Mandalay

The name Mandalay has a bit of a romantic ring to it, wouldn’t you say? Probably because of the Kipling poem about the road to Mandalay. But when you get to Mandalay, romance won’t be the first thing on your mind, as the city is busy, noisy, full of traffic and in our case dark!

The next morning it still seemed like just another city and when we took a stroll to get lunch we walked along the walls of the fortress area. That gave a bit of grandeur, but the wall is so incredibly long, after 300m we kind of forgot it was even there. The fortress area, a military zone, houses the Palace which was built in 1990 after the design of the 1850s as the original got destroyed in a WWII bombing. We decided to skip it and instead to visit Shwenandaw Kyaung as it is one of the original buildings from the palace area in the 1850s. It used to be King Mindon’s bedroom and when he died in that room, his son – afraid of the bedroom being haunted – decreed that the building had to be broken down and rebuilt a little further down the road (outside the palace walls which saved it from the bombing). It was then converted to a monastery. The teak carvings looked amazing, such craftsmanship!

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The area where this monastery is located is really neat, there are lots of cool temples, buildings, monasteries and once you get there you can walk pretty much everything. One other highlight was the Kuthodaw Pagoda also known as the largest book in the world. The actual pagoda is surrounded by 730 stupas, each containing one page of the tipitaka (a phrase meaning “three baskets”, which is a reference to the baskets in which the original Buddhist teachings were held).

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Kuthodaw Pagoda with the largest book in the world.

After visiting several amazing buildings, we decided to go for the sunset (yep, another one) but we really weren’t in the mood to climb 1729 steps up the hill. So we took the tuktuk! (We did make the climb down though and on bare feet that is still pretty impressive!)

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Pagoda on Mandalay Hill

The next day we had hired a driver to take us to the three cities. We thought there would be some flexibility in where we were going to go, but no, there was not. We could decide not to go somewhere, but if we wanted something else, then that was extra… Asian logic. So after the goldleaf workshop and the weaving workshop we declined on the jewelry workshop and the silver workshop and the marble workshop and the woodcarving workshop. We don’t mind visiting the workshops, it’s just that we get tired of having to say no to the buying of their goods.

So then the driver took us to each and every tourist trap in the Mandalay vicinity, some of which we enjoyed and some of which we just couldn’t see as interesting. Like the Maha Ganayon Kyaung Monastry in Amarapura; it’s a beautiful area with lots of authentic stuff. The buildings are cool, it’s nice and quiet and there is lots to see if you like to know more about how Myanmar locals live. And of course there are monks. And they eat. At 10.15 am busloads and busloads (more than the 3 from Inle Lake) rolled up and let out thousands of tourists to line up along the road, so they could see the monks lining up on the road for their lunch (which happens around 10.30 am). Our driver showed us around a little bit (like the kitchen, which was cool) and then positioned us along the road right behind two other rows of tourists. I was flabbergasted… Really? It’s like they had never seen a monk before. The camera shutters worked overtime while the monks were just standing there and lenses were aimed at them from every possible angle and distance.

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In your face! (thankfully I have a good zoom on my camera, so it looks a lot closer than it was…)

This is not how I like to travel. Hubby and I could not see what the big deal was, so we left to find our driver again. If you like photography (and I do) then you should really go here, but avoid this lunch time rush!

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We made our way quickly to U-Bein Bridge (hoping to beat the crowds), the longest teak wood bridge. It’s about 1km and gently curves over the lake. During the wet season the water comes up to the top of the bridge, but now the lake was fairly empty. Very picturesque and we did indeed beat the bus-crowds.

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Next stop: Sagaing, the coolest part is when you are still on the across the river of Sagaing and you can see all these white stupas dotted on the hill in front of you. Beautiful! We then did cross the river and visited some temples and stupas. We are now getting to the point of Buddha statue overload.

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Our favorite part of Sagaing…

Our driver saved the ‘best’ for last: Inwa. He just put us in a boat and told us to be back in 1.5 hours. We said: “Uhm, ok?!” and left for the other side of the river. What we found there was totally crazy. Every single sales person of whatever was on that bank, trying to sell us stuff and mostly trying to sell us a horse cart ride, cause all the attractions were so far away. The horses looked sweaty and tired and the sheer amount of available horse carts was off-putting to me. In this day and age we don’t need actual horses to ferry tourists around anymore. Some people thinks it’s charming but I say: let the tourists rent ebikes or regular bikes and retire the horses into a nice meadow!

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No bikes were available though, so we set off to walk to the monastery, temple, tower and I forgot what the fourth place was. While we were walking the horse carts would follow us at a ‘more or less’ discrete distance, because they just couldn’t believe we were going to walk the whole thing. But them following us really got on our nerves, even when they did stop shouting how far everything is. They have quite aggressive selling tactics, taking away the charm of an otherwise really nice village.

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Unfortunately we were on flip-flops and after about 3km my feet started hurting (I know it’s a recurring theme). Hubby, strong as he is, finished the whole trip and, while walking by himself, got a cute girl to drive first me and then him back to the jetty. How awesome is he!

We got on the boat and back to the driver, who in turn took us back to the hotel. He was nice enough, but, like most Burmese, he seemed to think that all tourists and travelers want the same thing. And maybe that is true for the majority of tourists, but it’s just not us. Trying to explain this is hard, because our Burmese comprises 3 words and his English about 17. So we just smiled and thanked him very much for a very nice day. In the end it is not his fault after all.

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Marble workshop Mandalay

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