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Bagan to Mandalay via the Irrawaddy River

I think I got my sea legs quite early on, as a young girl the most exciting part of the 8 hour drive to my grandparents was the 45 minute ferry from South Baymouth to Tobermory along Lake Huron on the MS. Chi-Cheemaun. So when Eira said that I could plan our trip through Burma but her only requirement was a day long float down the Irrawaddy river, I was only too happy to oblige.

Sunrise on the bow of a boat. Couldn't be happier.

Sunrise on the bow of a boat. Couldn’t be happier.

After waking at an ungodly 4 am, that was supposed to be 4:30 + snooze thanks to my phone  alarm clock still set on Thai time, (Burma is 1/2 hr behind) we set off for the jetty. I thought that “jetty’ “dock” and “pier” were interchangeable, but what we pulled up to was a boat literally anchored beside the shoreline with a wooden plank for crossing.

Villagers waving at our boat

Villagers waving at our boat

So after precariously balancing from shore to boat, we set off into the sunrise seated firmly on the bow of the boat watching fishing villages rise and get ready for the day all along the shore. As the day progressed and the heat began to rear it’s ugly head, and more and more fisherman happily waved as we passed, we readied ourselves for a long, hot day of little more than lounging, reading and catching up on writing.

Typical home along the river

Typical home along the river

However, tensions are rising along the river, something that we were oblivious about while we merrily sailed down it. The government is starting production of 7 major dams that will allow them to export electricity to China. While this is something that may be good for the economy, the fact of the matter is that it’s causing fighting and hostility between builders and displaced community members all along the river. Not to mention environmentalists concerned about the damage that will be done to the ecosystem when the flow of the river is controlled due to China’s electricity requirements, as well as the possible fate of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. I learned about this after seeing a t-shirt stating “Save the Irrawaddy,” and am glad that we had the opportunity to peacefully sail down the river despite a possibly doomed future.

To read more about the proposed project, the Kachin Development Networking Group keeps an updated list of all developments surrounding the proposed dam sites and villagers reactions.

About dontcallmenikki

I'm your typical Torontonian city girl who is continuously fulfilling her wanderlust. I've walked hand in trunk with an elephant, been on safari, swam with sharks in South Africa, pet a tiger, bartered in markets, eaten street food daily in Thailand, seen Angkhor Wat at sunset and sunrise, slept in a Loas village, trekked through mountains and tubed down the Vang Vieng river. After completing a years teaching contract in Thailand I headed to Burma to sail down the Irrawaddy, photograph leg rowers, sit in silence at many glistening stupas and make friends with monks. Now it's time for what my friends call the "real world" and acclimatizing back into Western culture.

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