Traveling in the off season means that there are fewer options for taking the traditional “Road to Mandalay” . That’s what the Ayerwaddy River from Bagan to Mandalay was called. First of all the companies that say they have daily sailings don’t actually mean that they have daily sailings from Mandalay.
They mean that one day they sail from Mandalay and the next day they sail from Bagan.
We’re here in Myanmar in September. The “season” doesn’t start for a good three weeks, therefore, our options depended on when we wanted to take the boat.
Ayerwaddy River Government Boat
1. the Government run boat (schedule – http://www.iwt.gov.mm/en/Trips%26SailingProgramOfAyeyarwadyDivision) runs on Wednesday and Sundays. It sets off at 05:30 and arrives (by their estimate) at 20:30 into Bagan. Cost US$15. **July 2016 check locally, site appears to be down
Ayerwaddy River – Malikha River Cruises
2. Malikha River Cruises runs a published timetable – most hotels will have this – and it will change. You can book with your hotel or “online”. Hotel booking rates for the cruise are US$45, if you book directly its US$42. This includes breakfast and lunch.
When we traveled there was very little online booking available for buses, trains, and ferries in Myanmar and South East Asia – the folks at Easybook have now remedied that – check timetables and book tickets online now – it’s WAY easier!
Booking directly means sending them an email and then they’ll send someone to your hotel. You can also go to their offices. The boat leaves at 07:00, and arrives at 16:00
Ayerwaddy River – MGRG Express
3. MGRG Express (also known as Pioneer Cruises), US$42 either directly or with your hotel. The ticket includes breakfast, lunch, water and coffee. The boat leaves at 07:00, check in is at 06:30 and the boat arrives 17:00 ish.
We opted for the third – MGRG Express – and booked with our hotel, the 79 Living Hotel. We took a taxi from the hotel at 5,000 Kyat (chat) US$3.91, GBP2.60.
And a fortuitous choice it was too. The Malhika might have pulled out 15 minutes before us, but there were many more people on the boat. Seats on the MGRG looked much more comfortable too.
Here on the MGRC there were five of us for the first couple of hours, and then another four joined us.
Setting off was easy.
So we had these fabulous reclining bamboo chairs and a huge downstairs area to ourselves.
There were more staff than passengers for the first couple of hours.
So moving around to avoid the sun was easy and we all chair hopped, snoozed and drifted away as we motored downstream for 10 hours to Bagan.
Facilities on the MGRG Express on the Ayerwaddy River
The boat has two incredibly clean western toilets, with hand wash and paper hand towels (bliss). There’s a lower deck with Recarro style seats and the “dining room”, where we eat lunch. There are more undercover Recarro seats on the top deck, as well as reclining bamboo seats under cover. The rear top deck lets you sit as king of the castle. All in all, a far better experience and much more luxurious than our Yangtze River cruise on a Chinese boat.
Catering on the MGRG Express
Drinks including beer can be bought, but coffee is free.
Breakfast is supplied in a box and endless good coffee pretty much as soon as leave.
Sightseeing on the Ayerwaddy River Boat
Pretty quickly we get to the only bit of the river that is particularly interesting comes into view – and that is Sagaing.
20 km to the east of Mandalay, Sagaing is a religious centre of Myanmar., another of it’s ancient capitals.
After Sagaing we pass under the bridges and follow the twists and bends of the river, seeing local families fishing, washing and making their lives.
We collect our additional passengers, a Spanish group of four from the far bank a short time after Sagaing, beach a couple of times while trying to get back into the river and settle down to the journey.
Well the original five settle down, the Spanish rattle on loudly and incessantly until several Paddington Bear ” shut up” stares prevail and all is quiet again.
Lunch on the MGRG Express
Lunch orders are taken – fried rice or fried noodles – and an hour later we’re all sat down below eating the pretty good (but cold) veggie fare.
And then it’s several more hours – we pass the Malhika boat and hit a head wind as Bagan comes into view.
Arriving into Bagan
At 5pm, jockeying with two large log filled ships, we’re heading to the shore.
And that’s all there is. Shore.
Bagan is Myanmar’s biggest tourist draw.
Somehow I’d expected a jetty. But all there is is a muddy beach. We nose in and consider that we might be wading ashore, but a couple of long planks of wood appear and we’re here.
And of course, so are the taxi drivers. No one else is going where we are – we’re staying in Nyaung U – the cheap backpacker area of Bagan (other options are Old Bagan or New Bagan).
It’s about 2.5km to where we have a booking at the Shwe Nadi Guesthouse, but even at 5pm, its stinking hot and humid. We pay 4,000 kyat for a few minutes of blissful aircon to get there with the taxi guy who’s obviously been assigned too us on the beach.
Bagan Tourist Ticket Fee
We’ve barely driven 100 meters before we have to get out and buy the foreigner tourist ticket. Its US$20, 20 Euros or 27,000 kyat. We pay in kyat, we’ll be exploring Bagan by bike over the next couple of days.
Our ticket will be checked twice in our time here, but there seems little way of avoiding paying it, I’m pretty sure the country needs the 20 bucks more than I do.
It’s been a lazy day on the river, expensive but so luxurious with our small complement of passengers. We could, of course, if we’d have traveled yesterday, have taken the government run boat for US$15 and taken our chances that we’d find a seat (plastic chairs are an optional extra) and that we’d still be sane after a 5am start and a projected arrival of 830pm.
Better this way I think.