We boarded our ship late afternoon after a day of sight-seeing. The Aura doesn’t look much on the outside; but, the inside is totally different with an elegant dark interior theme throughout. The Aura has everything you need or want – spa treatment room, salon, gym that is well equipped with a wall resistance platform, treadmill, bike and small area for stretching. It has a small pool that even though you can stretch out in, it will only take at least 2 good strokes to be at the end. The pool is surrounded by plenty of shaded seating and bar. The dining areas consist of the main dining room, Bamar and the café in the Mandalay lounge. There is a guest laundry of two washers and dryers, even had laundry powder. These are free for guest use if you don’t want to pay for the laundry service. An iron is set up for guest use. The sun deck has a small walking track and plenty of fake grass to do your yoga or stretching on. There is plenty of sunshade for those wanting to take advantage of the hot humid air. There is a central staircase that accesses all areas of the ship; but, there is no lift, so those with mobility issues will not be able to cruise on this ship.
The river itself is an ever-changing causeway due to its sandy composition, we saw it calve in front of our eye’s. There are many temporary farming communities that pop up along the river growing peanuts, sesame, garlic, onions to name a few. We also saw many people doing their daily showering or laundry at the rivers’ edge.
Our tours used different modes of transport – trishaws were fun and a great way to slowly make our way around larger towns. Walking through villages to see family businesses making clay urns, pastry, weavers making blankets or candlestick makers. Coaches took us to distant places like monasteries, nunneries, pagoda’s and markets. You do need to be able to walk on uneven sandy ground as many of the disembarkation places were on the sandy edges of the river; but, the Scenic crew formed a line all the way to the top where our bus or trishaw was waiting ensuring no one hurt themselves. And most of the pagoda’s are built on higher ground so there are always some steps to walk up before getting to a lift, if one is there. And tuk-tuks was our other way of getting around, these were very bumpy more so than the trishaws, anyone with back issues would find these too painful.
The Scenic itinerary is all about immersive experiences and they delivered, as mentioned above. On board one of our cruise directors gave us a history lesson from past to present. We had a tasting afternoon of local & popular foods along with a traditional dress fashion parade. We had our own MasterChef competition cooking traditional food – tea leaf salad. We had a local puppet company come on board and give us a performance after dinner.
A note must be mentioned about the water level of the Irrawaddy. It is worth highlighting here that cruise companies make it very clear in the fine print that water levels may affect the planned itinerary and that alternate means of transport may be used to carry on with the journey, it’s a risk we all take and despite our thorough research on the best time to travel to any particular country unforeseen weather conditions can’t be accounted for and it’s not the fault of the cruise company that the river is low at that precise time you sail. The cruise director and the ship’s crew did they upmost to keep us on the ship if possible; but, due to low water levels we had to leave our ship only one day earlier than expected. Not so bad, we had an extra night in a gorgeous hotel with great facilities.