Our boat leaves Mandalay at 5:30 am for a long trip of 12 hours to Bagan. It is a “slow boat” (vs. “express boat” which refers to private and tourist companies), taken by Burmese merchants to transport mainly food to their distant villages. We booked the tickets directly at the Inland Water Transport office (click here for more info)
Update November 2018 : Attention, this boat isn’t proposed by the government since December 2017, and this, temporarily (well, it’s already been a year). However, you can still opt for the 42$ tourist boat (which I have not tested): http: //www.mgrgexpress.com/
The Mandalay – Bagan trip is faster than the trip in the opposite direction, because it goes down the Irrawaddy. During the dry season, this trip can take much more time, especially if the boat is stuck in the sand. Sailing on the Irrawaddy therefore requires a lot of experience
After the torrential rain of the day before in Mandalay, our boat is much less crowded than usual (or maybe because it’s Sunday too). The foreigners are entitled to a plastic chair.
The Burmese sit on the floor on their portable bamboo mats. Most of them are very well equipped: carpet, blanket, dishes and food are kept in a small basket. The goods are scattered next to it, in baskets or on the floor. It is called “boat” but it is as strong as a ferry. The only problem is that it is open on all sides, if it rains too much, you can get completely soaked. That’s why we put ourselves where there are the most Burmese, because they know exactly where to put themselves to avoid the wind and the rain
Sitting on the floor is a better option when you want to sleep. For lack of mats, we took out our meat bag. Leaning on our backpacks, we were able to take a little nap. There is even a space on the front of the boat where we can find some wooden beds to sleep. I believe that it is reserved only for the members of the crew, but some passers-by could make the nap there without any concern
The boat moves as slowly as a scooter. The landscapes are frankly not extraordinary, but what we like most is to observe the local life when the boat stops. Indeed, the boat stops about ten times in villages that we cannot suspect the existence. Each time it stops, we see a small group of villagers waiting for us
- or to sell local products: cakes, fruit or roast chicken to passers-by. I strongly encourage you to buy from these vendors because they sell seasonal products grown in their village. The starting price will always be very high (2$ for a doughnut), but take out the small change (between 200 and 500 kyats), give it to the vendors to end the negotiation.
- either to sell merchandise to merchants: at one point, we saw a small boat filled with watermelons approaching our boat when it stopped and unloading half of its cargo, sold to the various merchants on the boat
- either to go and see the cook’s wife who runs a small stand on the boat and buy her all the good things she has taken at different stops
- or to help merchants bring their goods down quickly. Some are so busy that a dozen people have to help them. The villagers then transport these goods on foot, on a cart or with the help of a small boat
Even if the comfort is basic, a lot of things are planned to make the trip as pleasant as possible. There is a cook on board who offers simple dishes and drinks (we have not tested his service, preferring the products of street vendors). The cook’s wife also has a stand, which gets bigger as the stops go by, so if we missed the passage of the street vendors, we can always buy from her. The (Turkish) toilets are cleaned regularly and are frankly not that bad. And plastic chairs are provided for the tourists who have difficulties to sit on the floor
The Burmese only share half of the journey with us. They all go down near Myingyan. We and a few tourists take advantage of the almost empty boat to sit where there is the least wind and sun 😀
Arrived at 5:30 pm in Bagan (Nyang-U precisely), several young people get on the boat and politely ask us if they can collect our garbage bags. Very embarrassed, I tell them that there isn’thing interesting inside, but apparently they are interested in the empty water bottles. I give them this and thank them for helping us to get rid of it
Several drivers are waiting for us. They explain us that the tricycle costs 5000 kyats and the cab 7500 kyats. Thinking that it was an equivalent of a Vietnamese cyclo, we decide to take the tricycle. What a mistake! It is tiny, JB can put only one buttock on the seat 😀 When we see a rise, we go down and push the tricycle with the driver. Fortunately, the trip only takes 10 minutes
In short, it was a great trip. We just regret that there aren’t more people (and saleswomen). We made this trip in August 2016, one Sunday. Maybe traveling on a Wednesday would have been a better experience?