On Board Orcaella

October 1, 2013 frvtravel

Orcaella, an intimate luxury river cruiser in Myanmar, is the latest addition to the Orient Express Collection. Its General Manager, Eddie Teh, tells FRV Travel more about his life on this beautiful boat. Text: Melanie Lee Images Courtesy of Orient-Express Hotels Ltd & Eddie Teh

What’s a typical workday for you?
I wake up early in the morning so that I can go to the sundeck to chat with passengers catching the sunrise. After that, I pay a visit to the rivermaster to work out the travelling route for that day and to ensure Orcaella is on track with its journey. After that I’d hang out with the engineers, who are the hardest working people on board, as they have to wake up at 4am each day. Then, I’ll go round to the kitchen for “tastings” and have breakfast with my staff in the staff canteen. From there, I’ll head back to my office to handle all the administrative matters. There’s quite a lot of paperwork involved when working with the Myanmar government authorities for licencing and approvals. I’m on board Orcaella and another Orient-Express cruise Road to Mandalay (where he’s also GM) about 50% of my work time. Sometimes, I wake up in the morning and have no idea where I am. There was once I opened my eyes and was wondering aloud to myself why it was so bright and noisy and was about to check in with the rivermaster. But then my wife told me, “You’re home. In Yangon. On land.”

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How about the guests – what are they like?
Our passengers hail from all over the world – Germany, Britain, Switzerland, the U.S., Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. There are quite a number of elderly retiree couples. However, increasingly, I’m also seeing younger executive-type couples who are in Orcaella to wind down from their frenzied work lives. There is a slight struggle in that aspect initially – many of the younger men especially would be checking their mobile phones constantly to see if there is reception (at this point, there’s no mobile coverage at some parts of the journey). However, by the third day, passengers become more settled. You see couples in deep conversation. Many of them find their favourite corners to read a book, have a drink, or observe local life by the river bed. Because Orcaella only takes at most 50 passengers each time round, everyone gets to know each other pretty well by the end of 7 or 11 days as there’s lots of mingling happening, especially during meals at the dining carriage. There’s this sense of camaraderie because they feel they are going for an adventure together and it’s wonderful because all these different perspectives from people from all over the world are shared during each trip. In fact, the first batch of Orcaella passengers that sailed on July 2013 actually set up a group e-mail thread and collaborate with each other virtually on charity projects.

What’s so unique about Orcaella?
Unlike other cruises where there are a lot of pit stops, passengers at Orcaella spend a lot of time on the boat as the experience focuses on going through the Ayeyawwady and Chindwin Rivers and seeing the more remote parts of Myanmar. It’s really an off-the-beaten track experience, and we try to bring in as much of Myanmar as possible with traditional dance performances, lectures on Burmese culture, and letting passengers try their hand at betel chewing. But yes, the cruise is still very luxurious with a high-tech gym, a spa, a swimming pool, a boutique, medical facilities and floor-to-ceiling glass doors in the cabins. Our local staff also plays a huge role in creating this unforgettable travel experience. There’s something about Burmese people – they are so genuinely sweet, gentle and sincere. We also have a high crew to guest ratio of 50 guests to 58 crew. As such, many passengers form close bonds with the crew with such a personal set-up and actually cry at the end of the voyage. It’s really great to see some passengers becoming more interested in how Myanmar is opening up to the world right now, and even think about ways they can help the community here.

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