Two millennia after its waters nourished Burma’s first planned cities, the Ayeyarwady continues to serve as an essential artery for the millions who live and work in the settlements clustered along its banks. For visitors, the fleet of ferries and cruisers that ply the river offer a unique per spective on the country. Whether in the luxury of a teak-lined, five-star vessel, roughing it third class on a govern ment double-decker to distant Bhamo, or chugging gently upstream from Mandalay to Mingun, journeying on the silty blue-brown waterway is among the defining travel experiences of the country.
Taking their cue from the old Irrawaddy Flotilla Company steamers, luxury cruisers sail the more scenic and interesting stretches of the river. Excursions on dry land punctuate the longer cruises, taking in lesser-known locations as well as highlights such as Bagan. Bullock carts are some- times used to transfer passengers to the shore.
Other Modes of Travel
Government ferries provide a quintessentially Burmese way to explore the river for the cost- conscious long-distance traveler. Numerous day trips are also offered from major tourist centers.
Traveling the Upper Ayeyarwady
The stretch of the river between Bhamo and Mandalay – the Upper Ayeyarwady – is the home of the iconic, green-and-white Inland Water Transport “slow boat.” The journey, which includes stops at Shwegu, Katha, and Kyaukmyaung, can last from 24 hours to three nights, depending on the direction of travel. Long waits while crews lever the boats off sandbanks are frequent in April, when water levels are low and the ferries most overloaded.