This journey on the Irrawaddy River is an attraction in itself and can be done in both directions. While we originally planned to travel from Mandalay to Bagan by boat (9 hours) our plans fell through leaving us with the next best option, the return journey travelling from Bagan to Mandalay by boat (11 hours) taking 2 hours longer travelling upriver. The boat leaves Bagan at 05.30am and it should arrive in Mandalay at roughly 16.30pm. We start from the Bagan pier area (nearby map here) at 4.45am as advised, arriving to the boat in pitch-black. On-board we are quickly served breakfast; a snack box filled with croissant, banana, boiled egg, jam pastry and coffee. Not the best of breakfasts but we didn’t expect much. The journey begins from Bagan to Mandalay by boat.
The benefit of travelling early is to relax on deck as the sun rises on Irrawaddy River. Few scenes are so authentic and beautiful. The journey is well underway by sunrise roughly 30 minutes into the journey and we’re passing little more than small fishing settlements on the riverside. Every passenger could fit at the back of the boat in outdoor deck chairs although the odd few stay sheltered / sleeping up front.
The landscape doesn’t change much, scattered farms come and go on the sandy and somewhat arid riverside, buffalo plough fields, kids play, small huts and wooden fishing boats, women trek here and there with agriculture bulks balanced on their heads. It is an idyllic simple life and they are views I’d happily watch daylong.
For me the hardest part of the journey was the hunger. Lunch is served at roughly 11.ooam, 5 hours after breakfast, which for me is crazy. I try desperately to beat hunger with a big bag of sunflower seeds from my backpack (and obviously fail). There wasn’t anything else to offer on-board for our journey and when we are fed lunch it is a choice between a plate of fried rice or fried noodles, no more. I advise to bring snacks for the journey or perish. Fortunately they do have Myanmar beer on-board ($3) and free water. At least we didn’t feel the need to kill boredom and when not supping in the scenery we hide in a sheltered spot below deck looking out over the river, drinking beer and ‘working’. Fanfan edits photos on laptop and I blog about ‘Sunsets and Prostitutes‘ on iPad.
The scheduled arrival was 16.30 from Bagan to Mandalay. We arrive at 17.15. Late but not so bad as journeys like these can be unpredictable. The views as we arrive to Mandalay are equally as impressive; hilltop pagodas, bustling harbours and unique riverside living. We disembark at a simple wooden jetty next to fishing boats and locals washing and drying their clothes. For forwarding to Mandalay we find no problem as local taxis and tuk-tuks pester us from the moment we set foot on dry land, not too pushy though. The main road is a quick minute walk where more taxis will be waiting. We pay $10 to the Mandalay city centre and tourists areas (map here) which was pricey for the not-so-far journey. $5 maybe a more realistic price.