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River Cruise Offers a New Perspective on Rangoon

San Yamin Aung The Irrawaddy

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RANGOON —If you’re tired of downtown’s hustle and bustle, and the endless traffic jams, and want to see the other side of Burma’s rapidly growing commercial capital, just jump in a boat.

The current dry season—high-season for Burma’s tourism industry—is expected to see record-breaking visitor numbers. Burmese tour operators are setting up new cruises to attract more customers, especially from the increasing numbers of foreigners in Rangoon.

Since Nov. 9, the Royal Green River cruise line has been offering sunset tours on the Rangoon River every weekend.

“We are getting interest from both locals and foreigners since we launched the two-hour sunset tour. About 50 foreigners have joined the tour in three weeks. Among the locals, mostly families and couples are joining the cruise,” said Yan Linn Kyaing, manager of Royal Green River.

Royal Green River’s boat can carry a maximum of 60 passengers for day trips and 24 passengers for nighttime trips.

Boat trips in Rangoon are also offered by Yangon River Cruise, which runs sunset tours every Monday, Tuesday and Friday, and on weekends, and costs 15,000 kyat for locals and US$20 for foreigners. Dora River Cruise offers trips costing between $50 to $60.

On a visit last week, about 30 passengers waited at Botataung Jetty, ready for the Royal Green River trip. Families and couples had jumped eagerly aboard the new ship, while a group of girls dressed in modern Western clothing posed for photos in front of the cruiser.

Leaving from the jetty at 4:30 pm, the ship left behind the repetitive sights, crowded roads and noisy sounds of daily life in the city. The modern boat took us to unusual sights that differ from the buildings and black roads, but retain the city’s influence.

“I used to dream of experiencing being in a ship sailing along the Rangoon River while I was sitting at Botataung harbor with my boyfriend. Today, he gave me this tour as a present,” said a shy Ei Thet Mon, 30.

The music played from the ship, and the sound of seagulls, added to the romance. The sights on the shore were lit by the sun, illuminating a side of the urban landscape not usually appreciated.

Guests on the boat enjoyed watching fishing boats, schooners filled with passengers, and seagulls on the water. On the banks of the river, primary schools and shipping containers gave way to the Shukhin Thar ferris wheel and, finally, trees, as the boat moved away from downtown.

The trip costs 20, 000 kyat for locals and $25 for foreigners, with tickets including a snack and a drink.

“The people are very nice. It’s inspiring and you’re served with a smile from Myanmar. I like to watch sunset and it is a pleasant tour,” said Keshaw Pandey, a passenger who was in town on business from India.

Turning back toward the Botataung Jetty at 5:30 pm, the sunlight began to disappear, and the sights on the return journey were changed as if by magic. The Rangoon side was bright with electric lights, while the other side was dark. This contrast led the guests to think on the country’s uneven development.

“It can change my perspective,” 50-year-old passenger Win Naing Aung said. “I can look as far as the eye can see. It’s different from the everyday views, which are blocked by buildings. I have forgotten some of my worries during this two-hour sunset tour.”

“Although I came alone this first time, I will come again with my family. I hope they will enjoy it too,” he added.