I have visited Myanmar a couple of times and Myanmar became at least half-a-century more modern during the six years between my first and second visits (the latest visit was 2016), particularly when it comes to transport.
This was mostly a good thing, since I didn’t have a long time to spare on my second trip, but I craved slower travel for certain experiences. Namely, a slow boat down the Irrawaddy River between the city of Mandalay and Bagan, which is famous for its 2,000 temples.
What Sort of Scenery Do You See When Taking the Mandalay-Bagan River Boat?
Although there are many dramatic temples and Buddha statues during the first hour or so after you depart Mandalay and head down the Irrawaddy River, most of the journey to Bagan is definitely by rural, bucolic scenery, with more people riding bikes—or animals—than any notable architecture. Below, I’ve posted a collection of photos that gives you an idea of what to expect.
How Long Does a Boat Between Mandalay and Bagan Take?
The boat to Bagan departs Mandalay just after sunrise (my ticket had 7:00 on it, but my boat left a little late) and arrives just before sunset, which ends up being a journey of 8-10 hours, depending on the amount of current in the Irrawaddy River. Refreshments are available for purchase on-board while a fresh-cooked lunch is included in the price of your ticket.
How to Book the Mandalay-Bagan River Boat
The Mandalay-Bagan river boat only cost around $50 but note that boats do not depart during the month of March, which means that if you plan to travel from Mandalay to Bagan at the time, you will need to go by bus or plane (the nearest airport to Bagan is Nyuang-U).
If you happen to travel during the winter months, keep in mind that while Myanmar is part of tropical Southeast Asia, it can get quite cold during the morning hours. Plan on wearing a jacket on your way to the departure pier, or having one easily accessible on-board.
The Bottom Line
In spite of how quickly—and for the better—Myanmar’s infrastructure is developing, a slow boat ride down the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay to Bagan is a delightful throwback to days gone by. Unless your itinerary is extremely rushed, this is an essential part of any trip to Myanmar.