AsiaMyanmarBagan

The express boat to Bagan

Bagan Travel Blog

 › entry 18 of 27 › view all entries
When the sun rises, so does the temperature.

Good thing we called it an early night yesterday, because we have to get up 0500. We have to get ready, because we travel to Bagan today, by boat. Express boat, that is.

The bus was supposed to be at the hotel at six o’clock, but it isn’t. No reason to get nervous instantly but, as the minutes go by, Aart-Jan starts to get slightly on edge. The bus arrives ten minutes late and the busdriver and his helper say that they are very sorry, but that there was a problem with the bus and they had to fix it first.

The ride through the, for the most part, sleeping city to the jetty where the boat is waiting is very short.

The world is waking up on, and on the banks of, the river.
Our luggage is taken on board by six or seven carriers that were waiting for passengers to arrive. Another two men meet us at the gangway to tear off the carbon copies of our tickets, before we board.

It is still rather chilly and it doesn’t take long before almost our entire party is having breakfast (a packed breakfast, containing two slices of toast, two hard-boiled eggs and a banana) inside the semi-closed compartment on deck. The eggs have been boiled a bit too long and the yoke has turned blue, but hey, it’s food and I’m hungry. The captain is cold as well, he’s got a towel wrapped around his head and even closes the doors and windows of the wheelhouse. We don’t mind that at all, because it is directly connected to the cabin where we are sitting, and it takes care of the nasty draft.

After a while I get out of the cabin, onto the deck, where I watch the world waking up.

All of a sudden we are in dense fog, we can hardly see the bridge ahead of us.
The sun slowly climbs the early morning sky, first hiding behind a tree, but soon showing its true face. The life of a tourist in Myanmar is beautiful, hilltops with pagodas on them, riverside villages and tiny boats probably going to a market or something. All of a sudden, as I am talking to a man from Vancouver, Canada, a terrible fog comes up. Trudy comes to me with good and bad tidings. The bad news is that there is no sonar or radar on board (the depth of the water is being monitored by a man with a bamboo stick with stripes on it), and eventually we are forced to stop completely. The good news is that we have caught up with the boat that left Mandalay an hour before we did, because it is also waiting for the fog to lift.

We go to the restaurant on the lower deck and order a pot of coffee for the ridiculous price of $2 and eat some of the chocolate rolls we bought yesterday in the baker’s shop.

During our obligatory stop we visit a village where hardly any tourists ever come.
Everything on the menu in the restaurant is disproportionatly expensive, which stands to reason, because people need food and there’s nowhere else to go to buy it. While eating rolls and drinking coffee, we can “enjoy” the terribly “I’m so happy and in love” modern Burmese pop music, with video clips that are equally horrifically happy, playing on a tv that is placed on two chairs with a DVD player stacked on top of it. Oh yes, as the cherry on the cake, there are Karaoke subtitles for the ones who can’t resist...

It takes about half an hour for the sun to repel the fog, but when it finally clears we can continue our voyage. The landscape is sometimes beautiful, while a few minutes later there might be nothing interresting to look at.

After nine it starts getting warmer and life on the river gets going.

The traditional cheroots aren't only smoked by men...
For the ones on board today is a day of obligatory lounging about. Trudy solves Sudoku puzzles and I kill some time with reading travel guide about Myanmar. Our boat zig-zags across the river in an unpredictable pattern, the reason for this is that we are traveling in the dry season and that the captain and his men are doing their best to avoid the sandbanks.

In spite of our chocolate rolls we eat a hot meal on the lower deck, it is a set menu for which we have to pay $6, another astronomical amount. It is amazing how fast you get used to the laughable low prices in South East Asia, in Holland it is impossible to find much more than a bowl of soup for six dollars. Then again, the portions on board are rather small and the courses are served so quickly that the next one is always waiting before we finish the current one. Conclusion: If this were a normal land-based restaurant, I wouldn’t go here a second time.

Our "express boat" is fixed and we are called on board again.

The trip is a long slow one, once we stop because one of the crew members has to cut away weeds and junk from the propellor to avoid malfunction. Later on the day we even have to anchor because of engine trouble. To me this is a nice intermission, because we can get off the ship for a while and visit a riverside village. The people living here have hardly ever seen tourists, let alone a boatload of them. Hardly any of them speak any English whatsoever, but all of them are very friendly. They show us their methods of working and when we, after an hour or so, go back on board, the entire population accompanies us to the river and waves untill we have completely gone out of sight. And the most unbelievable part of it all: Nobody wanted to sell us anything!

Soon it goes dark and the skipper has to find his way by use of a searchlight.

All the inhabitants of the village accompany us to the river, and nobody is selling anything!!!
Not all sandbanks are avoided, a few times we feel the hull of the vessel scraping over the bottom of the river. Once we come to a very sudden stop, almost throwing people off their feet. Thank God for our skipper, he got our boat afloat within minutes again, but even in those few minutes of being stuck, stories of having to spend the night here on the river (with last morning’s cold fresh in mind) are humming over the vessel.

We disembark in Nyaung U at a quarter to eight in the evening, where a bus is already waiting to take us to New Bagan, which lies 7 kilometres along the road. A welcoming committee awaits us at the Kaday Aung Hotel, all dressed up, serving us drinks. When we have put our belongings in our rooms we head out for dinner in a restaurant that is only a five minute walk away. It isn’t far, but the road we have to go is dark and is almost impossible to come across without a flashlight.

This is one of the ladies welcoming us at the Kaday Aung Hotel in New Bagan.
Dinner is quite all right and it is 10.30 p.m. before we are back in our room. A nice rewarding shower is fantastic after a hot day on the river, and so is a welcoming bed...

glennisnz says:
The impromptu stops and visits, like your visit to the riverside village are some of the best moments of a tour, to see them living naturally, and behaving normally is lovely, they are nearly always freindly even when neither can speak a common language.
But the boat trip generally must of been a bit harrowing, long and tiring and you could of still been stuck in a sand shoal!
Posted on: Nov 15, 2008
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When the sun rises, so does the te…
When the sun rises, so does the t…
The world is waking up on, and on …
The world is waking up on, and on…
All of a sudden we are in dense fo…
All of a sudden we are in dense f…
During our obligatory stop we visi…
During our obligatory stop we vis…
The traditional cheroots arent on…
The traditional cheroots aren't o…
Our express boat is fixed and we…
Our "express boat" is fixed and w…
All the inhabitants of the village…
All the inhabitants of the villag…
This is one of the ladies welcomin…
This is one of the ladies welcomi…
Bagan
photo by: planisphere