During monsoon season, sailing the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar is easy, as the river is high and wide. In the dry season, however, the river shrinks and sailing becomes much more difficult. The captain on my Viking River Mandalay Explorer cruise explained that the portion of the river between Mandalay and Bagan is the shallowest, and that it is not uncommon for the boat to scrape bottom. As long we were moving slowly, he assured us there was no reason for concern, however we were advised to hold onto railings when climbing stairs or walking the deck. Indeed, we bumped bottom or scraped submerged rocks several times without causing damage to the boat.
To lessen the potential for damage and ensure safety of the crew and passengers, the depth is monitored continuously when sailing shallow stretches of the Irrawaddy River. Crew members thrust long bamboo poles into the water on both sides of the ship’s bow, calling out the depth according to how much of the pole protrudes from the water. Our boat needed five feet of clearance and at one point, the man on the port side called out 4.5 feet (in Burmese), which another crew member reported to the pilot house via walkie-talkie. Just moments later, we veered sharply right.
Disclosure: Viking River Cruises sponsored me on their Myanmar Explorer cruise/tour however the receipt and acceptance of complimentary items or services will never influence the content, topics, or posts in this blog. I write the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.