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In Conversation with Paul Strachan - Founder of Pandaw River Expeditions

Feb 10, 2015

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In 1995 Paul Strachan revived the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company in Burma and pioneered river cruising for the first time since the war. Having lived and travelled extensively around Burma since 1981 Paul began writing, his books focused on the Burma of yesteryear and from this extensive research his enthusiasm and the royalties from the highly successful books he was able to set up and re-establish the Irrawaddy Flotilla. Today he has 12 ships in the region. They are small, colonial style ships catering for between five-to-40-passengers.

The vessels were commissioned in 1947 to the famous Yarrow & Co. shipyard on the river Clyde of Glasgow, at a period of time when Scotland was the greatest shipbuilding name in the world. Then, the expression 'Clyde built' was synonymous with shipbuilding excellence.

The fleet retains many of the original features including teak and ironwood decks, old brass outfitting and the teak-walled spacious cabins. Bespoke furniture was created for the ships fashioned in the style of the original. And modern technologies including air conditioning, silent generators, state of the art kitchen, water purification and fire detection systems were installed.

Paul Strachan Q&A

What is the essence of a Pandaw Cruise? How would you describe it to a friend who was interested in taking a Pandaw cruise?

More like a party on a private yacht. It can be very social with stimulating company. Not your usual cruise experience at all and nearly everyone says “I would never normally book a cruise…”

Who goes on your cruises – what is the typical Pandaw customer

Just retired, or early retired, 55+, professionals and fanatical world travellers keen to see the last places

What book has most inspired you to travel and see the world?

Norman Lewis’s travel writing in general; his books on Burma and Vietnam in the 1950s a must

Tell us your favourite cruise route and why – what stands out about this route – places of interest etc

The Chindwin is amazing but subject to water levels.  Otherwise Mandalay to Bhamo has it all: the gorges, varied scenery, vast river-scapes and lots of pretty little towns and villages

Tell us about your charity and how customers get to see the vital work that’s being done through the Pandaw Charity throughout the region

We started building schools, 13 in all, with donations from our passengers but have moved on to medical care now and run 8 village clinics with a full time medical team of 20. We do about 40,000 free patient treatments a year and provide medications free too so it is quite an operation. We try and take passengers but never seem to be able to coordinate clinic times with sailing times.

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What was one of the most challenging aspects for you in getting the Pandaw Flotilla re-established?

Dealing with the governments of all the countries we work in.

What is the staff to crew ratio on-board?

One crew member per cabin

Where do you spend your holidays and down time?

Sailing on the West Coast of Scotland in the summer and in Catalunya where my wife Roser (pictured above with Paul) is from in the winter.

If we could whisk you back to any period in what would it be and why?

The early days in the 90s when we were setting up our first ships and training the crews were a magical time. Burma was still very closed but the people full of fun. We had the most interesting passengers back then, mainly war veterans and old colonials so the atmosphere on board was very stimulating and we learnt so much.

We’ve heard that many of your customers come back year after year - what routes do you think you will be adding to make things different for their next cruise?

We had one lady, a retired doctor, who made over 50 cruises with us over a 15 year period. She would come out for a couple of months and just go up and down the river. She loved the crew and they loved her.

On any sailing you will meet several other people who have been before and exchange travellers’ tales of various past Pandaw disasters, running aground, broken engines, etc.

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Land exploration is as important as on river exploration. Can you tell us more about some of the excursions that customers can take part in?

A stay in the Unesco World Heritage city of Luang Prabang with time to explore its Buddhist temples and Royal Palace, and the chance to travel into the mountainous north are among the highlights. Excursions will see passengers traversing rapids and gorges, swimming in jungle pools and visiting tribal villages and Buddhist temples along the Mekong River to observe the morning alms.

You have a really special choice of hotels – tell us more about the reason that these hotels were chosen to accompany the cruises

We check them carefully and I make sure I stay in all our partner hotels at least once a year. I am quite fussy and this year changed the Rangoon hotel as the one we had been using for years had dropped its food and beverage standards and a number of our passengers have been arriving on board with tummy upsets.

Are you building any more vessels?

Yes we are building a new 10 cabin boat for Laos as we speak. We are building it on the border point between Laos and Burma and using our team from Mandalay in conjunction with Laos and Thai contractors. Quite a project.

What’s next for Pandaw?

Once we have cracked the Laos Mekong I would love to explore further upstream into China. It is navigable all the way. Then we can offer all six Mekong countries and about 3000 miles by Pandaw. That would be quite something.


Want to find out more...

For more information about Pandaw - speak to our team of experts. Connoisseur and Pandaw have worked closely together for many years and our staff have travelled on the vessels and can give you first hand knowledge. Contact us 

Pandaw run expedition cruises in three South-East Asian countries: Burma, on the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers and through Cambodia and Vietnam on the Mekong River.

These four great rivers traverse mountains, forests, jungles and plains. Along their banks are the vestiges of lost civilisations and vibrant contemporary societies. Any Pandaw expedition contains a stimulating mix of history, art and culture whilst exploring modern day life.

For deckplans of the ships, video clips and the latest availability searches - click here 



Category: River Cruise