Ayeyarwady: An Introduction
Flowing south through Burma and into the Andaman Sea, the Ayeyarwady (also spelled 'Irrawaddy') is Burma's biggest river, and a significant waterway. Crucial for transport and trade, it's also home to diverse species, including the Irrawaddy Dolphin to which it gave its name, along with Saltwater Crocodile, and a number of sea turtle species.
The Ayeyarwady provides a picturesque conduit between Yangon (via a tributary), and the historic cities of Pyay, Bagan, Mandalay and Bhamo - daily 'express' ferries make the trip between Mandalay and Bagan in 10.5 hours. Alternatively, you can stay on board a luxurious riverboat and cruise the Ayeyarwady in comfort, taking this opportunity to observe Burmese life both on the river and the lush banks beyond.
Flowing from Myitkyina, in Burma's northern Kachin State, towards the Yangon coast, the Ayeyarwady fans out across the mangrove forests and rice paddies of the fertile Ayeyarwady Delta, before flowing into the Andaman Sea. Here, the Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary protects nearly 140 sq km of mangrove habitat, and creatures ranging from Irrawaddy Dolphin, estuarine crocodiles, Sambhur Deer, Jungle Cat and Fishing Cat, to White-Bellied Sea Eagle, Vernal Hanging Parrot and several kingfisher species.
Also ripe for exploration, the Chindwin River - Ayeyarwady's largest tributary - also flows from the Kachin region, but swings out west through the 22,000 sq km Hukawng Valley Tiger Reserve. Around 50 tigers live here, alongside elephants and various bear, monkey and bird species. It joins the Ayeyarwady just south of Monywa, where the astonishing Mohnyin Thambuddhei Paya, a Buddhist pagoda dating from the 14th century, is said to house over 500,000 images of Buddha. The nearby Laykyun Setkyar Buddha is the world's second tallest statue, at 116 metres high.