Mandalay to Bagan on the Irrawaddy River: 16 hrs on the slow boat ferry

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.

The ticket counter for the ferry, Mandalay
The ticket counter for the ferry, Mandalay

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.

The locals on the Ferry from Mandalay to Bagan
The locals on the Ferry from Mandalay to Bagan

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 tea shop on board the ferry
The tea shop on board the ferry
The Ferry departs mandalay

The boats horn blew and we slowly drifted off.  The sun rose as we made our way past Mandalay.

Lena watched the sun rise outside of Mandalay
Lena watches the sun rise outside of 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.

Stupas Outside of Mandalay
Stupas Outside of Mandalay

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.

Villagers wait to Board the Ferry
Villagers waiting to Board the Ferry and sell us food!

 

Villagers load up at a Ferry Stop
Villagers load up at a Ferry Stop

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.

Villagers at a Ferry stop, in between Mandalay and Bagan
In between Mandalay and Bagan
Villagers at a Ferry stop
Villagers at a ferry stop, in between Mandalay and Bagan

We read and slept a little.  We quietly observed the locals and watched the country drift by.

Old houses outside of Mandalay
Old houses outside of Mandalay

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.

The bathroom on the Ferry
The bathroom on the Ferry

Passengers would get off and on and at the end there were more tourists then locals on board.

Boats anchored at a Ferry Stop
Boats anchored at a Ferry Stop
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.

The Great Unstucking
The Great Unstucking

Finally we seemed to move.  Everyone cheered as the boat inched backward. The sun was setting and we were moving again.

Sunset with Black Smoke
Sunset with Black Smoke
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.

Summary
Mandalay to Bagan on the Irrawaddy River: 16 hrs on the slow boat ferry
Article Name
Mandalay to Bagan on the Irrawaddy River: 16 hrs on the slow boat ferry
Description
Observing life and culture of Myanmar (Burma) in South East Asia during a 2017 backpacking trip. Drifting down the Irrwaddy River from Mandalay to Bagan.
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