As those of you who know us will be aware, our original plan for this year was spending 12 months living and working in Myanmar through Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). Sadly this fell through but we were determined to visit Myanmar anyway and the fact that some of our friends were visiting cemented the plan!
Our first stop in Myanmar was Mandalay – a name that conjures up images of exotic and beautiful scenes. Although the realities of Mandalay include dusty streets, hustle and bustle and congested roads, it’s charms are very plentiful and obvious.
As perhaps the most devout Buddhist nation, and one that has been separated from the outside world for a long period of time, if you spend a short time ambling around Mandalay you are rewarded by new smells, intriguing people and stunning pagodas a plenty. Mandalay was possibly the most friendly and welcoming city we have encountered yet.
After spending our first couple of days ambling around the city and soaking up the atmosphere in the lesser visited pagodas and local markets we met up with some friends from back home to explore Mandalay’s more famous sites, including a boat trip to Mingun, viewing the city from the pagoda on top of Mandalay Hill and walking across the world’s longest teak bridge at Amarapura.
Here are some of those highlights.
Exploring the city
We had a couple of days before our friends arrived from the UK and decided to use the time to explore the local area. We wandered out towards Zat Cho market and towards Ein Daw Yar Pagoda and some other pagodas around the area. We were struck by how rural the city became just a few blocks away from the centre and also how we did not see another westerner during the whole time!
We got to sample some of the traditional food. If you can believe it, everything on the table below was given to us before we even ordered anything! Side dishes and eat as much as you like rice are common in Myanmar – as is their famous tea leaf salad (also below) which is traditionally eaten as desert!
One evening we managed to see a show by the Mandalay Marionettes who put on a really interesting show of traditional Burmese puppetry. Occasionally the curtains were drawn up and the puppeteers would be revealed.
After an hour boat ride up the wide sprawling Ayeyarwady River we arrived at Mingun – seemingly along with all the other tourists that were in Mandalay! Although it was busy and touristy we could see why with several unique pagodas in one small riverside village.
The most famous site is Mingun Paya a huge ruined stupa that was never finished. Had it been finished it would have been the largest stupa in the world, but had a legend attached to it that if it were ever finished the king would die. Safe to say no monarch would want to fund that project!
Next to the stupa is a building housing a huge bell at 13 ft high and weighing 90 tons.
We also visited Hsinbyume Paya – an unusual white Pagoda built for the kings daughter who died in childbirth.
There were also a number of other pagodas and buildings of interest there.
Mandalay’s flat landscape is punctuated at the north east corner by the 760ft Mandalay Hill. You can climb or drive up and are rewarded with views across the city as well as a number of pagodas and monasteries as well as a maze of souvenir and food stalls!
The main attraction at Amarapura is U Bein Bridge – the world’s longest teak footbridge at 1.2km. We visited just before sunset, which is the time when high numbers of monks and villagers are commuting across it.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Mandalay but it was time to head off on the next leg of our trip – a 10 hour boat trip down the Ayeyarwady River to the temples of Bagan.