Conscious River Cruising
The great rivers of Asia have witnessed a recent surge in luxurious river cruises granting access to previously untrodden areas, sometimes inaccessible by any other means. This trend accompanies increasing interest in authenticity and off-the-beaten-track experiences, presenting an environmental balancing act for the operators of luxury river boats. Conscious River Cruising is a way to explore relatively uncharted waters in the utmost comfort whilst also protecting the fragile ecosystems and communities they seek to uncover.
Luxury travel specialist, Red Savannah, looks at two operators that have expanded their cruise portfolio along the Irrawaddy, the Mekong and the Brahmaputra, exploring their exciting new journeys as well as their approach to working in these delicate environments.
In October 2014, Aqua Expeditions launched the Aqua Mekong which offers Vietnam and Cambodia holidays cruising between My Tho in the Mekong Delta, to Siem Reap, sailing via the Mekong and the Tonle Sap river and lake. ‘Indochine-chic’ in style, the Aqua Mekong has 20 contemporary suites, a gym, plunge pool, top deck bar & lounge and a Spa. Guests can choose either a 5 or 7 day journey exploring communities and landscapes that are inextricably linked to the rivers and lakes.
“We are genuinely committed to keeping the great rivers of the world clean and beautiful, for today and generations to come” Aqua Expeditions
Recognising that the company’s future depends on the wellbeing of the environments in which they operate, Aqua Expeditions take proactive steps to minimise its ecological impact, going beyond local regulations. They are guided by four main principles –
- Practicing environmentally-sensitive operational practices on cruises
- Supporting environmental conservation
- Supporting wildlife preservation
- Encouraging local community health and economic development
Their vessels are well maintained to ensure fuel efficiency with reduced engine emissions as well as encapsulating generators to minimise noise and vibration. All waste management is conducted on-board to IMO and U.S. Coast Guard standards, resulting in clean water that can be safely emitted into the rivers, with any by-product responsibly disposed of or recycled. Food safety practices include Ecolab control to ensure cleanliness and to reduce infection, at the same time lowering water consumption and energy. Aqua Expeditions also invests in social outreach programmes which include local education on managing natural resources, protection of endangered species, funding the repopulation of threatened species and promotion of environmentally friendly ways that people can earn a living.
Pandaw launch a number of new vessels, routes and joint ventures in 2015:
- For those interested in off-the-beaten-track holidays to India, March sees the start of a new joint venture on the Brahmaputra River in Assam region. The MV Mahabaahu is a 46-berth vessel equipped with a pool, spa deck, Jacuzzi and sauna exploring the hard to reach Kaziranga National Park, noted for its population of the greater one-horned rhinoceros and elusive tigers.
- For a Vietnam holiday that goes beyond the usual, the MV Angkor Pandaw begins a new route from June 2015, sailing along the Red River from the iconic Halong Bay. With just 16 cabins, the MV Angkor Pandaw offers an intimate experience with excellent regional cuisine from a local master chef. From Halong Bay guests head north-west through rice paddies and mountains, with the opportunity for some hiking and folk painting.
- A brand new boat, the RV Laos Pandaw, launches November 2015. One of Pandaw’s smallest boats, the RV Laos Pandaw has just 10 staterooms. Guests will spend 11 days winding along the Mekong River exploring the ancient capital, Vientiane, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, the deep gorges, forests and remotes communities of northern Laos and on to the infamous Golden Triangle, where Laos meets its neighbours Myanmar and Thailand.
- The recent reforms in Myanmar have resulted in an explosion of interest in holidays to Myanmar, with cruises along the main river arteries connecting areas of interest. The RV Kalay Pandaw launched on the Chindwin River in September 2014 and is already fully booked for 2015. A handsome colonial-style river cruiser with 5 cabins, the boat travels a route between Mandalay and Yangon, where guests will witness traditional villages, monasteries, colonial towns and forest.
“Our crews and guides are all trained to be as caring of the environment as possible and we encourage passengers to do the same” Pandaw Expeditions.
Pandaw Expeditions source food at local markets wherever possible to both reduce the impact of ‘food miles’ as well as ensuring the financial benefits of tourism are felt within the local economy. The ships generate their own power and sewage is processed microbiotically to minimise their environmental footprint.
The company is proactive in the area of social responsibility, particularly in Myanmar, with a charity founded in 2008 following Cyclone Nargis, when their ships were converted to floating hospitals saving many lives. The good work has continued with the construction of twelve schools and an orphanage in remote regions of Myanmar. They also operate seven Pandaw Clinics around Pagan, with a full time team of twenty health professionals providing 5,000 treatments free of charge each month, all funded by donations and profit-share.
Red Savannah’s Asia expert, Melissa Matthews designs tailor-made holidays combining river sailings with bespoke pre and post cruise activities. Guests are welcome to enquire about local environmental practices and encouraged to visit local community programmes where feasible and appropriate.