Stretching from the northern Kachin state down to the southern delta, the Irrawaddy (or Ayeyarwady) is Burma’s longest river and most important commercial waterway. Once used to transport British troops from Yangon to Mandalay, the river remains a fantastic conduit between a number of destinations in Burma, with the longer river cruises offering a one-of-a-kind experience of life along the river.
Cruising the Irrawaddy offers an unmatched perspective into life along the river, letting you soak up the picturesque scenery in between exploring the temple-strewn plains, hilltop pagodas and tiny riverside villages that dot its banks. Due to the growing demand, there is a now a number of river cruise options, including shorter one to three night journeys, and longer ten night expeditions taking you to uncover the beauty of Burma away from the tourist trail.
One of the most popular routes is between Mandalay and Bagan. Travel either on a fairly simple local boat on a one day cruise, or travel in comfort and style on a one to four night cruise, including some onshore excursions on the way. Travelling upstream from Mandalay on the Upper Irrawaddy is best suited for longer trips, taking in delightful villages, dramatic defiles and enchanting scenery as you travel up to the small but lively port town of Katha.
Carving its way through mountains and forests up to Homalin near the Indian border, the Chindwin River is the Irrawaddy’s largest tributary. A region hard to explore unless by boat, cruises along the Chindwin are often longer, taking you to unspoilt villages and hill tribe communities rarely visited by the western tourist.
Water levels along the river diminish significantly during the dry season, meaning cruises generally only operate September through to March, with the Chindwin cruises operating in a shorter season of August to February.