Malika River Cruise from Bagan to Mandalay
There are several options for travel between Bagan and Mandalay. Travelers can take a short flight, trains and good quality busses but we thought traveling by boat down the Irrawaddy (also spelled as Arrawaddy) River would be a great opportunity to experience a different view of the countryside. The Irrawaddy is the longest river in Myanmar and was the first and still one of the most important commercial transport systems in the country.
When we first explored this option we were initially told the Malika did not operate during rainy season so even though we were traveling at the very beginning of the season before any significant rains would fall, we needed to pick another option but in checking again, our travel agent in Yangon was able to book us on the trip in late July 2013.
Before our trip we had read different descriptions of the day long trip including one that suggested the journey would take 10 hours including a 1-hour stop at a traditional riverside pottery village along the way. Other people on our boat had been told it was an 8-hour trip but the day we took it, our non-stop boat ride began departed from the Nyaung-U Jetty (near Bagan) at 6:30 am and landed at the Strand Jetty in Mandalay a full 11-hours later at 5:30 pm. Our understanding is that the return trip (traveling with the river flow) is a couple hours quicker.
The boarding time of 5:30 am meant that we were traveling through the nearly empty streets of Bagan before sunup and it was interesting to seeing the early morning activities of restaurants just opening and monks gathering before making their daily early morning walk collecting alms.
Transfer from the shore to the Malika was a little sketchy. We first had to get into a small less than steady boat for transfer a few hundred feet to the actually ferry we would be traveling on. We paid porters $1 USD to deal with our luggage and they seemed quite pleased with the tip. Once on the Malika, our luggage was stored on the bottom level and the passengers headed up to the top deck.
The upper deck included a large sun deck with reasonably comfortable rattan chairs and plenty of room to move around and also a smaller air conditioned space with seating similar to economy class on domestic airplanes. The lower deck had a larger sitting area and toilets.
Part of the outdoor space was a bar with coffee, water, soft drinks and reasonably cold beer. For lunch we were given a choice of either a noodle dish that was similar to Pad Thai or fried rice. If taking this trip, you would be smart to bring along breakfast and/or snacks for the long day.
As we departed the Bagan area, we could see pagodas and temples near the shore and on the hill tops overlooking the river. Once into the journey, we passed by the occasional structures and villages but for the most part, it was a smooth languid journey through farm land and forests. Another older ferry departed the Nyaung-U Jetty at just about the same time that we did and we saw this ship for the first part of the trip until it started making stops at local villages.
At different points in the trip we saw large floats of timber, which we assumed was teak, shipping barges pulled by tug boats,small fishing boats and oxen grazing along the shore.
As we approached Mandalay, the frequency and grandeur of the pagodas and temples on the shore began to increase dramatically. By the time we passed under the Irrawaddy Bridge and the nearby Ava Bridge in Sagaing, we could tell that we were entering the city. As we passed the incredible temples of Amarapura, we knew our long day on the river was close to an end.
The Malika docked at the Mandalay Jetty located between 35th street & 26th street on Strand Road. We tied onto another boat and walked across it to reach a gang plank to the shore and then up the hill to the street. We had arranged to be picked up by our hotel but there were taxis and motor scooter transport available for hire.