Conscious River Cruising

Jan 2015

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.

Aqua Expeditions

conscious river cruising mekong

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 Expeditions

RV Kalay Pandaw River Cruise

RV Kalay Pandaw

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.

  1. I have been wanting to take a river cruise for quite some time. I’ve been focusing on Europe but these cruises in Asia sound wonderful too!

  2. anna parker says:

    An authentic experience in a largely inaccessible location is such a memorable way to visit a place. It is reassuring to see a company going about it the right way and opening up the area without ruining it

  3. noel says:

    These look amazing, what a way to see Asia. I love cruisng slowly and watching from a spot that constantly changes. Maybe 2015 will be the ticket

  4. These both sound wonderful and it is so good to hear that they are acting responsibly with respect of the enviroment and local communities – something that has been so badly ignored in the past by so many.

  5. Crusing is not something that hold huge appeal to me, but I’ve always said I’d make two exceptions. One, a scenic cruise such as Alaska or the Norwegian fjords, or 2. a river cruise. There’s a certain charm about the latter which really appeals. 🙂

  6. Denis Gagnon says:

    Thanks for making me aware of these river cruising lines. They seem like an excellent way to tour the area.

    • alison says:

      Sure Denis. When I was in Myanmar last year, much of the country was off limits, so it was a bit hard to get off the beaten path in a car. These river cruises are a perfect solution as so many villages can only be reached by the water.

  7. Alison, I’ve enjoyed European river cruises, but the idea of doing something similar in this area is intriguing. Thanks for the idea. Good post.

    • alison says:

      I think it would be a fascinating trip Ursula, all in the lap of luxury. Knowing that the company has a strong respect for the environment makes it all the more interesting.

  8. Donna Janke says:

    It’s nice to see cruise companies take care of the environment. The Asian cruises you’ve mentioned sound like they would be a wonderful experience.

  9. Thanks for the information on these Asian river cruises. These destinations are on our must see list but a luxury cruise would be amazing and a dream come true!

    • alison says:

      Anita-My trip to Myanmar last year was definitely on my top 10 list. Vietnam is a hopeful for 2016.Let me know when you start to make plans. I’ll help in any way I can.

  10. Lovely to see these smaller ships on the rivers and the care they are taking to train the staff on eco-friendly practices. Would love to do these cruises.

    • alison says:

      The smaller ships are very appealing to me Elaine. What a way to venture into off the beaten path areas. Many spots on the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar are very shallow, so these smaller boats allow for travel to destinations that were once impossible to get to.

  11. Shelley says:

    These Asian river cruises sound amazing. Nice to hear they are offering a great experience in an environmentally sensitive way.
    (BTW, I really like the look of your website, including the post card comment form.)

  12. I love the concept of “conscious river cruising.” Thanks for sharing it on your blog.

  13. Thank you for these excellent reviews! A river cruise like this through Myanmar sounds excellent!

    • alison says:

      Hi Joseph. I believe this is your first visit, so thanks for stopping by. It’s always great to see a new face! I’m glad you liked the reviews and hope you’ll stop by Green With Renvy again.

  14. We are so wanting to take river cruises, and it seems as though this would be a perfect way to get to locations that aren’t as easy to access. Great report, thank you!

  15. I’m hoping to take the Aqua Expeditions tour of Vietnam and Cambodia sometime soon. Sounds like a fabulous trip!

  16. These cruises look amazing, i really wanted to do one on yellow river before we moved out of China but I just ran out of time…

  17. Very, very interesting and informative post. Makes me want to look into this kind of adventure!

  18. Wow its beautiful! The cruise was looking awesome a trip in this way would be dream come true. Thanks for this amazing post.

  19. Ivan Mendis says:

    Great post.The pictures were very colorful.The cruise was look like a 5 star hotel.That was a amazing trip.