Myanmar’s waterways are as integral to the country’s character and soul as its golden pagodas and multitude of ethnic groupings. There are over 5000 miles of navigable river in the nation, and boat travel has traditionally been one of the main ways of getting around. These days, with domestic airlines and improvements in infrastructure making travel within the country a lot easier, the country’s huge fleet of riverboats do less of a trade than in the past.
However, those with plenty of time on their hands will find that taking the watery route remains the most evocative way to appreciate the languid rhythms of Burmese life. While government ferries can be ramshackle, a number of private companies operate more luxurious itineraries on new vessels or upgraded relics from the British colonial era ranging from a day or two to over a week.
The most important river in the country is the Irrawaddy, which is navigable all the way from its delta to the town of Bhamo in Kachin State during the dry season and even further in the wet season. The most popular Irrawaddy cruises take in the sights at Mandalay and Bagan while longer itineraries explore less charted, but stunning, stretches of the river further upcountry. Slightly shorter in length, but also central to Myanmar culture is the Chindwin River. If anything, cruises on the Chindwin are most picturesque than on the Irrawaddy. The Chindwin Valley, in particular, is a beautiful spot with deep jungle and lofty mountains surrounding lazy, time warped towns and villages.
Other important rivers include the Twante Chaung, which links the Irrawaddy with Yangon, and the Thanlwin River in the east, which offers one of the country’s most scenic journeys as it runs from Mawlamyine to Hpa-an.
River cruising in Myanmar is the stress-free way to take in many of the country’s spectacular sights and sounds at a leisurely pace. With the multitude of options available there is something that will appeal to everyone. Whether you opt for a shorter trip between Bagan and Mandalay, or a longer program spanning multiple destinations, relax as you are taken on an inspiring trip to some of Asia’s most spectacular destinations.
Most of the longer cruises offer a variety of accommodations to choose from and the stunning luxury cabins will ensure a relaxing and comfortable stay for the entirety of your trip. The Irrawaddy River and the Chindwin River offer very different experiences, and those who have previously ventured down one may welcome the fresh experience of the other.
The untouched beaches of Myanmar offer equally incredible experiences as with those further inland. Whether you wish to interact with the locals for an intimate and authentic experience, or just lie back and soak in the Burmese sun beside crystal clear waters, Myanmar’s coast has you covered.
Take it easy on a remote island in the middle of the Andaman Sea’s Mergui Archipelago. Travel by slow boat to the forested getaway where fantastic coral reefs and sustainably constructed lodges bring guests ‘back to nature’. Lounge on the white sand beaches around the island, or choose to be more active with forest walks, snorkeling and kayaking on offer.
Accessible via a short 45 min flight from Yangon, the 3km long Ngapali Beach makes for a serene getaway. The beautiful white sands lined by coconut palms provide a blissful escape, and perfectly compliment a longer exploration of Myanmar. The clear, warm waters are impeccable for diving and snorkeling, and there are a wide range of accommodations available to suit all budgets.
Discover the secluded Maung Shwe Lay, seldom seen by other westerners this rural fishing village located an hour outside Ngapali provides a wonderfully relaxing break and retains its authentic charm. Defined by its idyllic white-sand beach, delicious food, and welcoming locals. Enjoy travelling responsibly, as proceeds from this trip will support the EXO Foundation’s library and benefit the local community.