streets and yet more shopping, or cruising, gambling, gorging at buffet lines, and shopping, of course, there’s another vista to explore. It transcends the usual activities we believe our neighbours offer.

It’s literally off the beaten track, it requires some measure of getting to, and expect to get some dirt on yourself as you hike, bike and connect with nature and indigenous communities.

Pandaw prides itself on locating waterways that have not been commercially tapped, allowing the more intrepid traveller to cruise along in their comfortable and well-appointed river ships. It’s a lazy meander along winding rivers, stopping at communities most other ships would not be able to access, and experiencing a pace of life quite remote from what usual city holidays have to offer.

The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company was founded in 1865 and acquired in 1995 as Pandaw by Glaswegian Paul Strachan, who hails from a line of ship builders. Strachan spent much of his time in publishing, including spells in Burma, where he got close to the upper echelons of decision making. His adventure is documented in The Pandaw Story (2015), and provides background to the start of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, which eventually became Pandaw.

Floating Fortunes

Strachan led an eclectic bunch of people interested in Burma on a bit of adventure along the Irrawaddy, in 1995. The success of that trip led to others, and eventually Pandaw has chosen to ply river ships along select waterways, an endeavour that have proven a hit.

The river ships are made of teak and brass, and most have been built in Yangon and Saigon. Pandaw has also set up a team to build ships at the Thai/Laos border.

By floating into Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, China and Borneo, the fleet of 17 boats — anything from five to 30 cabins — give the visitor a more intimate view of life in the rural areas of Asia. The all-inclusive expeditions range from a week to a fortnight, and some are booked up to a year in advance.

Its latest ship is the RV Kapuas Pandaw, a 12-cabin river ship that will lead the seven-night inaugural river expedition on the Kapuas River, West Kalimantan, Borneo. This is the longest river in Indonesia, and is one of the longest island rivers in the world.

Aiding A Cause

Strachan’s time in Asia has also made him sensitive to the needs of the disadvantaged in society. As he profits from his business, he is also keen to give back, by offering employment, procuring rations from local communities and fostering an economic cycle of activity that would be beneficial beyond Pandaw’s bottom line.

However, with the rural to urban shift — for the first time, there are more people living in the cities than in the countryside — the fortunes of rural communities are on the decline.

Strachan established the Pandaw charity in 2008, to support the education and healthcare efforts in Burma. Driven by donations from passengers and a share from the Pandaw River Expeditions, it finds a balance between creating employment for local communities and lending an uplifting hand for communities that might otherwise be left behind.

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