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Mekong river cruises booked through Breckenridge

ROBERT ALLEN
summit daily news
Special to the Daily Pandaw ships are replicas of river steamers from before WWII.
ALL |

BRECKENRIDGE – The U.S. corporate headquarters for a Southeast Asian cruise company may be found among the snowy peaks of Breckenridge.

Pandaw River Cruises opened the office a few weeks ago as the company seeks to grow its share in an increasingly competitive segment of the international travel market.

“It’s a funky destination for a cruise company,” Marcus Leskovar, president of Pandaw America, Inc. said, adding that most American cruise companies are based out of Florida.

Pandaw offers luxurious trips along the Mekong and other rivers in such locales as Borneo, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

All bookings from the Americas go through the Breckenridge office, but walk-ins aren’t accepted. Prospective clients are encouraged to book online, by phone or through a travel agent.

So far, the company has hired three local employees, with plans to hire several more by this summer.

Pandaw is the largest river cruise company in Asia, with six ships exploring five countries, according to the website at http://www.pandaw.com.

The boats are replicas of paddle steamers used in Burma from the 1800s to 1942, when the Japanese invaded. They were built in Vietnam and carry 60-64 passengers.

The year-round cruises are most popular in late fall and December, when the weather isn’t as hot. Trips cost between $3,000 and $5,000 per person, plus airfare.

“It’s not that bad,” Leskovar said, adding that much of the “refined clientele” are baby boomers or older.

Cruises involve navigation into some “very remote areas” of Southeast Asia, offering opportunity to explore the backcountry and “immerse yourself in the people,” he said.

Many of the region’s cultures flourish in villages along the rivers, where passengers take excursions.

“That’s where the life is,” Leskovar said.

Experiences may include visits to Cambodian temples, native villages, elephant logging camps, fifth century archaeological sites and more. Jungle treks are offered, and all sorts of wildlife may be sighted, from crocodiles to tropical birds.

The boats are staffed by locals who serve local food rather than the club sandwiches or burgers typical of cruise lines, Leskovar said.

Trips range from four to 20 nights.

The cabins do not have “mini-bars, satellite TVs, Internet or phones,” according to the Pandaw travel brochure. “Many guests describe life on board a Pandaw more like being a guest on a private motor yacht than a cruise ship.”

The boats also include spas and several observation decks.

Tropical trips or high-alpine kicks

Leskovar said he moved to his Breckenridge home to get away from the stressful work as vice president of global operations for a tour operator.

He started Mountain Adventures, a company offering transportation and access to heli-skiing and Snowcat skiing as well as summer “glamping” – luxurious camping trips.

But shortly after arriving in Breckenridge this winter, he was made an offer to take over Pandaw’s operations in the Americas. The company previously booked American clients through an East Coast travel agency, but the steady increase of demand led the Singapore-based company to expand into the United States.

A sales office is located in Chicago.

Pandaw has been in operation 15 years. This summer, a reality TV show with renowned chef Gordon Ramsay is to be filmed on one of Pandaw’s boats as it travels through Vietnam and Cambodia.

The company is also involved with several humanitarian efforts, dedicating a “hospital ship” to serve “where it’s needed most,” Leskovar said.

He said the fully furnished ship is staffed with medics to treat such illnesses as malaria.

Other efforts include building schools in Burma and a hospital wing in Mandalay, and supporting an orphanage in Cambodia. Pandaw’s cultural work includes helping to protect “endangered temples at Pagan, a research library in Mandalay and make grants toward educational and research projects,” according to a Pandaw newsletter.

For more information on Pandaw River Cruises, visit http://www.pandaw.com or call 1-800-798-4223.

More information on Mountain Adventures is available by calling (970) 453-9010.

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or rallen@summitdaily.com.


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