There are a lot of ways to get from Mandalay to Bagan. Bus, trains, boats. Our hotel (the Emperor Hotel) encouraged us to take one of the fast(er), more expensive tourists boats. We pushed them for info on the public ferry and after a short phone call, they confirmed that it was indeed leaving the next morning and the price was 18,000 kyat each.
Early Morning wakeup
We woke at 3:20am to catch the taxi to the ferry. The taxi, arranged by our hotel was 8,000 kyat, expensive as it was so early in the morning. Our driver was nice and walked us down to show us where to buy tickets.
After buying the tickets we boarded and found a seat on one of the plastic chairs for tourists. We surveyed the scene: 8 other tourists seated on both sides of the boat on plastic chairs. The locals were mostly sleeping under layers of blankets or talking quietly, waiting for the ferry to depart.
I immediately found the tea stand on board and bought some tea. Ladies balancing baskets of food on their heads boarded and we bought some sticky rice and fried dough for breakfast. We were soon feeling pretty comfortable.
The Ferry departs mandalay
The boats horn blew and we slowly drifted off. The sun rose as we made our way past Mandalay.
The stupas glowed on the hillside with the first light of the day. The tourist cameras clicked and the locals began to wake up.
A lot of tea was drank by the two of us. We also bought some more snacks sold by vendors who would board when the boat stopped.
The ferry stopped at about a dozen villages on the journey to Bagan. At each stop we would watch the commotion as people boarded and un-boarded, carrying supplies and newly bought items from the city to their little riverside villages.
We read and slept a little. We quietly observed the locals and watched the country drift by.
A small room in the front of the boat was empty and had a couple of platforms to lie down. The upstairs (secret) bathroom was also in this room.
Passengers would get off and on and at the end there were more tourists then locals on board.
Low water problems
Only 3 hours outside of Bagan, our boat got stuck in a shallow spot on the river. For over an hour we watched as they tried to maneuver the ferry out. A smaller boat came and was used to push against the side while we put it in reverse at full throttle.
They would use a long stick to poke at the water to see how deep each side was. I began to imagine having to sleep on the deck that night and I’ve heard that it happens. A few of the French tourists bought beers and followed their example. So we drank beer while we watched them try to get us out. Big clouds of exhaust would engulf the poor guy on the small boat.
Finally we seemed to move. Everyone cheered as the boat inched backward. The sun was setting and we were moving again.
Arriving in Bagan
I soon fell asleep in the front room. When I awoke we were in Bagan. The journey took us 15 or 16 hours. We saw the sun rise and set from the deck. We had drank over 10 cups of tea each. It was a great trip but we were definitely ready to get to dry land.
A group of taxi drivers met us. We thought we could walk but ended up paying 5,000 for the two of us, which was worth it as it was farther to our hotel then it looked on the map. They stopped at the tourist ticket building on the way and we paid the required $25.00 ticket fee to enter Bagan.
A late dinner. A shower. Tomorrow we would begin to explore the ruins that Bagan is famous for.