a slow cruise down the ayeyarwady river from mandalay to bagan

Wednesday, February 18:  I get up at the crack of dawn to go to the jetty in Mandalay, where I’m to take the N Maikha Shwe Keinnery ferry down the Ayeyarwady River to Bagan.  It’s supposed to be a 10-hour trip.  I should have remembered that from when I booked it ahead of time online for $40, but for some reason I’m confused this morning and am expecting a 5-hour trip!

The Korean guy, Peel, who I met yesterday at breakfast, shares a taxi with me; he gets dropped off first at one jetty and then I get dropped 5 minutes later at another.  The approach to the boat is a steep dusty embankment and I wonder how on earth I’ll get my suitcase onto the boat.  A porter appears to save the day and asks for 1,000 kyat, or $1, to carry the suitcase onto the boat. He hoists it over his head and walks across a rickety gangplank to the boat, with me following.

It’s dark when I board at 6:30 a.m., and my seat is at the very front.  I’m one of the first to board, so I get to watch all the European tourists, mainly German and French, get settled.  I hear some American women complaining about the sum they had to pay their porter to carry their suitcases on board.  The porter is apparently asking for more money than they think they should pay.  I paid mine 1,000, which I assume is the asking price, so I’m surprised they’re complaining.

Here’s my view as we get underway at 7:00 a.m.

N Maikha Shwe Keinnery Boat

N Maikha Shwe Keinnery Boat

As the ferry pulls away from the jetty, we can see the sun rising over the river.

Sunrise on the Ayeyarwady

Sunrise on the Ayeyarwady

Taking off down the river

Taking off down the river

Once we’re underway one of the boat crew announces that we can go up to the dining area for breakfast.  I already ate some of the boxed breakfast provided by my hotel,  but of course I have to take advantage of the breakfast provided on the boat trip.  It turns out to be a hard-boiled egg, a piece of toast, and a cup of coffee.  After I eat, I go outside to the upper deck to watch the scenery go by.

boats on the Ayeyarwady

boats on the Ayeyarwady

It isn’t long before we’re passing by Sagaing Hill, where I went on Monday.  It’s 7:35, but here we slow down as the boatmen use poles to push the boat along the river.  The river is obviously very shallow here.  I hope we don’t run aground!

passing by Mingun

passing by Sagaing Hill

passing Mingun

passing Sagaing

Mingun

Sagaing

colorful boat

colorful boat

Another ferry approaches us from behind; it seems to be moving faster than we are.  They soon pass us by.  I wonder if Peel is on that boat.

another ferry comes up behind us

another ferry comes up behind us

pagodas and Buddhas

pagodas and Buddhas

Boat on the Ayeyarwady

Boat on the Ayeyarwady

We cruise under the Sagaing Bridge, and then the Ava Bridge in short order.  By this time, I’ve moved from the seat in the enclosed lower level of the boat to the top deck, where I can watch life in Myanmar go by.

Bridge over the river

Sagaing Bridge

I love this kind of slow leisurely travel.  I always love to travel by boat — not in a big cruise ship, which doesn’t appeal to me at all, but in small locally owned ferries or boats of any kind.

passing under the bridge

passing under Sagaing Bridge

all hands on deck!

all hands on deck!

passing under another bridge

passing under Ava Bridge

ferry in our wake

ferry in our wake

The landscape bordering the river is flat and the air is hazy.  There really isn’t much to see but sandy shores or miles of uninhabited land.  I do love looking at the colorful fishing boats, houseboats and commercial barges and tugboats.

colorful boats on the river

colorful boats on the river

boats all lined up

boats all lined up

green boats

green boats

tugboat & barge

tugboat & barge

I love watching the fishermen or the people cruising down the river in boats, or boat crewmen doing their jobs.

boatman

boatman

sandy beaches

sandy beaches

the flat land along the river

the flat land along the river

sandy beach along the Ayeyarwady

sandy beach along the Ayeyarwady

a boat brimming with people

a boat brimming with people

Apparently, Burmese fishermen erect temporary houses when the water levels are low, which they are in February.  When the water levels rise, they’ll move their houses to higher land along the river.

riverfront homes

riverfront homes

more riverfront huts

more riverfront huts

flat shoreline

flat shoreline

We even see some livestock grazing along the riverbank.

livestock

livestock

It’s a long, lazy day on the boat, but I’m enjoying every minute.  I’m able to talk to a number of fellow travelers.  We sit in bamboo lounge chairs and watch the river go by and chat about our travels. I meet James and Molly, a couple who are teaching in Yunnan province.  James is from Nashville, Tennessee, and Molly is from New York.   They have only been dating a short while as they met when they came to China and they don’t even teach in the same town.  This is their first trip together.  We share a lot of stories of our travels and our lives.

Molly also recommends the Agga Youth Hotel in Yangon.  The Germans and Shaun and Sarah had all recommended it when we went to Mingun together, and I booked it when I was in Mandalay.  This place must be really great because everyone is recommending it.

barge in the Ayeyarwady

barge in the Ayeyarwady

barge

barge

I also meet another guy, John, who has been in Beijing for 8 years.  He’s trying to start an entertainment company.  It’s when I’m talking to him, nearly 5 hours into our trip, that I say “We should be arriving in Bagan soon.”  He says, “But the boat ride is 10 hours.  We still have a long way to go.”  I’m surprised, but then it dawns on me that I do remember something about this.  Later I consult my Lonely Planet Myanmar and find the ferry ride is in fact 10 hours!

riverfront village

riverfront village

tugboat and barge

tugboat and barge

As it gets hot in the afternoon, I go downstairs where it’s cool to read a while.  I’ve brought along The Crazed by Ha Jin, which is good, but not nearly as engaging as his book Waiting, which I adored.  I also read in Lonely Planet Myanmar about what I’ll be seeing in Bagan.

under another bridge

under another bridge

boats and bridge

boats and bridge

The sun starts to sink in the sky.  I’ve been on this boat from sunrise to sunset and I’ve loved every minute of it. It reminds me of ancient journeys I’ve read about or seen in movies.  I feel like I’ve stepped back in time by 50 or even 100 years.  The journey is nostalgic, unhurried, relaxing.  Sometimes I think we rush through things too quickly and don’t really savor moments like these.

sunset on the Ayeyarwady

sunset on the Ayeyarwady

fellow travelers

fellow travelers

sunset on the Ayeyarwady

sunset on the Ayeyarwady

the sun sets on the river

the sun sets on the river

sunset and boaters

sunset and boaters

sunset on the river near Bagan

sunset on the river near Bagan

sunset as we approach Bagan

sunset as we approach Bagan

We can finally see the shoreline at Bagan, with some of its pagodas and temples.

first glimpse of the shore of Bagan

first glimpse of the shore of Bagan

Finally, after what it turns out is closer to a 12-hour journey, we dock at the jetty in Bagan.

coming in to the Bagan jetty

coming in to the Bagan jetty

At the jetty are a lot of taxis waiting for the tourists to disembark.  I find a driver to take me to the Floral Breeze Hotel for 15,000 kyat.  I settle in and head outside to the courtyard, where I have a dinner of potato and pumpkin curry for 9,000 kyat. It’s the perfect ending to a perfect day. 🙂

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Categories: Asia, Ava Bridge, Ayeyarwady River, Bagan, Burma, Irrawaddy River, Mandalay, Myanmar, N Maikha Shwe Keinnery Boat, Sagaing, Sagaing Bridge, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “a slow cruise down the ayeyarwady river from mandalay to bagan

  1. Sounds like a very relaxing day, plus you got to talk to other travellers too which is always nice. How’s the safety aspect on these boats Cathy? We are often hearing of terrible accidents in Asia of ferries capsizing full of people and no-one knowing what to do, no life jackets, no boats. You were obviously fine, but were you given any instructions as what to do in an emergency?

  2. Oh Cathy I think these are my favourite of your photos, it looks wonderful. I agree about the slow travel instead of being herded and rushed around.

    • Thanks so much, Gilly. This was one of my favorite days in Myanmar. I really felt like an explorer from a century ago! 😊

  3. What a magic day from that beautiful sunrise to the equally beautiful sunset. I love that slow kind of travel

  4. Another great set of pictures. A very different experience than what you’ve done before. You amaze me with how you can get so much out of your time in Asia!

    Nancy

    • Thanks so much, Nancy. I loved this slow ride down the river. I don’t think I’ve ever spent 12 hours on a boat before! I think the most was 5 hours from Santorini to Athens, and that was in very rough seas so not pleasant at all! I’m trying my best to get the most out of Asia that I can because who knows when, or if, I’ll ever get back again. 🙂

  5. This is lovely, Cathy! I enjoyed my lazy day on the river with you and all those boats and bridges. And that bit of toast and egg didn’t upset your stomach either! 🙂

    • Thanks, Jo. It was really a lovely day going down the river on that boat. I didn’t get sick at all during my time in Myanmar; a nice two week hiatus from all my stomach problems in China! 🙂

  6. Pingback: a hop, skip & a jump from bagan to heho. settling into nyaungshwe. | rice paddies & papayas

  7. Pingback: last day in yangon: fighting for the buddhas and the aung san museum | rice paddies & papayas

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