The ever changing Irrawaddy River

The ever changing Irrawaddy River

Rowboats on Taungthaman Lake waiting for the sun to set

The evening before we departed Mandalay we took off to see one of the principal photo ops in Mandalay…the sun setting behind U Bein Bridge.  The bridge is the oldest, longest teak bridge in the world. Located in the Amarapura township of Mandalay it is used as a passage across Taungthaman Lake by hundreds of monks every day.

Built in 1850 from the timbers of abandoned palaces, the three quarters of a mile long bridge is supported by 1086 pillars many of which many are starting to give way due to rot and erosion. Some have been replaced by concrete but many are held up by wires and rods…yikes.

The ever changing Irrawaddy River

Sunset and the Teak Bridge

Our group loaded into small colorful rowboats and headed out onto the shallow placid lake to drink Champagne and watch the sunset. We were not alone in this pursuit I can tell you…the lake was was crowded with these small painted rowboats side by side jockeying for a prime spot to get the quintessential Myanmar sunset photo.  Some of the boats were filled with very serious photographers. You can always tell they are serious because they have lenses half as long as my arm and the camera’s are attached to very sturdy tripods set up in their boats.  So much trouble!

The ever changing Irrawaddy River

A shack on a small island in Thaungthaman Lake and a man on a bike…it does not add up?

The next morning is day nine and our first day of cruising the Irrawaddy. We cast off at 6:30 and start our slow move down the river. While the river is the great waterway of Myanmar it is a very confusing river always changing its channel. In the dry season it is very shallow and full of sand bars and rock ledges. The pilots who guided the boat were switched often because they were experts only on certain sections of the river and as we moved down river the next section required another pilot. Even with these special pilots there were times when a scraping sound would echo through the boats hull and you would know that we had run over a sandbar or a pile of rock in the narrow channel. The bow of the boat had two men constantly taking soundings to check the depth of the water and direction of the channel. Running aground was not going to be an option for our merry band of travelers.

The ever changing Irrawaddy River

A farmer with baskets of grain and cattle.

We made a stop late in the afternoon at a small dusty agricultural village named Ohn Ne Chong.  It is well into the dry season and DRY was the optimal word. A great grey dust covered everything…plants, buildings, children and animals. On our walk through the village a small herd of cattle came down a path stirring up such a cloud of dust that everyone was gasping and reaching for a mask. I hate the facemask so often worn in Asia.  I know they are effective and often necessary but they make me so hot and when I breath out it steams up my glasses so that after just a few minutes I am ready to take my chances with Emphysema.

The ever changing Irrawaddy River

Children playing in their well worn front yard.

In the villages little children are everywhere and the beautiful smiles and painted faces are a joy.  Women standing in their yards had an infant on her hip and a couple more children swirling around her skirts was the norm. The houses, most often made of bamboo mats with thatched roofs raised up on poles above the yards of pounded earth were neat and minimal. The gray earth yards were filled with chickens, children and dogs running every which way, with an occasional pig tied to a tree.

I took lots of portraits while in the village because I love the elegant bearing of the women and the joyful exuberance of the children. Of course, we were part of the day’s entertainment for the children who followed us around the whole time.

The ever changing Irrawaddy River

A family portrait in the village by the Irrawaddy river.

Life is hard for the people of these little villages. They lack the most basic of infrastructure …electricity, running water, paved roads, medical care and often fall victim to natural disasters like floods or drought. Thankfully UNICEF comes to the villages a couple of time a year to vaccinate the children and do basic medical checks. I cannot imagine what the life in the villages is like in the rainy season when the unpaved roads and lands around their houses are a sea of mud.

The ever changing Irrawaddy River

Two girls with painted faces.

After dinner we were given a lecture by our tour guide Mu Mu on on our next destination on the river…Bagan…the ancient city of the Burmese. The valley, dotted with 2,000 temples and stupas dating from the 9th to the 13th centuries, offers more of the quintessential photo ops so familiar to everyone who has ever read a travel article on Myanmar.  Hell, the whole place is one big National Geographic layout.

The ever changing Irrawaddy River

The village well

Mu Mu the guide on our Viking River Cruise was one of the best I have encountered during my travels. Not only did she know her stuff but you could tell by her enthusiasm she was proud of Myanmar and its rich culture. She was also realistic about the past politics and gave us a good overview on where she thought the country was headed. Her father and brother were also tour guides in Bagan so she comes by her knowledge naturally.

The ever changing Irrawaddy River

Two ladies of the village watching all the tourist trail by.

I went to bed early in preparation for a day of touring and climbing a stupa or two in Bagan the ancient city.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Viking River Cruises during my Myanmar trip.  However, the receipt of complementary services will never influence the content or post in this blog.  I write the truth, even if it means biting the hand that feeds me.

About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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2 Responses to The ever changing Irrawaddy River

  1. Claudia says:

    I love those row boats on the lake. Your photography is getting better even though you don’t have a 12″ lens. Where was that guy going on the bike?

  2. Jim says:

    Wow, so reminds me of village India in the 70’s. Photography is great. Besides the beautiful bridge scene, you have some great photo exhibit pics with the man on the bike, and the three boys.

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