5 Reasons You Must Take the Scenic Bagan to Mandalay Boat Cruise
Updated on March 19th, 2020
The majority of the top tourist hot spots in Myanmar are spread out over the country. As a budget to mid-range traveller, it’s likely you’ll be saving some dough by taking quite a few long bus trips. Which is why when the opportunity to take the Bagan to Mandalay boat trip came up I jumped at it, looking forward to adding some variety to my travels and get on the water.
Cruising with RV Nmai Hka was such an incredible and convenient way to travel between the two cities without being couped up in another bus. If you’re looking for a way to see more of the local Myanmar countryside in a relaxing and easy way, I can definitely recommend a cruise along the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River with RV Nmai Hka. Another great way to see the Myanmar country is to hike between Kalaw and Inle Lake.
I love being on the water, whether that’s a product of my raising spending almost every day down the beach or the fact that I miss working on superyachts, all I know is that being on a boat is a perfect day spent.
Here are my top reasons to take take the Bagan to Mandalay river cruise with RV Nmai Hka!
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1. Experience the magic of the Ayeyarwady River
The Ayeyarwady River is historic in itself. Songs, books and movies about colonial Myanmar all feature this river. The Ayeyarwady is the country’s longest river stretching over 2,000km long and flows from north to south within Myanmar. It has been an important commercial waterway since the 6th century and many of the country’s export goods travel along it today.
The banks of the river are home to ethnic groups who use the river for their livelihoods. Between Bagan and Mandalay, you will have the opportunity to observe their unique way of living. Something I found incredible were the structures that had been built on the exposed sand flats during the dry season. These must come down once a year or would float away due to rising water level soon after April.
During the dry season, the river stretches wide between 400 and 800m across. Some areas you cruise through you’ll be amazed at how far away each bank looks and yet the average depth is only 9m. You may be lucky enough and spot a river dolphin and everyone will witness a beautiful sunrise and sunset over the still calming waters.
2. Enjoy a relaxing day and time to yourself
Cruising with RV Nmai Hka was such a relaxing day. Exactly what was needed halfway through my trip. The day started before dawn and me and the other passengers enjoyed the warmth of the interior cabin. Shortly before the sun came up, one of our hosts came down to tell us what time sunrise would be.
We made our way to the upper deck and stayed warm with provided tea, coffee and blankets. I had been prepared for cold temperatures after the sunrises in Bagan and had rugged up. Although having the extra blanket was a godsend for my chilly ears and neck.
The boat had 3 main areas that we were free to move about throughout the day. Downstairs was the interior seating area fitted with AC for those hot summer days. Upstairs was split into two, the open but shaded dining area and exposed deck fitted with reclining loungers.
The journey took us over 13 hours, departing after 5 am and arriving in Mandalay at around 6:30 pm. While this might sound like a long time, it went really quickly watching the passing villages and water go by. If you’re a boat person, you will know exactly what I mean.
- 5:15 am departure. The official time is 5:30 am but we had all of our guests onboard early.
- 6:30 am sunrise, tea and coffee
- 7:30 am breakfast
- 8:30 – 10:30 am nap time on the sun loungers in the warm morning sun
- 10:30 am – 12:30 pm as the sun warmed up I went under the cover on the deck to read my book and watch the passing villagers and boats.
- 12:30 pm lunch.and dessert
- 1:00 – 3:30 more relaxing, reading, writing and alternating between time in the sun and in the shade
- 3:30 pm afternoon tea
- 3:30 – 5:30 pm more ‘me’ time
- 5:30 – 6:30 pm watch the sunset and arrival into Mandalay
Fittingly, I was reading Burmese Days by George Orwell during the cruise. This is a great ficticious look at life in Burma during the British colonisation.
3. Lovely, attentive staff
The RV Nmai Hka staff really went above and beyond to ensure we were comfortable and had a smooth journey. There are so many companies out there which run the river cruises I know travellers have a hard time deciding which one. Throughout the day, the staff were always checking in on us.
If someone was downstairs in the interior seating areas and we were going past something of interest they would always run down to make sure we didn’t miss it.
In the morning when we were all cold, they brought out the blankets for us. They were even happy to have a chat with us about the people who live along the river. I spoke to one of the staff members about her work and life living in Myanmar.
4. Delicious local meals
Throughout the day we were given so much food we all felt like bursting. The lightest meal of the day was breakfast which consisted of toast, jams, boiled eggs and fruit. This was exactly what we all felt like after an early start to the day. My taxi picked me up at 4:30 am to take me to the dock.
Not only was there so much food, but it was delicious and lunch was typical Myanmar style. Between 2 we shared a plate of mixed vegetables and another of fried noodles. We each had a giant mound of fried rice and were asked earlier in the day about our preference for protein. I chose the veggie option and was given a fried egg. The girl I shared with had chicken and veggie stirfry.
When we thought we could eat no more they brought out dessert of nuts, fruit, chips and a local cocktail. The cocktail was actually delicious and made from local rum, honey and lemon.
We also happened to be lucky this day as one of the other passengers was celebrating a birthday and slices of the cake were passed around.
5. It’s budget-friendly
River cruising around the world isn’t known for being one of the cheapest ways to travel. Even along the Ayeyarwady you will pass luxury overnight riverboats heading up and downstream. If you want to get a feel for this type of travel without the price tag then a day trip with RV Nmai Hka is just what you need.
In the direction of Bagan to Mandalay, tickets are $32 USD and Mandalay to Bagan $42 inclusive of all meals and a 45-minute sightseeing stop at Yandabo when heading to Bagan. Yandabo is the site where the British and Burmese signed the peace treaty after the Burma-Anglo war.
When compared to the cost of a bus ticket between the two cities ($6), you are getting not just transport, but a full day’s worth of activity (or perfect relaxation), breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and an insight into the local lifestyle along the Ayeyarwady River, I say it’s a bargain.
Some quick river trip FAQs
Will you get seasick?
Nope. The river is totally flat and while there is a current heading into it doesn’t cause any motion on the boat. In case you are worried about getting sick, you could always take some motion sickness tablets and wear sea bands. When I worked as the medic on superyachts I always instructed doses of anything ginger. Ginger tea and hard ginger lollies are a great natural preventative for nausea.
Much of the riverbank is inaccessible to roads and foreign travellers. Seeing local life on the water is an experience you won’t get anywhere else in the country or if you took the boat. Unfortunately, as the river is so wide, it was hard to capture many of the scenes on my camera. Although the perfect excuse for you to take the cruise and witness this for yourself.
As is common in Myanmar, you will see lots of Pagodas along the journey. I enjoyed seeing how large the sandy cliffs were and watching them come crashing down into the water.
Age of passengers
For some strange reason, we only had 5 passengers the day of our cruise. We were told the following day would be 60. So it’s hard to say what the average age of a normal trip would be. On my trip, I made friends with an Italian lady of around the same age. The other group of 3 included a lady in her 20’s or 30’s, her dad and his mother.
Even though we only had a few passengers, we still had a varying range of ages and I’m sure you will meet someone your age on board if you are looking to make friends.
Why you should travel from Bagan to Mandalay by boat
A river journey with RV N’MAI HKA between Bagan and Mandalay is the perfect cultural experience for your trip to Myanmar. No matter what your age or travel budget this cruise will suit anyone. By the end of the trip, you will walk off feeling relaxed having seen a unique historic part of Myanmar that many people will miss
Where to stay either end of the journey
Where to stay in Bagan
I stayed at the Baobabed Hostel in between Old Bagan and Nyaung U. The rooms were large and clean and each bed had it’s own curtain, light and wall charger. I would definitely stay at this hostel again. The roof had a pool and downstairs was a cafe that served really great coffee. Across the road, you can hire e-bikes and breakfast is included. Check prices on Booking.com.
Budget – Mid-range
The Bagan Thande Hotel in Old Bagan is situated right on the river. There is an outdoor pool and beautiful green landscaping. The hotel is a perfect place to watch the sunset over the river and close to the ancient temples during the day. Great reviews on Booking and a big garden and outdoor dining area. Check prices on Booking.com.
Where to stay in Mandalay
The Ostello Bello is the most popular hostel in Mandalay. It’s in a central location and has a tour office downstairs for booking day trips to the nearby villages and to Dee Dote Waterfall. I didn’t stay here, but I did use their tour service as a way to visit the waterfall without paying for a guide. There is a rooftop bar with regular events. Check prices on Booking.com.
Budget – Mid-range
I stayed at the Ned Kelly Hotel & Irish Pub. I chose this hotel as private rooms were really cheap and I had a few online English classes booked in. The rooms were really clean but very tight. Although it was to be expected as I paid the same for my private room in Mandalay as I paid for the hostel in Bagan. There was a lovely open-air rooftop bar and the showers had awesome water pressure and hot water. The Ostello Bello hostel is less than a block away, so it’s easy to use their tour services. Check prices on Booking.com.
I also stayed at the Aung Myint Mo Hotel which is a short walk from the bus station, close to U Bein Bridge and nearer to the airport than downtown. After hiking between Kalaw and Inle Lake, I came back to Mandalay before my flight back to Australia. I treated myself to a room in the hotel for my last night with a big comfy bed and rain shower. The hotel is nothing special, but it’s a good location near the bus station. Check prices on Booking.com.
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This trip is in partnership with RV N’MAI HKA. Curiously Erin maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.