Responsible dolphin encounters on the Irrawaddy River
The Irrawaddy, Myanmar’s largest river, is the lifeblood of the villages along its banks, and navigating its winding courses by boat gives you an insight into the rhythms and relationships between these fishing communities and their grand waterway. Having the chance to see how the fishermen and the beautiful Irrawaddy Dolphins interact with intricate songs and signals is a fascinating experience - catching sight of the dolphins themselves is the icing on the cake.
What to expect on the Irrawaddy dolphin experience...
Like something from a fairy-tale, the Irrawaddy Dolphins respond to the fishermen’s calls by steering shoals of fish into their waiting nets, and are rewarded with a share of the day’s catch - a symbiotic relationship dating back hundreds of years. Getting out on the water with the locals is the best way to understand this incredible interspecies communication.
Whether you choose to spend a day on the boat or take an overnight trip will depend on your feelings about early mornings, as the former requires waking at sun-up!
Early-bird day-trippers are treated to stunning views of Marble Mountain en route to the riverbank, from where a short initial boat journey provides your first chance to spot the dolphins.
Once moored up at Hsithe, you’ll see the vital conservation work in action and observe some of the beautiful native birds which frequent the Irrawaddy’s fertile banks.
The fishermen will demonstrate their famous calls and teach you how to cast the weighted nets (accompanied by a few laughs as the technique is harder than it looks!), before you set out to seek the dolphins again.
The overnight option involves a more leisurely trip upstream to meet the fishermen at work on the river, taking in the scenery as you go, then heading on to stop at a handful of villages to enjoy a light lunch and chat with the local people about their craft traditions and riverside life.
The beer and fireside warmth back on-board will ensure you have a good night’s sleep before waking bright and early to cruise further upriver in anticipation of a dolphin sighting. Though an encounter is hard to guarantee, the best chance is always in the morning when the river is quietest.
The Irrawaddy Dolphin is critically endangered, so responsible eco-tourism ventures such as this, which provide funds for education and conservation projects while simultaneously giving you some unique and memorable encounters, are another perfect example of symbiosis in action.
Location: Hsithe, Myanmar
Duration: One or two days
Accommodation: Overnight in a boat or your choice of hotel
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'Excellent to see this sort of experience opening up in Myanmar - it's a responsible venture, and an ideal way to see some local life, as well as famous wildlife!'
Good to know...
There are very few Irrawaddy Dolphins left in the wild and it's important to remember that the main focus of this experience is to learn about the Irrawaddy fishing communities and the challenges they and the dolphins face, rather than a guaranteed dolphin sighting.