On the River... from Mandalay to Bagan by Boat
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We like to take a various of modes of transport when we travel and given that we were flying between so many of the places in Burma we were pleased to take the ferry from Mandalay to Bagan. Travelling overland gives you a much better sense for the scale of a country and slows you down in the best possible way. It's fun to be out on the water and we've loved a river trip in Assam we took a few years ago and a long ferry journey we took on Lake Malawi on our honeymoon.
The ferry left early in the morning, ughh, I'm not at my best at 6 am, the journey took just over eleven hours. However, I'm sorry to say the ferry was specially designed for tourists and this changes everything - though D. felt the views made it worthwhile nonetheless. Worldwide there seems to be a trend towards special transport aimed a tourists, cleaner, more expensive and generally less interesting.
Twenty years ago I took the train from Cuzco to the station near Macchu Picchu and back then you took the regular train, though the First Class cabin was locked and seemed only to be tourists. As we stopped along the way people came on dressed in traditional outfits and others walked through the aisles selling food. We talked to middle-class Peruvians in our compartment and it was fascinating. It was more than just a way to get from A to B, it was it's own experience. However, as I understand it today there is a special tourist train and it's compulsory for foreigners.
Despite the "foreigners only" experience we enjoyed the views as we drifted along, the river is indeed majestic. The first sight was Sagaing which we passed as we left Mandalay. As you can see above the stupas were both evocative and beautiful. Sagaing is an important religious and monastic center and we had visited several temples the day before.
It was wonderful to look up from the river at the places we had just visited. Only the day before we had been looking down at the boats as they passed by, just like this monk. Here are a couple of pictures of the temples which were quiet in the late afternoon when we visited.We enjoyed walking between several monasteries on the covered stairways. Here you can see two novices cleaning the path.
Everywhere we went in Sagaing you could see the river, here you can see it between the stupas.
Back on the river we could also see small towns and traditional houses built up to avoid flooding.The hotel had packed a breakfast to go which we were pleased to have aand after a couple of hours on the ferry fried rice or noodles were offered for a small fee. It wasn't anything particularly special but we were hungry and it tasted great!
After a rather long trip we were happy to arrive just as the sun was setting.
Tip: If you want a lot of sun opt for a seat outside on the top deck as soon as you get on the boat, but be aware of the fact that it gets very hot. The seats right by the door get some shade in the later afternoon and if I went again these are the ones I'd opt for. We arrived late and took window seats inside but were happy to be there when it was too sunny outside.