Our last destination in Myanmar was the second largest city of the country: Mandalay. Located in the geographical center of the country in the low plains made this the hottest place during our trip. While we did see the mandatory sights, the real treasures lay tucked away in small alleys far away of the main stream tourism, even though some of them were highlighted in the guide books.
We left Monywa at 9am in Morning to head on our last bus trip on Myanmar to Mandalay, the second largest city located on the shores of the Ayeyarwaddy River. Our reckless driver brought us to our destination in record time, however still took what seemed for ever to make into the city center due to enormous amounts of traffic on the small roads of Mandalay.
We were finally dropped of at what seemed a random street corner in Western Mandalay. Fortunately a Polish couple had given us a good reference to a reasonably priced and well maintained hotel not too far away. Since we didn’t exactly know where we were we just started haggling with nearby trishaw drivers to give us a ride. As we had gotten accustomed, at one point one of the onlookers was willing to take us for the price we were asking.
One of the curious things we wanted to see was what is called the worlds largest book. The large dimension stems from the fact that each of the 729 pages is actually a pretty big and heavy stone slab, kept in little buildings, one at a time.
Nearby we visited the first wooden temple of our trip, however it turned out that it wouldn’t be our last. The wooden temples seemed to be quite common in the Mandalay area, as we visited three beautiful specimen during our stay of almost two days.
Our real target for the evening however was Mandalay hill. The challenge in reaching the top was the 30 minute barefoot walk, which turned out to be quite a strain on my ankles, particularly the way down. Even though we saw another series of Buddha statues we had grown so accustomed to them such that we did not pay too much attention. The sunset from the top of the hill with the reflections in the Ayeyarwaddy River was what we had come to see. Hadn’t there been so many tourists brought up the hill by bus and elevator, we could have enjoyed the sunset even more.
Once darkness had fallen, we had reached the bottom of the hill and started finding our way back to the hotel. We were not in a particular hurry, since we wanted to find a nice place to eat first. It was another amazing experience enjoying the hospitality of a Myanmar restaurant owner who did not see too many tourists in his place. Besides the hospitality his simple meals also tasted great, such that we continued our journey through the night well fed. Just a few blocks from the restaurant, we cam across what must have been some sort of street fair. While people were gather to enjoy food, do some shopping, a band was playing ear shattering loud local music. We enjoyed listening for a while until our ears couldn’t take it anymore.
For the following day, we had arrange a driver to show us around the typical sights of Mandalay. Right on time he picked us up at our hotel and first drove us to the Maha Muni Temple. We were just a few minutes late to observe the full procession that had been going on, but nevertheless could take in some of the beautiful costumes people were wearing. As with many sights in Mandalay we were not spared the tourist onslaught just a little bit later. It seemed that a couple of tour busses had unloaded their crowd, so we caught our glance at the golden Buddha and drove off. But we didn’t make it very far. Our driver was very keen on showing us a wood and a stone carving workshop near the Maha Muni Temple. We quickly browsed through the shops and continued our way to the ferry to Innwa.
Innwa sports a quite amazing business as far as transportation is concerned. The ancient village lies across a side river of the Ayeyarwaddy and typically is reached via a ferry. On the far side passengers are immediately picked up by horse carriage, each of which of course charges extra money.
However, it turned out to be a good choice to make use of the horse carriage, even though the ride was a very bumpy one. The five typical sights were far apart and walking the distance in the blazing sun would have been much more torture. We only saw one couple actually daring the walk. Moreover the sights were not all that breathtaking, such that we were rather happy to be on our way back rather soon.
We caught the ferry back across the river, however it left in the wrong direction. It turned out we had another tourist on board who could enjoy the luxury to be dropped of right in front of the restaurant where he was expected for lunch. Right after he was dropped of, we continued the journey back to where our driver had been waiting for us.
Before making it across the Ayeyarwaddy River to Sagaing, we stopped for an excellent lunch break and exchanged a few more US Dollars for our final days. While the view from Sagaing Hill was nice, we much more enjoyed sitting in the shade for a while on top of the hill and enjoy watching monks and tourists.
Our final destination for the day was the famous U Bein Bridge. We had read about the 1.6km long wooden bridge, but had no idea what we had to expect. Tourists usually show up either in the morning, when the monks cross the bridge to eat their breakfast or in the evening during sunset. We happened to arrive in the middle of the afternoon, such that it was too early to wait for sunset. Nevertheless we enjoyed a walk across the bridge and back, particular taking in the many monks crossing the bridge, It seemed as if they were aid by the government to walk back and forth to make the bridge an even more attractive sight.
Once back at our hotel we looked around for a good restaurant. A couple of blocks away from our hotel we found one with delicious food, which apparently was quite used to serving food to foreigners. On thing was for sure: the owner didn’t have the usual calm of Myanmar and kept pacing around place. We enjoyed her food and even more than that, we enjoyed an ice shake a little later in one of the few places which serviced sweets and ice cream.
The next day we had to be back at our hotel at 3pm, since the taxi to the new Mandalay airport was waiting. We enjoyed walking around Western Mandalay, findin pagodas which were not very popular among tourists, however even nicer than what we had seen so far. Particularly the Shwe In Bin Monastery, the third wooden monastery we came across, was the most elaborate and quiet monastery we had seen in Mandalay.
Following the monastery we came across a small candy factory, which showcased how some of the candy in Myanmar is made. From squeezing the juice out of the sugar cane, through cooking, pulling all the way to cutting and packing, we could observe the whole candy making process on about 30 square meters.
From the candy factory we continued through the small alleys which opened up to a first channel. We crossed the channel on another beautiful wooden bridge, to eventually reach the Mandalay harbor on the Ayeyarwaddy River.
It was quite interesting to observe how the river was being used in many different ways, Besides the omnipresent passenger ships, there were many floats transporting bamboo and teak wood downstream. Additionally people were washing their clothes and themselves in the brown water, which is the main source in Myanmar.
Our afternoon flight was delayed, but otherwise uneventful. We were once again Flying Beyond Expectations and had a perfect service. The service back at the guesthouse where we had a reserved a room however was less perfect. They had booked out our room to a couple of Germans, such that we had to find another place to sleep. They helped us find another place, however that was much more expensive. Lenka showed her negotiation skills when she shout out loud that the prices were way to expensive. This immediately resulted in a 25% discount, such that we stopped arguing and took the room. While it was the highest quality room during our stay in Myanmar, it contained many more perks than were necessary for us.
We had another morning in Yangon to spend, before our flight was due to leave to Kunming. We had decided to enjoy a ride on the circle train around Yangon, which takes about 3 hours. We enjoyed the changing scenery from the main station across markets and fields and through what looked like a huge trash dump before we reached the main train station again. We applied our negotiation skills one last time and got a taxi back to the airport.
The flight back to Beijing was yet another adventure waiting for us! Our flight from Yangon had already been delayed, but then also had to queue before being allowed to land in Kunming. Of our 2 hour layover we had just 1 hour left, once our plane had landed. It took another 45 minutes to get through immigration and to have our luggage in hand which we had to check-in again before heading to the far end of the airport to catch our flight. In all the hurry we only checked-in Lenka’s back-pack, which was due to arrive in Beijing on the following flight, while I carried my larger backpack as carry on. I had completely forgotten about my Swiss Army knife, which they of course confiscated during the second security check. Running across the airport we reached the gate only to learn that they hadn’t even started boarding yet. On the one hand we were happy that we had made our flight, on the other hand we had rushed across almost all of Kunming airport for no reason. Exhausted we arrived in Beijng around midnight only to deal with airport staff to have Lenka’s backpack delivered to her office the next day. Fortunately that part worked out…
Back in Beijing we would reminisce quite a while in our amazing memories of the country that carried a couple of different names in the recent past, the people of which were incredibly friendly and peaceful and that had a lot of good scenery and excellent food to offer.