The Irrawaddy River cuts a graceful path through the middle of Myanmar, going all the way from the northernmost reaches of the country down to the Gulf of Bengal in the south. Many of Myanmar’s people rely on this peaceful river is one way or another, and as such, floating down it provides a great window into the life of its people. When looking at our options for getting from Mandalay to Bagan, taking one of the daily ferries stood out as the best one.
There are actually three different options to get down the river, as we learned on the excellent Seat61 website. We chose the Makheila Ferry ($40/person) as it was the cheaper of the two ferry options that would get us to Bagan in one day (the local ferry is much cheaper, but takes two days to travel the 200km down the river).
For those not interested in taking the ferry, it’s also possible to take a train (although amazingly it will take longer), a minibus/taxi, or even fly. We also found out that if you are in decent shape it’s actually faster to cycle the entire distance between Mandalay and Bagan than it was to take the ferry (this we learned from a French guy who brought his mountain bike to travel around with).
You can buy tickets for the ferry from pretty much any hotel and travel agency in Mandalay, and usually only the day before. You will receive an assigned seat on the ferry’s indoor space with comfortable reclining chairs, although you will likely spend a lot of time on the top deck enjoying the view and chatting with the other passengers. You arrive around 6:30am and at about 7am the ferry pulls out into the river and starts it slow journey. It finally arrives in Bagan around dusk or just after, at about 6pm.
If you are a vegetarian (or anyone used to eating good food), we recommend that you bring some snacks you enjoy for the day, especially for breakfast. We were able to order a halfway decent meal of vegetables and noodles for lunch.
When you get off the ferry, you will be accosted by about 30 taxi drivers all wanting to take you to your hotel for an exorbitant price (7000 kyat or $7 for the 5 minute ride to our hotel). The horse cart drivers will charge “only” 4000 kyat, but take much longer and are not very comfortable, although they are a very local experience which we only needed to do once.
You can also expect to stop along the way at the tourist tax booth to pay your $15 tax for enjoying the Bagan area. This tax was recently raised from $10, so I were surprised and annoyed. Interestingly enough, we later found out that only a few of the temples actually require the pass they give you to enter, and the French bicycle rider we met was never asked to buy a pass, so if inclined you could also avoid this fee.
In case you missed it, here’s what we did while in Mandalay. Our next couple posts will be about our experiences in Bagan!