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Irrawaddy River


Burma photo.

July, 2004

Burma photo.
1. The intrepid tourists
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Burma photo.
2. The gangplank
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Burma photo.
3. Waiting for the ferry
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Burma photo.
4. Waving to the tourists
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The express ferry takes 9 hours to travel down the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay to Bagan, the archaeological site that is the premier tourist destination in Myanmar. To take advantage of the current, the boat travels mainly in the center of the river and passengers can't see much of the shore. The upriver trip takes 12 hours, and the boat stays close to the banks as much as possible to avoid the opposing current. Most tourists take the downriver ferry to Bagan — none make the return trip upriver. We took the ferry both ways (see photo #1, at left), and found the return trip to be truly wonderful. We were the only passengers on the boat. The ferry often traveled within 10 meters of the banks, giving us a great opportunity to see the villages along the river. We talked with the ferry boat crew and waved to the villagers. We had a grand time.

Getting on and off the ferry meant walking the gangplank (photo #2), although there were floating docks in some places (photo #3). For the downriver trip, there were about 15 foreign tourists and a handful of locals on the boat. We met some interesting people: Americans, Australians, Japanese, and German. The seats were comfortable, there was ample covered deck space for watching the world slip by, and the food in the galley was surprisingly good. During the upriver trip, the galley was not stocked for tourists and we ate spicy noodle soup with the crew. It too was very good.

The ferry boats are about 10 years old, and in fairly good condition. The upriver boat hugs one bank or the other, depending on the curve of the river (the current flows toward the outside of a curve). There were navigation markers along the banks to signal the pilot to change to the other side. The river had other traffic, mostly other ferry boats and barges loaded with teak logs. The operation of our ferry was pretty typical of similar boats anywhere. Here is a crewmember throwing a dock line ashore.

By far the most interesting part of our trip was seeing the rural villages along the way. Most were just a few houses clustered together along the river bank. In many cases, people came out to wave to us (photo #4). We asked the boat crew if Burmese passengers on the boat ever waved back. No, only the tourists. As we were the only passengers that day, we had to do all the waving, and were pretty tired by the time we returned to Mandalay.

We had a difficult time deciding which photos of the river communities to show you. Here are some pictures that we particularly enjoy (there are more in the Photo Gallery):

For us, our journey up the Irriwaddy River was one of the high points of our trip to Myanmar. The best, however, was yet to come.

 

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Jim and Jamie Richter, http://gotouring.com/razzledazzle/
Website designed and created by Lois Richter, expanded by Jim.
Created 7/2004. All text & photos are © 2004 Jim Richter.