The Way to Mandalay is Full of Traffic – One More Reason to Take Cruise

14 Jun 2019 by Admin

When you travel to Myanmar, ten out of ten tour guides here would advise that you’d better not to go to Mandalay on roads. This is because of the fact that the traffic in Mandalay city is always in dreadful conditions. These days, the way to Mandalay city and those inside the city are always congested with bikes, cars, trucks, and people forming endless slow-moving lines. This makes me wonder if people could ever reach their destination in time and how they could live in such traffic condition.

However, for such a long time, the main route to Mandalay used by Burmese people has been the Irrawaddy River (also called Ayeyarwady River). Although the number of visitors heading to Mandalay is increasing swiftly, traveling from Bagan to Mandalay on boats still grants comfortable and memorable experiences.

Bagan Plain is a Mystical Land

Recently, I have paid two visits to Mandalay. The first one was in the spring for a reasonable expense of 30 USD. It was a sail on a ferry which departed in the early morning at 5.30 a.m and arrived at Mandalay in the evening at 7 p.m. During the sail, the sceneries that I encountered were truly picturesque. The lush trees shaded magnificently along the banks of the Irrawaddy River together with the dim figures of boats on the glittering water really made me wish that I was able to draw a picture of such stunning beauties. In the very last few hours, the boat sailed across the hills full of shimmering temples and pagodas, which is the kind of landscape that make passengers want to stop and admire.

The Majestic Appearance of The Irrawaddy River

Possibly, such desire of the visitors was heard by the spirits residing in the Irrawaddy River because on the week in the late December, which happened to be the 150th birthday of Rudyard Kipling (a famous English poet), I went on another trip to Mandalay along the majestic Irrawaddy River. Luckily, I was on the first cruise ever of the Strand Cruise.

The design of the ship was inspired by the Strand Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Asia and also one of the best five-star hotels in Yangon (also known as Rangoon), which was built in 1901 and reopened to welcome guests last November after undergoing restoration and redecoration. The Strand Cruise was built in a shipyard opposite the hotel and near the Botataung Pagoda

This upstream cruise from Bagan to Mandalay has a four-night itinerary which gives you the chance to contemplate various spectacular landscapes with the slow sailing pace of the ship. If you travel downstream on the reverse route from Mandalay, it would just take three nights to reach Bagan. Some people might choose to take a flight to save time, but for me, nothing was comparable to the moments on that leisurely-progressing ship when it ploughed its way through the changing sandbars along the Irrawaddy River.

The Strand Cruise

This is a luxurious cruise indeed, totally different from the previous voyage on the ferry that I took. The cruise ship comprises of 27 suit cabins and provides wonderful services during 24 hours a day. From the moment you step aboard, you will be given comfortable flip-flops and have your shoes cleaned. You have to walk on barefoot a lot when visiting temples so it really not worth wearing expensive footwear. In addition, some expatriate friends living in Yangon told me that you can barely find a place selling shoelaces in this city.

The only common feature between the ferry trip and the cruise was the rule that the used toilet paper should not be thrown directly into the toilet but into a basket placed in the bathroom. Many Western travelers found it gruesome, but this requirement can be encountered in many places across Asia. The cruise was on the same poetic river, but the experience on the Strand Cruise was somewhat different. The speed of the ship is really fast and its weight is also very light. There was the feeling that we could have stopped by any of those alluring shimmering beaches under the sandy slopes if the captain allowed.

The Strand Cruise is One of The Best Myanmar Luxury Cruise Ships With Pool

An atmosphere of happiness and casualness was formed inside the cruise ship. Before the launch of the Strand Cruise, the crew of the ship had spent many years searching for scenic landscape along the Irrawaddy River where their new ship could berth. We spent the first night at the side of a village in Bagan which was near the main road enough for convenient trips visiting the temples but still gave us the sense of local life when we wandered around the village. (Similar to India, Myanmar still has many places where people say no to the acceptance of cyber communication.)

Bagan was once the royal capital of the ancient Mon kingdom. Therefore, to fully contemplate the spectacular view of the city, you should spend at least one day (before or after the cruise) to travel around the city with a bicycle tour, instead of just taking the morning and afternoon excursion according to the itinerary of the cruise. It is recommended that you visit the Sulamani temple whose narrow corridors are decorated with frescoes that depict the life along Irrawaddy River and the navigation upon it.

A Fresco in Sulamani Temple

Each day during the cruise, you can experience something antique, something modern and something indigenous in term of tastes, sights and smells. Nowadays, there is even wireless connection aboard, but back then, my cruise had none and there was almost no television signal. Therefore, at night, I went outside to admire the sky covered in magnificent pink cloud curl as if having been combed by someone.

I was impressed that local people tolerated us when we sidled up to their laundry sites or bathing places. Whenever the ship stopped by a location, the local hawkers would gather and show their postcards and dangling necklaces along their bare arms. At Mingun, there was a line of beautiful sellers who waved their fans emitting the sand-wood.

Mingun is the home to an incomplete massive temple with a huge crack result from an earthquake in 1839. There is also a gigantic bell placed near the pagoda and a white-washed pagoda which is the model of the Mingun Temple. We meandered around the dusty paths on barefoot, but we still felt very pleasant on knowing that the staff was waiting for our return to the comfy cruise ship anchoring nearby.

A Scenic View on U-Bein Bridge

When night fell, a drinking party was held on a sandbank and on the following day, we navigated upstream and downstream, sneaked in and out of the most spectacular corners at the ideal time of the day. Then, we went ashore, tuk-tuks, carriages, and cars were already there waiting for us to call. We had the opportunity to capture various beautiful moments and landscape such as morning on the U-Bein Bridge, the Sagaing monasteries glitter in the afternoon, the forgotten capital of Innwa at twilight and a skein of geese flying overhead.

Nowadays, many tourists visiting Myanmar choose to explore this beautiful country by waterway, especially along the Irrawaddy River and Chindwin River. Upon booking a cabin on Burma River Cruises, you are guaranteed with amenities and extraordinary experiences.

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