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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.