I was looking forward to Mandalay, I imagined it to be a more relaxed, cooler version of Yangon. It wasn’t what I expected but there is plenty to see.
As soon as we arrived I was a bit disappointed – for a start it was obvious the city was huge and crowded. Our hotel was nice but in a wasteland in terms of any dining options nearby. Our first exploratory trip out was frustrating from the start – it is even more difficult to walk around in Mandalay as it is Yangon.
We were accosted by 2 motorbike drivers who offered to take us to Mandalay Hill for the late afternoon/sunset – this is where we had been planning to go anyway. This is another problem with Mandalay – there are hardly any taxi’s, only motorcycle taxis. Now this is great if you are on your own as it is cheaper, but when there are 2 of you it requires 2 motorbikes, so ends up being more expensive than a taxi, plus you get covered in grime and pollution.
But we had to accept this if we wanted to visit anywhere. Thankfully around Mandalay Hill there are a number of other sights to see.
We were first taken to Kuthodaw Paya which is proclaimed as the home of the world’s largest book. At first we were confused – where was the book? It took us a while to realise that every one of the 729 stupas contained a page with text printed on a stone tablet. The book is Tripitaka, a Buddhist text.
We next went to see Sandamuni Paya which was similar with lots of Stupa’s and apparently has the world’s largest iron Buddha – somehow we managed to miss it!
Finally our drivers dropped us at the foot of Mandalay Hiil and advised it would take 45 minutes to get to the top. We thought we’d be able to do it far quicker – we were wrong.
The climb wasn’t particularly gruelling, it was all steps, with small Pagodas ands statues every few hundred metres to look at. But it quite steep, coupled with the fact it was extremely hot and humid, and that the walkway was covered making fresh air difficult to come by, it became extremely sweaty and uncomfortable.
Eventually after what seemed like forever, we did make it. Our celebration was dampened by the fact we noticed there was a road where you could be driven up! At least we got some exercise…
The view was spectacular. City views are not always the best but you could see far beyond the city to the vast Irawaddy river, and from the other side the mist covered mountains. It was worth the climb.
As the sun started to set we descended and called it a day for the sightseeing. Of course, our drivers, never likely to miss an opportunity, offered to take us sightseeing the next day to the nearby towns, which we were planning to do anyway. I had wanted to hire a motorbike, but after thinking about it, it was probably going to be our drivers only decent wage for the week, and they were friendly, so we agreed.
The next morning we woke up to torrential rain which is never what you want to see when you have to spend all day on a motorbike.
Thankfully it stopped soon after we started and we made our way to Amarapura to see the U-Bien Bridge, a 1.2km long teak bridge which looks incredible at sunset. Shame we visited at 10am, though the light reflecting off the water was still a great sight and the bridge looks very impressive in any light.
We were soon back on the bikes to visit Sagaing, where we had to climb another hill! Yay.. Thankfully this wasn’t as high as Mandalay Hill yet still boasted some impressive views, with pagodas dotting the horizon as far as the eye could see.
We were next taken to have lunch where we were informed we’d be leaving the drivers to take a boat across the lake where we would be met by a horse cart, costing us an extra 10,000 kyat. We weren’t too happy at this prospect as we had paid for a full day’s tour, also it was impossible for Katy due to her horse allergy. We didn’t want another near Ashtha attack like Bagan.
Luckily our drivers had an alternative, they could take us around the lake on onto the town of Inwa where the horse cart would have taken us, if we paid them a bit more gas money. Seemed a fair deal so we went for it.
It turned out to be a great decision. Firstly we stopped at these ruins, which were not on the tourist horse cart route at all, so we had them to ourselves. Sadly I didn’t mark them on my GPS so I don’t know where they were or what they are called!
We also saw this enourmous ruin. According to our driver it was just another temple from when Inwa was the capital.
Afterwards we did join the tourist route, though our drivers took us through some creative shortcuts to avoid government entrance fees – at one point we were riding through a plantation of some sort.
We first saw the Ava Palace watchtower – there was at one time a whole palace here but now just the tower remains. Our enjoyment was soured slightly by some of the most pushy souvenir sellers we’ve ever seen.
Yadana Hsimi pagodas were next, complete with more aggressive sellers.
We then visited a monastery and this is where our scheme was caught out – security asked to see our ticket or pay $10 each – we sheepishly went back to our drivers. The monastery didn’t look hugely impressive anyway.
This was when we were grateful that we had our drivers as we zoomed past horse cart after horse cart taking tourists in a steady line to each attraction. We whizzed away from the monastery just in time to check out a couple more ruins before beginning the long and bumpy ride back to the city.
And that was Mandalay. We were planning to stay another night but after finding out the only option to get to Inle was via a night bus, and as we weren’t over excited about the city, we only spent 2 nights.
Where We Stayed
Our hotel was called Rich Queen Guesthouse. For $25 a night we got a small but very clean room with double bed, air con and a tiny TV. Breakfast was good and staff were great. The only downside is the location, though I’m not sure if there is a ‘happening’ area in Mandalay. There is a good beer station across the road though which is a bonus!