Day 29 | Ayeyarwady River boat to Mandalay and the Moustache Brothers

Another early day, we spent 11 hours on a boat from Bagan to Mandalay on the Ayeyarwady (aka Irrawaddy) River, then had a real Burmese feast for dinner and watched the infamous Moustache Brothers show in Mandalay.

We woke and packed around 4:15 AM, checked out of the hotel, took our pre-scheduled taxi to the Nyaung-U boat jetty and stepped onto the modern boat taking us to Mandalay.

It was pitch black on the jetty at 5:20 AM with less than a dozen workers guiding us to the boat so I didn’t even know what our boat looked like from the outside as I stepped onto a narrow wooden plank into it.

The boat had two levels, the top level was separated into an indoor section and an outdoor section shaded with a tarp. Most of the seats in the shaded outdoor section were taken by the time we arrived, so we settled into seats indoors. These seats were very comfy and we reclined back to take a nap. Within half an hour of taking off, the staff handed us breakfast boxes. This was a pleasant surprise as we knew lunch was included but no one told us about breakfast.

Yay breakfast

It consisted of 2 pieces of french toast and 1 hard boiled egg. The toast greased through the box onto my hiking pants. Oh well, these poor pants have seen a lot between the vomit and monkey poop and everything in between. Don’t worry, we get laundry done every two weeks or so, trying hard not to fulfill the stinky backpacker stereotype. Then we watched the sun rise in the hazy sky over a bridge near Bagan.

Sunrise on boat to Mandalay

Many hours later, perhaps the midpoint of our trip, we passed by the same company’s boat making the trip in the reverse direction as us. We waved at the passengers on that boat.

Boat from Mandalay

Then it was time for lunch. They took orders for either fried noodles or fried rice. We took our lunches on the dining section on the lower level of the boat.

Yay lunch

For most of the trip we alternated writing blog posts for yolomimo as we passed through many rural villages. Sometimes waving at the fishermen and women and children washing or playing on the riverbanks. In the afternoon we finally saw more bridges and bigger towns on the riverbanks signaling we were soon reaching Mandalay.

Bridge up ahead

This pagoda on a hill is in the ancient city of Sagaing, about 20 km southwest of Mandalay on the west bank of the Ayeyarwady River.

Sagaing Hill

Maurice was enthralled to finally approach our destination.

Watch out!

We were happy to pass by a real working ship modeled after the Burmese royal barge carried on karaweiks. It was probably a luxury cruise.

Karaweik cruise

We finally arrived in Mandalay’s boat jetty at 4:30 PM. We found an eager taxi driver who lifted our bags and walked them off the wooden plank before we could even negotiate a price. We were surprised when we got to his taxi. It was actually a converted pickup truck like the shared taxis or songtaews we took in Thailand. However, this one did not have benches, only a rug laid out for us to sit on. I called it our magic carpet ride.

The traffic in Mandalay, while not as choked up as Yangon with its 4-minute long streetlights, is extremely chaotic. Mandalay has the problem of not having any streetlights (except for 1-2 major north-south and 1-2 major east-west roads). Also unlike Yangon, motorbikes are allowed, so every intersection is plagued with cars, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians determining on-the-fly whether to proceed or wait. We saw a young monk calmly walking the “middle path” through this city street.

Walking the middle path

We checked into The Home Hotel which had a very nice hard-working staff of all young people. The hotel was tucked behind the street hidden in an alleyway. There is no elevator to our fourth floor room, but the view from our room was nice (good enough in my book that we have a view at all) and it was a triple room so we had a refreshingly huge room for the two of us.

From the recommendation of the hotel, we had dinner at a popular Burmese restaurant called Aye Myit Tar. The food was very good, but there was just so much. We each ordered one entrée and it came with at least six small dishes, rice, tea leaves salad and fruit. We tried our hardest to eat every thing in front of us, but the young waiters would come and refill the emptied plates.

Burmese feast

We tried green mango for the first time. Maurice tried a slice of what looked like a granny smith apple and asked the waiter what it was. Interesting that once we knew it’s a mango, you realize oh well of course it tastes like mango. Before that we were scratching our heads, what kind of exotic fruit is this?

The restaurant was packed with locals and sprinkled with tourists throughout. There was a surplus of waiters, perhaps one per table and most of them were school aged boys.

Aye Myit Tar restaurant

After the restaurant we walked a few blocks south to watch the Moustache Brothers’ show. The sign in front of their one-room home / store-front theatre claims “If you have not seen our dancing, you can not say you have been to Mandalay!” Mandalay is well known as the arts and culture capital of Myanmar. This entire street is known for its dance and theatre performances. Moustache Brothers is perhaps the only show that locals are banned from attending.

The brothers Par Par Lay, Lu Maw and their cousin Lu Zaw form the comedic trio, who’s claim to international fame comes from criticizing the dictatorship during a performance in Aung San Suu Kyi’s home in 1996. For the joke about government corruption, Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw received and served a six year prison sentence breaking rocks in a forced labor camp on the Chinese border. The leader of the troupe Par Par Lay was arrested a total of three times lastly in 2007 for his involvement in the anti-government protests, he died in 2013, his brother Lu Maw suspects his death was caused by lead poisoning from the horrible prisons. The remaining Moustache Brothers (Lu Zaw left, Lu Maw right) continued the show since then.

Moustache Brothers

The form of the performance is an old-fashioned Burmese variety show with traditional Burmese dances interspersed with stories and jokes.

Moustache Brothers dancers

Lu Maw as the only English speaker, emcees and tells most of the jokes. He takes light jabs at the countries where the audience members (about 10 people today) are from, jokes about his relationship with his wife (the primary dancer in the dance troupe) and heavily criticizes the Myanmar government.

Moustache Brothers joke

We thought the show felt aged in that the dancing was not great (almost all the dancers are part of the Moustache family too and have been doing the show for 20+ years) and many of the jokes were cheesy. However, I would definitely recommend going as it’s a unique experience to see the bravest comedians in Myanmar and learn about an important (and sad) part of Myanmar’s history and society.

One thought on “Day 29 | Ayeyarwady River boat to Mandalay and the Moustache Brothers

  • March 16, 2016 at 1:19 am

    The boat looks like the boat I used to take to go countryside for my 2-year “re-education” after high school. You have to admire the courage of Moustache Brothers!


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