Once a year, in August, The Orient-Express' The Road To Mandalay sets sail on an 11-day cruise down the Irrawaddy River in northern Burma. The ship starts from Mandalay and floats past several villages before reaching the ancient city of Pagan, famed for its 300 brick pagodas. Everything aboard the 124-passenger Mandalay is first-rate: Bulgari toiletries in the well-appointed staterooms, meticulous service (such as cleaning guests' shoes after muddy strolls), and excellent food, like lotus-root-and-prawn salad. Onshore, Burmese guides trained by Orient-Express lead daily trips to visit Buddhist monks in their pagodas or shop at the food market in Katha, where the merchants transport produce in baskets on their heads. Burma, a military dictatorship since 1962, is trying to modernize and bring in tourism, but it isn't entirely sure how to achieve that. Foreign travelers are still required to file itineraries with the government, which makes this trip, with everything organized for you, an easier way to see the country than traveling on your own. One passenger pointedly observed, "There is something surreal about lounging on a luxury boat in northern Burma." But then, so much about Burma is at once strange and spectacular. Staterooms, $3,740-$4,230 per person for the 11-night cruise. Book through Abercrombie & Kent: 800-323-7308, 630-954-2944; www.abercrombiekent.com.