Bagan is a destination that can be experienced through many different modes of transport: from bicycling to horse buggy, ox cart to boats. Each experience provides unique glimpse into the different pieces of this historical haven. While it is an option to take a longer cruise along the Irrawaddy River starting from Yangon or Mandalay on a large vessel that lasts a few days, it is also possible to get a sense of river life from an inexpensive sunset excursion from the jetty near Old Bagan.
There are two ways of arranging a ride. One is the old-fashioned way: hang out by the Bupaya Pagoda and inevitably you'll be approached one of many boat owners. Conversely, almost any hotel can make arrangements for you as well. (We went that route). Approaching the riverbank, there is a downhill descent to the anchored boats, most of them simple wooden skiffs.
Besides our skipper, we had the boat to ourselves for about US$20 and hung out at the front as we set sail into the river. The beauty and expanse of the horizon and the faint landscape of mountain peaks in the background are exceedingly stunning. After a while, the roar of the boat's engine became background instrumental music during this visual meditation.
Floating leisurely past the temples on the shore and watching other boats drift by as the sky gradated from blue to orange was a refreshing reminder to take it slow and enjoy experiences for what they are in the present. Once the engine got going, we were pleasantly surprised to look back and see our skipper perched on the roof of the boat, enjoying the sky showing off as much as we were.
After the sun had sunk below the horizon, it was time to head back. We docked along the riverbank and climbed up to the Bupaya, which dates back to the year 300, according to the sign at the entrance. We lingered among monks and visitors at the top, as the river descended into the night.
River cruise down the Irrawaddy