Late for Nowhere

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Ayeyarwaddy River cruise photo essay: Day 1

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The RV Paukan 2007 stands ready to cast off from Bagan at midday and start its upriver journey to Kachin State. (Photo: Thandar Khine)

American landscape photographer Laura Gilpin once described rivers as “magic” things that seem a “moving, living part of the very earth itself”. This enigmatic quality is a big part of the reason why river travel is appealing to so many people, why it has inspired great poetry and literature through the ages, and why it evokes dreams of exploration among those who have trouble staying rooted in one spot for very long.

There can be a paradoxical quality to exploring a country by river, the general idea being to follow the most beaten path imaginable – a trough between two banks through which a tremendous amount of water constantly flows – to visit areas few tourists have reached. But this is precisely the experience that river travellers in Myanmar can expect, including those who have more than a few days to follow the course of the 2,170-kilometer-long Ayeyarwaddy.

I had just such an opportunity in October 2012. Thanks to what amounted to an extremely lucky guess, I won a wine-tasting contest in Yangon whose grand prize was a 12-day trip for two along the Ayeyarwaddy on the RV Paukan 2007 riverboat. The trip would take us upstream from the ancient city of Bagan to the town of Bhamo in Kachin State. Then we would turn around and head downriver to end the journey in Mandalay. My wife Thandar Khine and I flew to Bagan to board the ship with a group of tourists from Germany. Our 12 noon departure was accompanied by late-monsoon rain showers that continued off and on for the rest of the day.

Following are some photographs from the first day of the trip.


This was our room for 12 days, blissfully free of television, telephone and WiFi, but with a sliding door providing views of the river and the passing landscape. (Photo: Thandar Khine)



A crewmember scrutinizes river conditions as a Buddhist sangha flag flies at the front of the vessel.



Thandar Khine stands on the top deck, where we spent the vast majority of the daylight hours enjoying the scenery. On the first day we passed through the flat, green landscape of central Myanmar under grey skies and light rain.



The official on-board Comfortmeter indicates fine sailing conditions.



After a couple of hours we passed an under-construction bridge that, when complete, would connect Pakokku on the west bank and Letpanchepaw on the east. At 3.4km long, it was also set to be the longest such bridge in the country.



Our first stop of the trip was Shwe Pyi Thar village on the river’s east bank, famous for the production of sweet jaggery candy from palm sap. Unfortunately, it wasn’t jaggery season when we visited so there was not a whole lot going on in that department. Here, a villager carries a basket of uncooked rice.



Shwe Pyi Thar girls smile as they enjoy the afternoon rain.



A woman smokes a homemade cheroot in the doorway of her house in Shwe Pyi Thar. (Photo: Thandar Khine)



Another Shwe Pyi Thar girl smiles in the rain. (Photo: Thandar Khine)



A woman wears a hat big enough to protect herself and her child from the elements. (Photo: Thandar Khine)


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