Burmese Days: Why 12 Days With Silversea In Southeast Asia Just Wasn’t Enough

Have you ever been aware that something very special is happening to you, as it occurs? That’s very much the sort of feeling I got over the past two weeks, when I sailed through Southeast Asia with ultra-luxury line Silversea aboard the intimate, 382-guest Silver Shadow. I have high expectations from Silversea, yet the line found a way to surpass them yet again.

Silver Shadow docked in Georgetown (Penang), Malaysia. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Silver Shadow docked in Georgetown (Penang), Malaysia. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

To me, the 610-foot long Silver Shadow is the perfect size of ship for sailing in this part of the world. She’s big enough that there’s plenty to see and do onboard, yet small enough that she can sneak into ports where the big ships can’t go.

Our itinerary (which Silversea will offer variations of throughout 2017 and 2018 aboard Silver Shadow, Silver Discoverer and Silver Muse) showcased the diversity of this region. Departing from Singapore, we charted a course for Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia; Georgetown (Penang), Malaysia; Phuket, Thailand; Yangon, Myanmar; and Langkawi and Malacca, Malaysia.

One of our Silversea shore excursions in Phuket, Thailand brought us to "James Bond Island", where the finale to "The Man With The Golden Gun" was filmed. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
One of our Silversea shore excursions in Phuket, Thailand brought us to “James Bond Island”, where the finale to “The Man With The Golden Gun” was filmed. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Embarkation in Singapore was typical of Silversea: efficient, friendly, and above all else, fast. The same cannot be said for guests on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas, which was docked next to us in Penang (Georgetown), Malaysia. She’s a great ship, but the hordes of people queuing in the terminal to reboard the 3,807-guest ship made me realize what a great choice Silver Shadow is in this region: with crowded, busy ports of call, it’s refreshing to come back to a spacious ship with only a few hundred guests – most of whom you’ll never see all at once.

Suites - like this Grand Suite - are done in warm, inviting earth tones. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Suites – like this Grand Suite – are done in warm, inviting earth tones. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

While all of our ports of call were historically and culturally-enriching, it was our three-day stay in Yangon, Myanmar that truly delighted. Also known as Rangoon, Burma, Yangon is a world apart from anything else you’ve ever seen, from its glittering Shwedagon Pagoda to the crumbling Colonial ruins that hint at its British-India occupied past.

Staying docked for three full days allowed Silversea guests to do some truly in-depth exploration. To that end, Silversea offered up a different program of excursions each and every day, along with complimentary shuttle bus service from the ship’s remote pier to Yangon’s central Railway Station; another beautiful and crumbling relic that hints, sadly, at what might have been.

Yangon's spectacular Shwedagon Pagoda. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Yangon’s spectacular Shwedagon Pagoda. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The line also took this opportunity to roll out several Mid-Voyage Land Adventures: large overland journeys that take guests off the ship to far-flung locations that would remain inaccessible on ordinary day calls in port.

On my cruise, I’d estimate that over a third of all guests aboard Silver Shadow participated in a Mid-Voyage Land Adventure to Bagan. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the city flourished between the 9th and 13th centuries. Incredibly, over 2,000 stupas and pagodas still survive to this day, down from 10,000 during the height of the Kingdom. I travelled here last year on on a river cruise and for those who have not been, this is one optional tour that is most definitely worth the price of admission.

The contrasting worlds...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
The contrasting worlds…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
...of Yangon, Myanmar. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
…of Yangon, Myanmar. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Even by Silversea standards, my two weeks onboard Silver Shadow have really set the bar high. I rarely have cause for complaint on Silversea, and this was one voyage that seemed to hit all the right notes, from our itinerary to our port times to the overall organization of the shore excursions, to the cuisine, the beverages, and finally, to the exceptional staff of the Silver Shadow.

The Silver Shadow herself is in great condition, and she’s headed soon for a drydock to spruce her up even more. The only thing I’d love to see: a better use for the Observation Lounge, and a more dedicated, destination-oriented book selection within. Silver Shadow pretty much just sails to Alaska in the summer, and Asia in the winter, so a travel guide to Barbados seems like an odd selection. If the line stocked the Observation Lounge and the library with books on the history of Alaska and Southeast Asia, Japan, and Russia’s Far East, I’d be in heaven.

Fine dining in The Restaurant aboard Silver Shadow. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Fine dining in The Restaurant aboard Silver Shadow. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

My take on the past two weeks:

Sail With Silversea in Southeast Asia If:

  • You’re looking for a luxury cruise through one of the most diverse regions of the world.
  • You appreciate inclusivity, and don’t mind paying for it. Having beverages, gratuities, and other perks included in the cost of the cruise is tremendously relaxing.
  • You want a cerebral, culturally-relevant experience both onboard and ashore. Silversea provides that in spades.
  • You’re looking for a small-ship experience. With just 382 guests at maximum capacity, you’ll wonder where everyone is aboard Silver Shadow.

Give Silversea A Pass If:

  • You’re looking for big-ship, round-the-clock entertainment. You won’t find it here. Activities aboard Silver Shadow are more cerebral.
  • You want an all-American experience on-shore and aboard ship. This isn’t it. The onboard experience is wonderfully European, and shore excursions are tailored to include local and authentic meals, snacks and beverages to immerse guests more fully.
  • You hate dressing for dinner. Dressing up is one of the highlights of any Silversea cruise, and your fellow guests will expect you to do likewise.

I also appreciate that Silversea isn’t trying to go for cutting edge, ultra-modern styling on its ships, or getting distracted from its luxury cruise and expedition focus. Rather than trying to play the “latest-and-greatest” game that’s the modus operandi of every mainstream cruise line, the line is doing what it does best: offering interesting and unique itineraries operated aboard timeless, classic luxury ships. The company is opting for measured growth across its luxury and expedition fleets, with the new Silver Muse debuting next spring; the conversion of the Silver Cloud to an expedition vessel; and the refurbishment of the Silver Whisper this December, scheduled to be completed just in time for her 2017 World Cruise.

Sunset falls on the Silver Shadow as she prepares to enter the Strait of Malacca. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Sunset falls on the Silver Shadow as she prepares to enter the Strait of Malacca. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

I’ve been sailing with Silversea for over six years now. It sounds like a lot, but it’s peanuts compared with some of the line’s most loyal Venetian Society members. I meet people on Silversea cruises that routinely have 200, 300, even 500 or more days with the line. And, to be frank, no one spends 500 days anywhere unless they absolutely love it.

When you can spend all day in a faraway land like Myanmar and the come back aboard the Silver Shadow to a refreshing towel and a cold cocktail, it’s hard to not like that experience, too.

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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