The Irrawaddy river is widely use to carry cargo and passengers, specially from Yangon to Mandalay, but the gorges that surround the river near Banmaw, 300 Kilometers north of Mandalay, renowned for their beauty are less well known. In the rainy season when the water level is high, river cruises are offered to sail on the Irrawaddy and discover much more rugged landscapes than in between Mandalay and Bagan to access to the famous gorges of the Irrawaddy.
For a much more modest budget than a luxurious and comfortable cruise, it is also possible to sail down the Irrawaddy with a local river ferry boat operated by the “In Land Waters Department” named Pyay Kyi Dagon;
The ship offers very simple cabins and a basic service, but nevertheless allows you time for a cruise two days / one night to contemplate the Irrawaddy beautiful scenery!
Banmaw is not accessible by road to foreigners and the easiest way is to fly from Mandalay for a short flight of about 45 minutes; Banmaw (or Bhamo) is the largest city of Kachin State and time one after; it is possible to walk on foot to discover the charms of this small provincial town with its abundant local fruit and vegetable market and its beautiful colonial wooden houses.
The only recommendable hotel is Friendship hotel , simple but clean; before boarding the local ferry , it is advisable to ask the hotel to prepare for picnic meals on the boat, in total the lunch and dinner on day 1 and lunch on day 2 as the kitchen/restaurant from the boat is to be avoided; it is essential to have enough bottles of drinking water and other recommended accessories like a small kettle , convenient to prepare coffee or instant noodles, torch lights, sunscreen , hat, sunglasses, small padlock to lock the cabin, binoculars…
You are then ready to enjoy for 2 days the splendid scenery that awaits you, and observe local life which runs along the banks of the river, and the animation that the boat creates at each stop along the way in small provincial towns it serves.
This trip is a real immersion in the traditional Burma life , far from the traditional tourist sites, and this cruise will certainly give you joy to sympathize with local passengers; besides you will access to sumptuous landscape along the Irrawaddy punctuated only by the ship’s siren . And maybe you will even see a group of dolphins that inhabit the Irrawaddy between Mingun and Kyawk Myaung ;
The Pyay The Gyi Dagon ship makes three departures per week , Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning from 7am Bhamo for an arrival around 16:00 the next day in Mandalay , it does not require special permission to travel to Bhamo , or even be accompanied by a guide, but only 5 miles around Bhamo are accessible to foreigners.