The first person you’ll more than likely meet when you arrive at Pansodan Jetty will be Peter. He isn’t an official, a ticket vendor or a paid employee of any kind – he sells post cards, five for 3,000 Kyat. But if you haven’t been here before – and he’ll know if you’ve visited Dalla before – in perfect English he’ll gladly show you where to buy your ticket – $4 return for foreigners. He’ll then escort you to the best spot for waiting – outside on the veranda where you can watch the water and keep an eye on the progress of the ferry and catch some breeze. When the time is right he’ll advise you when you should make you move for the ferry – not too soon as you’ll get caught in the sweaty scrum leaving the waiting room, though not too late otherwise you’ll have to run down the gangway and leap across the gap, the boat waits for no one. If you are visiting Dalla as a tourist he’ll even offer you a guided tour of the area by cycle rickshaw. And he’ll absolutely try to sell you postcards.
If you’re a regular traveller (and you’ve obviously already purchased some postcards from Peter) he’ll happily pass the time of day with you, and is a great source of information about the weather, how the ferries are going and the latest news from the other side of the Yangon river.
During commuter periods the ferry fills quickly with as many as a thousand people. Smartly dressed commuters travelling into the city for their day’s work decant onto the small jetty at Pansodan, the ferry almost immediately filled with traders and travellers heading in the opposite direction, with only a quick window to sweep the floors clean. During the day the journey is less frenetic, though in peak tourist season as many as two-hundred foreigners cross the river in search of an escape from the heat of Yangon in the tiny lanes of Dalla.
Two ferries ply the waters between Pansodan and Dalla jetties everyday from 5.30am until 9.00pm, so you never have to wait more than twenty minutes to catch one, and with a journey of ten minutes each way you just have time to take a coffee in the little restaurant at the back of the upstairs deck. There is a special area upstairs at the front reserved for monks and foreigners or you can climb the narrow staircase to view the journey from the top of the boat. The bench seats throughout are included in the price of the ticket; if you want a plastic chair it’ll cost an extra 50Kyat.
The waiting room is hot, usually crowded and as the boat nears the jetty a movement is made towards the iron doors leading to the ramp, and before the boat has emptied the next load of passengers is released to carefully and slowly make their way down the wooden slope onto the boat. There is no pushing or shoving, old and young, some wielding umbrellas, some pushing bicycles loaded with live chickens, some carrying huge boxes on their shoulders, all calmly make their way to the floating pontoon where the ladies sit under shades selling fruit and foods before minding the moving gap between land and ship.
Once you reach the other side you’ll face the same calm and quiet scrum to ascend the ramp. Upon reaching dry land you’ll be greeted by all manner of transport options to help you continue your journey.
It really is a wonderful way to travel, and as a regular commuter across the water I enjoy ever minute of it. Better than a traffic jam any day.
In monsoon be warned though, the rain drives in through the open windows forcing everyone into the middle of the ship, and when the Yangon is at its height even the ferry struggles to overcome its powerful tide- don’t panic, it almost always makes it across.
A version of this article was published in MY Yangon Magazine – November 2014