About this specific Irrawaddy River Cruise itinerary…
Our Irrawaddy River Cruise itinerary was a one of a kind, created by our group tour hosts, travel vloggers Kara and Nate. They sailed on the Irrawaddy Explorer the previous year and as part of chartering the boat for this group trip, they changed the itinerary to attract active people for this particular tour. So while you won’t be able to take the same exact cruise, this itinerary will give you an idea of the things you can do and see while cruising the Irrawaddy and visiting Bagan and Mandalay.
Day 1: Bagan to Salay
Biking Bagan to Salay
Kara likes to sell her tours by telling you why you SHOULDN’T sign up. They don’t do museums, picky eaters, or people with poor attitudes. To further weed out poor sports, this trip was advertised as starting with a 45km bike ride to get to our ship. After arriving in Bagan the night before, we were up at 5am to meet our tour group and our Grasshopper Adventures cycling guides who would get us to Salay where our ship was waiting. Our luggage was taken by vehicle to the ship.
The bike ride was slow paced over flat terrain through villages and fields. We stopped for breaks to sightsee, snack, and cross the river on small wooden boats with our bikes. And in the end, due to time constraints, we only completed about 13 out of about 27 miles. This was an excellent introduction into the Irrawaddy River countryside. Our cycle guides provided local knowledge and made sure everyone had water, snacks, and coordinated when some needed to be driven to the ship rather than continue by bike.
Walking Tour of Salay
We met our ship in Salay, found our luggage in our rooms, had a quick lunch and set out for a walking tour of the village. In Salay you can see reminders of Myanmar’s British colonial rule. European colonial style buildings can be seen falling into ruin. We toured a 19th century teak monastery, Yoke Soun Kyaung Taw Gyi, and had an opportunity to try chewing betel nut.
Finally we returned to the ship for our welcome reception, safety briefing, and dinner.
Day 2: Historic Bagan
All visitors to Bagan must pay a tourist fee that helps support and preserve the historic sites. Visitors flying into Bagan will be stopped at the airport upon arrival. For those that did not arrive in Bagan via the airport, our tour company covered the fee. So when in Bagan…
Our first outing took us to the larger temples: Htilominlo Temple, Ananda Temple, and Shwezigon Pagoda.
Kara and Nate believe in having free time to explore without a guide so for the afternoon they rented us all e-scooters and set us loose on our own. Our instructions were to “go get lost among the pagodas” and “visit Sharkey’s for their peanut gelato.”
Day 3: Bagan & Hnaw Kone
Before leaving Bagan we visited the local market where locals buy and sell fresh produce, meat, longyis, thanaka, shoulder bags, spices, and hand crafted goods. We had 45 minutes to wander, haggle, and learn to avoid hawkers who attempted to shove goods at you and demand payment.
Hnaw Kone Walking Tour
Our ship sailed up river while we ate lunch and then we toured Hnaw Kone, a village known for bamboo weaving. We observed the women who weave bamboo strips into wall panels and large baskets used to transport tobacco leaves.
During our trip we were not taken to places where trinkets were made to be sold to tourists. The products made in this village were large and used by the surrounding communities. Interestingly, so as not to upset the economy of this rural village, rather than put funds directly into the village, our tour company pays for services like an ambulance to help the entire village population.
Day 4: Yandabo & Sailing
Yandabo Walking Tour
Yandabo is where the first Anglo-Burmese peace treaty was signed in 1826, however it is more famous for the pottery made here. Women in this village make clay jugs used all over the country to hold water. You’ll find water stations containing these jugs at temples and along roads for the traveler who needs a drink- for those that can drink the water in Myanmar. As Americans, we had to use bottled water during our stay.
Sailing: Relaxing and/or learning from Kara and Nate
While sailing we spent the rest of the day lounging or optionally attending Kara’s video editing course, Nate’s Travel Hacking Q&A, and a Tea Leaf & Ginger Salad demonstration. After dinner we all gathered for a game night in the lounge.
Day 5: Sagaing, Innwa (AVA) and Amarapura to U-Bein Bridge
Sagaing: Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda & a nunnery
For our morning excursion we were driven to the town of Sagaing where we first visited Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda because of its stunning panoramic hillside view. Then we visited a local nunnery where several of the nuns first blessed us and then allowed us a Q & A session about their life.
AVA, Amarapura, and U-Being Bridge by bike
In the afternoon it was back to the bikes for our second bike ride of the trip. We made a stop at the Nanmyin watchtower and the Yadana Hsemee pagoda complex. A while later we made a brief stop to tour a silk workshop in Amarapura.
We ended our ride just in time to watch sunset at U-Bein Bridge, which is believed to be the world’s longest and oldest teakwood bridge. It was here Kara and Nate surprised us with waiting sampans (row boats) and champaign. We sipped champaign in small boats on the lake as the sun set behind the bridge.
We only returned to our ship after dark for a late dinner and then gathered for a trivia night put together by Nate.
Day 6: Mingun & Mandalay
Mingun Walking Tour
At Mingun we saw King Bodawpaya’s uncompleted stupa, which would have been the tallest in the world if it had been completed. Then we climbed under the 90 ton Mingun Bell to hear what the ring sounded like from the inside. And we took some photos with the white temple.
Mandalay Excursion: Mahamuni Pagoda and gold Buddha, Gold Leaf Factory, Kuthodaw Pagoda
Although Mandalay was our last port destination, we did not disembark right away. We had a few sites to visit in the city, so we spent the afternoon sightseeing and disembarked the next morning. The first destination was to see the Mahamuni Pagoda and gold Buddha. This Buddha is covered in gold leaf, and by now it may be about six inches deep. The gold leaves are sold at the temple for men to place on the Buddha. After that we visited the factory where the gold leaf for the temple is made.
Our very last visit was to Kuthodaw Pagoda, famous for having “the biggest book in the world.” In reality, this “book” is a series of marble tablets with writing on each side and each of these “pages” makes up the canon of Buddhism. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, however, this is not actually the largest book in the world.
Day 7: Disembark in Mandalay
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Have you been to Myanmar? Do you want to go? Have you done a small group cruise? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
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