On the River Ayeryawaddy: Mandalay to Bagan

I arrive at around 6:15 at the Gwwein Jetty where the MGRG Express is docked. It is cold and and daylight is just breaking. I hand-over my ticket to a guy standing outside the shipping company office and I make my way down the sandy dock and to the ferry. I choose a seat by the open deck, a decision I would regret later on. The reclined chairs made out of bamboo have the width of an economy plane seat but is surprisingly comfortable. As the day breaks, more passengers arrive. A few minutes past 7, we cast-off.

I open my boxed breakfast from the hotel and eat the banana and a boiled egg. The margarine sandwich I leave half-eaten. The breakfast given us is a little better-a small croissant, an even smaller pastry, and a banana. There is coffee but I decline. I don’t need caffeine on this trip.

The boat goes on an even pace. The Ayeryawaddy has none of the mightiness of the Mekong. It’s the dry season so the water is quite shallow.

I settle and doze off to the chatter of a young lady bragging to someone how beautiful Africa is and how she spent 3k to volunteer somewhere. There are always people like this— braggarts.

I wake-up to the sun shining on my face. The other passengers, mostly European, have already taken their spots at the sun deck. Sunscreens are lathered and everyone starts roasting. Me? I grin and bear it. I open my tablet and start working on my paper on Vietnamese popular music. Quite hard to write on a reclined seat but I manage.

Lunch is announced a little past 12. We line-up at the buffet table for fried rice, fried noodles, and vegetables. Good enough to quiet the tummy. Dessert is my can of Pringles. There’s enough food for everyone and a few people including myself line-up for seconds. Bottled water is freely available. Beer and cola is for sale.

I spend the rest of the trip at the covered deck writing my paper.

We dock at 5pm. A few of us by the window watch anxiously as wooden planks are set-up and fall short of the shore. The water is murky so wading is out of the question. Another plank magically appears. It’s set on top of the other and it reaches the shore. “Merci,” a French guy says.

Porters come on board and the older passengers with stroller luggages use their services.

One by one, we make our way across the plank. A long bamboo pole held aloft serves as a hand rail. I clamber my way up the sandy banks to a tout who offers a taxi to the center for 10,000 kyat. I take it and make my way to my guesthouse.

I really enjoyed the boat trip. It’s very relaxing and sure beats sleeping on a night bus. Yeah, you do miss a day that could have been spent sightseeing but boat trips are sightseeing trips in themselves. Besides, you can take a bus anywhere and anytime.

Book via your hotel. The extra USD2 charged by the hotel is still cheaper than the transpo expense you would incurr if you were to go to the boat office to buy them yourself.

Unless you wanna sun bathe, get a seat at the covered deck.

Bring extra snacks.

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