Irrawaddy River | Location, Facts, History & Travel Guides

Irrawaddy river from above

You may ever read about numerous legend rivers in the world that are rich in culture and essential in daily life. And if you have ever heard about Yangtze River in China, Mekong River stretching through five countries in Asia, you should never miss the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar – the most flourish river and also the hope of Burmese people. To those who are planning for Myanmar tours, they are likely to want to know more about the location, facts, map, history of Irrawaddy river and the breathtaking cruise ship down to it. For a long time, the Irrawaddy river is where to provide the water source for the daily life of people. It has been passing through generation to generation that is where the Burmese drink, wash, pray, and make living by irrigating the water to do agriculture and row at day and night time on the river to catch fish.

Irrawaddy River Location

Originating from the confluence of N’mai and Mali Rivers in Chin State, Irrawaddy River covers a large part of Myanmar as it flows through the Irrawaddy Delta to the Andaman Sea with 2210 km long and 404, 200 sq kilometers wide. Irrawaddy River is widely known as the backbone of Myanmar as it flows through many cities of the country such as Mandalay, Bagan, Myitkyina, etc.

Irrawaddy River History

Nobody knows exactly the history of the Irrawaddy River. Probably because it has existed a very long time with the Burmese people that through generations, we just know about Irrawaddy as a river that shapes the spiritual life of Burmese people and possesses a close relationship with Buddhism. Floating on a cruise along the river, you would see many bronze shrines to Shin U Pa Gota, the saint of water. The legend said that Shin U Pa Gota had grown up as a troubled boy before the Buddha visited him instant enlightenment. Since then, he decided to spend his time to meditate in the Irrawaddy. Locals often leave rice cakes and hair after offering on the shrines.

Irrawaddy River Facts

Flowing north to south through Myanmar, Irrawaddy River (formerly known as Ayeyarwady) is the longest river and the most important commercial waterway in the country that through many centuries has become the pride of Burmese people. The name Irrawaddy, since many years ago, has been translated by some scholars as “the river that brings blessing for the people”. Others said that it came from the Sanskrit word, which means “elephant river”. It was not until recent years that its name was changed to Irrawaddy – the name of Irrawaddy dolphin as it is believed to help fishermen who practice cast-net fishing.

To get an insight into the facts of Irrawaddy River, the best way is to embark on a cruise and drift along the shoreline to behold the natural landscape as well as approach the locals to find out why it became the hope of Burmese people. Nowadays, though the biodiversity of the Irrawaddy River has not yet to be measured completely. Nevertheless, it is estimated that there are over 70 fish species, 4 endemic bird areas, and new species of hillstream catfish. The western region of the Irrawaddy river is rugged and less population, while the eastern area is densely populated and better link of transportation with Yangon. Once sitting on the deck of a cruise and drift along the river, you will catch the image of people live along the shoreline. Docking at any location in your journey along Irrawaddy, you also able to witness how little the life change after centuries.

There are many attractions found along the Irrawaddy river but perhaps Mandalay and Bagan are two destinations that much rich in culture and bewitch visitors with several former capitals. If the stretch in Mandalay allows you a stop to visit at the charming Sagaing as well as the sleeping Inwa town, Bagan will enchant your heart with the sun, dust, and magic around 2000 ancient temples and pagodas.

Irrawaddy River Map

Irrawaddy River Travel Guides

When is The Best Time for Irrawaddy River Travel

The spirit river of Myanmar definitely never misses its chance to attract tourists to discover. An Irrawaddy river cruise is what you need to behold the natural landscape as well as reach the outstanding monuments along the river. However, you need to be conscious of the weather in Myanmar. The best time to enjoy an Irrawaddy river cruise is from November to March when the river is gentle and the weather is much pleasant for sitting on the sundeck and enjoy the scenery. You can still enjoy the cruise from April to May but keep in mind to bring your suncream to protect your skin from the sun. From June to October is the time Irrawaddy river witnesses annual flood and thus it is not appropriate to travel.

Irrawaddy river sunset

Irrawaddy River Travel Tips


If you are a foreigner, remember that whenever you prepare for a cruise trip along the Irrawaddy River, you need to apply a visa to travel to Myanmar. From 2014, citizens of 67 countries (including the U.S and UK) can apply Myanmar Online visa for entry by air via Yangon. It takes five days for the process and the fee is $50.

Preparing Cash Is Important

Nowadays, the US dollar is widely used in Myanmar and ATM machines are also able in many regions throughout the country. Nevertheless, cash is always useful during your journey in the Irrawaddy river as you will stop at some remote villages and we know that you are not likely to miss some unique Burmese souvenirs.

Dress Appropriately

Your Irrawaddy River cruise will lead you through numerous religious sites. When visiting these destinations, remember to dress politely and cover your shoulders and knees. Try not to wear short skirts or ripped jeans. The sandal is highly recommended as you will be take off your shoes and sock before entering a temple or pagoda. Additionally, it is essential to bring your hat, and sunglasses when you want to sit on the sundeck and enjoy the landscape along the Irrawaddy River.