On the deck of the Road to Mandalay the evening is still. There is no sound except the water lapping at the hull, nothing to see but the countless stars that pepper the night sky. Up ahead a twinkling of light appears—evidence of a far-off city? An approaching ship? A nighttime mirage? It’s hard to tell until the ship finally catches up with the dream. Then, in the middle of the Irrawaddy River, there are thousands of candles floating on banana leaves encircling the ship and its awe-struck passengers.
Before the former Burma began to open up, the Road to Mandalay was the only way into the country’s back waterways. While the infrastructure in the now-called Myanmar remains quite primitive, and overland travel, especially in the northern regions, is arduous, the small ships that navigate the Irrawaddy are the best entrance into the interior.