The morning sunrise over the Irrawaddy River was spectacular as I took the ferry from Bagan to Mandalay, a day long trip from sunrise to sunset. As we flowed down, glimpses of village life, temples, and cities dotted the horizon. Since I arrived pretty late, I was only able to explore the night life and see some of Mandalay University, but I was struck by the degree which this city was developed with huge malls and numerous shops piled waist high with plush stuffed animals and characters as if I were at a carnival. I even caught a holiday theater movie for $2.
River/ferry transit times vary depending in which direction you go and water levels. Sometimes it takes up to 25% longer to go upstream than downstream. Longer routes may take multiple days if you choose to travel alongside locals and save money. The Bagan-Mandalay route, for example, can be done in 2-3 days, including sleeping in huddled positions on the boat.