Accommodation: Royal Hotel – $7/night. They were super nice there so they get a good review from me! For breakfast you can either get the foreigner option of egg (fried, scrambled, or omelette) plus toast, fruit and coffee/tea. OR Myanmar style, which I unfortunately found out about too late, of Shan noodles or Coconut noodles! Bummed I missed out on that one. Only lesser than fabulous points are the motorbike taxi they got me for the day “who spoke English” but doesn’t really speak that much if you want to get extra info about the places you visit (otherwise he was a nice guy) and the bus they booked me to Bagan which was supposed to be hotel to hotel – I am thinking it might’ve been cheaper to buy at the station but oh well. In Bagan we only made it to the bus stop, which in retrospect makes sense – I am not sure why I really thought I might get door to door service!
Activities: I arrived late in the evening so my first night only consisted of a delightful hot shower (first real one in 2 weeks! The next day I went with my motorbike taxista to go out and about the surrounding villages/old towns near Mandalay.
We went up north to Mingun first to try to beat the crowds coming by boat, and to my surprise, there was a stand enforcing a 5,000 kyat tourist fee (I really hate these). It was about an hour’s ride to get there so I had no choice. Mingun has two really awesome pagodas – one that is more or less a humongous solid block of bricks, a little cracked along top but you can still climb up for some great views of the area. The other is a gorgeous white pagoda with wavey walls surrounding it. Impressive. There is also an old giant bell and something that is supposed to be a lion, but I didn’t see it at all with all my imagination efforts. Around the area are some tourist stalls selling stuff and some university kids to accompany you and offer information but then they will ask for some kind of payment. Since I paid the extra 5,000 fee and don’t carry much with me, I told them “Thank you but I won’t be able to pay you” and my history lesson ended. Oh well! I am sure Wikipedia can inform me later.
Next was Sagaing, a pagoda surrounded by several other stupas set on a hill across the river and south of Mandalay. Many many steps and I reached the top which had beautiful views and tiled walls and columns.
After that we headed to Inwa. Too many pagodas yet? No way! We stopped at a street stall so I could eat some mohinga noodle soup and an old man tried to teach me some more Burmese before my driver shuffled us along. Inwa was maybe my favorite out of these pagoda tours because its an old village and inside you have fields of banana trees with old pagoda ruins dotted throughout. These were older again and made of stone but many of the stupas and statues still decently preserved. However, some of the larger structures had collapsed in an earthquake.
From Inwa we went to Amarapura, making a few stops along the way at some workshops to see where they make the collection bowls and lids for the monks, a longye weaving workshop, and an antique restoration shop full of Buddha statues, wood carvings, and puppets that the villagers sell to the shop and the shop fixes them up for sale. If I had a home and was going there soon, this would have been the place fo a souvenir. Someday I will come back to Myanmar with an empty suitcase so I can get all the things I want!
Anyway, Amarapura is home to the U Bein Bridge, the longest teak bridge which is super photogenic and ideal for sunrise and sunset photos. Thus, people were swarming the place of course but I still had a nice stroll around the bottom and then back and forth on the bridge and captured some good shots.
The next day, I woke up early to go to Maha Myat Muni pagoda in Mandalay. There they do a special ceremony of washing the golden Buddha’s face and brushing the teeth. By motorbike I arrived around 4am and there was already some 20 people there waiting outside rhe gate and some women preparing the food and flowers to buy as offerings. More and more people arrived and finally around 4:30 the gate was opened and we shuffled inside up to the next gate protecting Buddha. Women are not allowed past a certain point so the men went on ahead of us.
The ceremony began with monks carrying large baskets of flowers inside. They lined them up on a platform on Buddha’s lap and one by one the head monk presented each one before taking them away. Some silky-looking sheets were placed ariund the Buddha to protect the rest of the body and next was the preparation of the water for the washing. The teeth were brushed and then the face slowly and gently sprayed and wiped down and dried. I also really enjoyed the women chanting/singing in Pali while this all happened – so beautiful. I will try to post a video of this later.
Around 5:30am I headed out to get a ride back to the hotel and from there I started walking to Mandalay Hill, yet another pagoda but this time looking over the city. The plan was to catch sunrise but it turns out that the Royal Palace is so massive that it took me forever to walk around it! Sunrise over the water surrounding it was still pretty.
At Mandalay Hill, many stairs once again, I was unpleasantly surprised to find a man asking for 1000 kyat from tourists at the top. Again since I think all these things are free, I wasn’t carrying anything so I offered him my 500 kyat and he begrudgingly let me pass instead of sending me back down.
The view was nice but you can see the traffic congestion clouds as one would expect. However, there was some fantastic colorful tiling on the walls and columns. A huge crowd of locals arrived around the same time as me but someone cleared out before I left so I had the place almost to myself at the end.
Back down again around the other side of the Royal Palace. There were more pagodas on the way but I was a bit on overload so I headed back for breakfast.
I found a nice place around the corner from my hotel which served me some Shan noodles for 500 kyat and then took it easy until my bus to Bagan, except for another food break for some street curry and rice and a trip to a market where I had some kind of delicious dessert of coconut, jelly, strawberry shaved ice, and maybe sweet milk? It was called swey or schwey or shay or something like that.
All in all, Mandalay was a big dirty city with some nice villages around it and probably some hidden gems for pagodas and food within if you have the patience for motorbike taxi bargaining and walking around the smoggy and dusty streets.
So for this trip, ta-ta Mandalay!