Great experience cruising the Irrawaddy River with locals

Travelling around Myanmar with the local transports could be an exciting and unique experience. Without a doubt, if you want to live a real slice of local daily life, after a ride on the “circle line” train in Yangon, you don’t have to miss the “slow boat” from Mandalay to Bagan.

Myanmar, locals on the Slow-Boat along the Irrawaddy River

After waking up at 4.30 am, we go straight to the Mandalay Gawwein jetty to find a booth and buy the ticket for the ‘’ Slow boat’’. This is a twice-weekly boat service (Sunday and Wednesday) on a basic and old fashioned ferry in service from Mandalay to Bagan (and vice-versa).

Myanmar, the bank of the Irrawaddy River

The ride is very long, and it usually takes at least 12- 15 hours; the boat occasionally gets stuck on sandbanks during the dry season, which could cause significant delays. Once onboard, there are a few plastic chairs for the tourists, and the locals are mostly sleeping under a warm blanket waiting for the departure. 

Myanmar, locals on the slow boat along the Irrawaddy River

At 5.30 a.m., we leave the jetty, ready for the long journey cruising the Irrawaddy, the most important river of Myanmar that flows through the entire country from north to south. With its first rays, the sun is pushing away the light mist that wraps the banks giving the river a delicate shade of pink and orange. It’s still cold, and before taking place lying on the floor, we drink hot tea from a small stand on board that serves food as well. 

Myanmar, locals on the slow boat along the Irrawaddy River

Some vendors also sell sticky rice, corn, boiled eggs, fried dough, and bananas for breakfast. During the cruise, the ferry stops at about ten villages where people get off and carry supplies and newly bought items from the city to their riverside villages.

Myanmar, a village along the the Irrawaddy River bank

Many people come up to the boat along the several jetties trying to sell fresh and cooked food, fruit and biscuits. While the time goes by, it’s exciting to observe these locals while talking, eat, rest, and live their long day onboard, waiting to get back to their home. On the river and tied up at the banks, there are barges, cargo boats and small fishing boats, people bathing or kids playing, women spread the laundry or fishers fixing the nets, carts drawn by cows and farmers irrigating the fields.

Myanmar, sunset on the Irrawaddy River

When the sun is almost setting, we finally arrive at Nyaung U jetty, where we can take a taxi and reach our guesthouse in Bagan. It was a very long but great trip, sure an experience that is worth living!

Need to Know

If you want to enjoy a cruise along the river from Mandalay to Bagan (or vice-versa), you can also take the ”fast boat”, sure not as charming as the slow boat, but nice anyway. The ride takes more or less 10 hours, and the ticket costs between 40 USD – 50 USD. Ask your accommodation about where to buy the ticket.

Website: Click here to see the different companies and services offered onboard. The Rv panorama boat also stops almost 1 hour in a village along the bank of Irrawaddy. 

Alternatively, you can find Irrawaddy cruises also through the web platforms Viator and GetYourGuide.

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