The Ayeyarwady River of Myanmar
If Egyptians have the Nile, Indians have the sacred Ganges and the Israelites have the Jordan, then Myanmar has the Ayeyarwady. Since the ancient times, Myanmar civilization was born and prospered along and near the river, in part because of the rich resources it provides. The Burmese monarchs built their royals cities on its banks and held meetings on it with their generals and scholars in gold-and-crimson ships with silk awnings.
Course of the Ayeyarwady River
In the modern state of Myanmar, the Ayeyarwady remains the longest and most distinguished river—runs for about 2,100 kilometers from northern Myanmar to the Bay of Bengal, near Yangon. It is born at the confluence of two rivers, the May Kha and the Mali Kha, about 43 kilometers north of Myitkyina. The confluence site is called "Myitsone", it flows from the north to the south, enriching the cultivated plains along its banks with fertile sediment.
Downstream from Bagan, the Ayeyarwady River passes the ancient city of Prome. As one approaches Yangon, more and more factories come into view and river activity picks up. The Ayeyarwady does not run through Yangon but is connected to it by the Twante Canal. Before emptying into the Bay of Bengal, the Ayeyarwady breaks down into a massive delta laced with creeks and swamps.
In some places, the river fills with so much water in the wet season, however, in the dry season, the river level drops so low that the river bed resembles a desert of white sand dunes in the same places. It is not surprising that many of the steam ships that travel on the river periodically run aground and get stranded for days at a time.
The Ayeyarwady River divides the country in two. The eastern region is more densely populated and has better transportation links to Yangon whilst the western is more rugged. The middle portion is centred around the river, with a large delta area at its mouth and the area above the delta featuring floodplains. Different ethnic groups dwell at different points on the river and have social and economic contact through her. The trading between ethnic groups includes the exchange of artistic valuables across the country, for example Kachin costumes from the tip of the country to bamboo mats from the Ayeyarwady delta.
River travel in Myanmar
There are currently several boats plying the popular route between Mandalay to Bagan/Nyaung Oo on the Ayeyarwady River almost everyday. The 16-hour trip from Mandalay to Bagan on a regular ferry costs $10 approximately. Memorable scenes along the way include ox carts transporting goods, women pounding their laundry on the rocks, paddle boats plying the river and quiet villages.
Long-tailed boats are also used by locals and tourists to get around the rivers of Myanmar. Tourist generally travel on boat trips sponsored by travel agencies and locals get around on boats that run scheduled routes like buses. The fares for local boats are quite reasonable and the tours are not very expensive either.