The boat from Bagan to Mandalay was a 12 hour treat from start to finish. The boat left the Bagan Jetty at 5:30 just as the sun rose over the river. The mists from a morning chill rose off the water but slowly dissipated as the sun rose above the plains of Bagan and shone down on the Ayeyarwady River. (I have also seen it spelled Irrawaddy but I suspect that is the anglicized version.) The river flows south through the middle of the country and the plain that it cuts through is as flat as it gets. In places, the high mud banks look like they were sliced flat with a knife and the scrubby grass that stands straight up above the banks give the appearance of a bad brush cut. In the west the plains end at the Chin State mountains and in the east at the Shan Hills.
Life along the river is vibrant; farming, fishing or the transport of people and goods keep something on the horizon to watch and wonder about. We passed all manner of vessels from scows to other tour boats and it was delightful to see whole families fishing in the river using, poles, traps and nets. Reminded me of my fishing days when the fishermen would take their families along for company and to share the work. Of course along the way we saw plenty more gold domed pagodas, a further reminder that Myanmar is a deeply Buddhist country. The settlements along the river were haphazard collections of tents and shacks where the fishermen and their families live during the dry season but relocate for the rainy season. Right now it’s “winter” in Myanmar, meaning that the temperatures plummet to the mid 20’s at night and in the morning.
On board the RV Panorama, part of the Alliance Cruise Group, there were about 32 passengers, most of them a tour group from Taiwan and the rest were Europeans except for me the lone Canadian. A woman from Slovenia told me she didn’t think Canadian’s travelled much. At first people snoozed below deck and I was lucky enough to have three seats to myself which made for a great bunk. After a nap I followed the lead of other passengers and went topside for breakfast and then out onto some really comfortable deck chairs on the stern.
The young men who were our stewards on the boat gave us a demonstration on the art of wearing the “longyi”. With a few deft twists and turns of fabric they created, hats, shorts, jackets, slings, back packs, carrying pouches and even an elephant. Then they demonstrated the use of “thanaka” a paste made from ground bark which the Myanmar wear on their faces as both a sun block and a skin cream. They even have some fancy designs that they create after the swirl of paste dries a bit and one of the Taiwanese passengers was eager to be a model.
Twelve hours evaporated and before I knew it we were approaching the mythical city of Mandalay, made famous in Kipling’s poem. Of course it bears little or no resemblance to the romantic version set out in the poem but it was impressive as we approached our dock.
There are other ways to get from Bagan to Mandalay but in my mind the 35 USD fare that included breakfast and lunch was the only way to go.