While we were putting together the itinerary for our trip to Myanmar there was some important decisions to make.
Our flight arrived in Mandalay Myanmar, the country’s second largest city but many would consider it one which is passable. We had to decide- should be stay for a couple of days or immediately head off to one of the other areas we planned to visit during our trip?
It was a tough call, but Kim and I both agreed that a visit to Mandalay did sound like a good idea- more so to visit some other areas (which were ancient capitals) close by.
After flying to our next destination, Kim, Lucas and I would all agree that the 2.5 days we spent in Mandalay was definitely worth our time!
Here is a look at some of the things we did during our visit.
(Before reading further, if you haven’t already done so- check out my post 14 Things We Learned From Visiting Myanmar (Burma).)
Our first half day in Mandalay was pretty much a waste. However, it did serve a purpose.
After taking three flights to get from NYC to Mandalay, we were all exhausted. After relaxing at our hotel for an hour or so, we headed out to find some food. We wandered the dusty streets looking for a restaurant serving local cuisine called Too Too.
I mentioned earlier how we were pretty tired. Well it took us a while to find the restaurant and when we got there I was close to walking out. The food didn’t look so great but then again the food in Myanmar isn’t supposed to be… We decided to stay and the food was what I’d best consider to be OK.
On the walk back to our hotel, I got a bit distracted by the pink monks. We followed them, waved hi and took some photos before heading back.
Lucas and I laid down for a nap and we never got up for dinner! Again, I did say we were tired!
While I did wake up very hungry the next morning, all of that sleep got us practically back on schedule and we were able to enjoy the next days actually feeling quite refreshed.
We had a busy day in-store for our first full day in Mandalay. Our plan was to visit a few places outside of the city, each needing from 1-3 hours per visit.
Our first stop was the strange Snake Pagoda in Paleik. We arrived a bit before the daily washing and feeding and it was definitely an interesting scene.
Kim, Lucas and I were the only foreigners that were visiting. However, a large local crowd was also there to see the daily routines.
There are three rather large pythons which call the pagoda home. According to what I read, the snakes came from the forest and have never left.
Before the pythons were washed, most of the people visiting prayed in front of the snakes at the alter they were sitting on. Once it got close to bath time, it seemed like a mad rush to get an up close view. I was close to the front the whole time but it turns out that if you just wait a little while, most of the locals leave!
By the time the snakes were fed (definitely not exciting to watch), there were few people left watching the show. I did see some people who made a donation get the chance to feed the snakes. I guess it must be considered some sort of honor…
Our next stop was under five minutes away. While I’m not sure that it has an actual name, it is referred to as mini-Bagan.
Besides a handful of locals walking or biking by us, the area was empty- there wasn’t another tourist in sight taking photos.
With the temples and pagodas being packed together so closely, it made for a really awesome view. We spent less than a half hour wandering around before we had to move on to our next destination. I’d highly recommend stopping by mini-Bagan if you happen to find yourself in Mandalay.
Our next stop was a lot of fun and it was partially due to the transportation we took to get there.
To get to the former royal capital of Inwa (Ava) we first had to catch a small boat for a 5 minute ride across a river. We then walked up a short hill where we arranged a ride with one of the waiting horse carts.
While the horse carts aren’t the most comfortable ride, they are a lot of fun.
We visited a bunch of different small sites which had some temples and pagodas. Lucas and I felt that this one was a great place for a jump!
We also stopped at Bagaya Kyaung, a monastery dating back to 1834 which is constructed of teak. It was pretty amazing to see all of the interesting carvings inside. Kim and I appreciated seeing the small school area with globes hanging all around.
We had to pay a few dollars each to enter but found the stop to be really interesting.
After our time exploring the sites we headed back towards the ferry area but stopped for lunch first. The food at Small River was decent but nothing to write home about.
After visiting Ava, we made a quick stop so I could purchase a longyi, a traditional sarong worn by most local men. I figured that I’d wear it to a few sites for photos but didn’t bother until later in the trip. Either way, it was fun checking out a local shop and learning how to tie the longyi!
Our final stop of the day was in Amarapura home to the famous U-Bein Bridge.
The bridge is around a mile long and is possibly the longest & oldest teak bridge in the world. We got there just before sunset and it was an impressive site to see. The only problem was that the area was overly crowded with (mostly local) visitors.
While wandering over the bridge (we didn’t go fully across), many locals would stop to take pictures of Lucas. Some would also touch his face or arms which go to be annoying for him pretty fast. Lucas was like a little celebrity but he wasn’t really interested in the attention.
After being on the bridge for a bit, we decided that the best spot for a photo of the sunset was from ground level and boy did it not disappoint!
Plans for our second full (but last) day in Mandalay included a half-day visit outside the city along with a little time to see some sites within it.
We had to rush to get to the dock to catch the boat to Mingun, a village along the Ayeyarwady River. Luckily we made it with a few minutes to spare.
The hour-long ride there and 40 minute ride back were part of the fun of our visit. Besides Kim, Lucas and I, there was something like 7-8 other passengers onboard. (It was an adventure getting on and off the boat- especially with a toddler. Think planks of wood between multiple boats and over water with lots of hands to help from boat crew and locals.)
However, once we arrived the area did seem to be pretty busy with locals from other parts of Myanmar visiting the sites.
After a 10 minute walk from the boat, we came upon Mingun Paya, a massive stupa which would’ve been the world’s largest had it ever been completed. Only the bottom third was built and it’s still a massive structure.
We didn’t climb the steps to the top due to how hot the floors were. There were even warning signs for tourists not to go up.
Instead, we enjoyed wandering around the base, taking photos of this interesting structure. The most amazing thing to see were the humongous cracks in it made by a couple of earthquakes.
A few minutes walk away was a building that houses the Mingun Bell.
I read that this bell was the world’s largest ringable bell for quite some time but it has now lost the title to a bell located in China.
We had a lot of fun here and spent a while enjoying the shade and being out of the strong sun.
Lucas and I rang the bell a few times and also had a blast ducking underneath it.
Lucas loved that he got to use a flashlight while under the bell! The only problem here was the amount of people who again wanted to touch and take photos of him. On only our second day of the trip, Lucas was using his stroller canopy to hide at times!
We saved the best (or at least most interesting) for last.
When we came upon the Hsinbyume Paya (pagoda) I imagined that this was what many temples in India would look like. This pagoda was quite different that the others that we had seen so far.
We walked half way around the pagoda before we finally found the intended entrance. We all then walked up to the top. Many people were sitting around relaxing while Kim, Lucas and I wandered around checking out the views from high up. We had great views of Mingun Paya but didn’t stay too long. We definitely didn’t want to miss the boat back!
Overall we had a nice time checking out the sites around Mingun. A big plus for the area is that all of the main stops can be walked to along one road. If you’re tired or lazy you could also take an ox cart to the sites.
We used the second half of our day to see a couple of sites in Mandalay.
Our first stop was Mandalay Palace. While walking on the road over the moat, a girl who was on our boat to Mingun waved hello which was kind of funny…
To get into the palace grounds you’ll have to either pay the fee or show your Archaeological Zone ticket which costs approximately $10. It covers pretty much all of the sites but was only checked a couple of times….
Once we passed though the big gate (shown above) we walked about a mile before reaching the palace, although we could see it for most of the way.
While we walked along the road there were a bunch of signs showing where we could/ could not go or take photos. I’m not sure what was in these restricted areas but we stayed on course, heading straight for the palace.
We spent around an hour checking out and taking some photos of the interesting wooden buildings. While the palace looks old, I read that it is actually a recreation of the original 1850s palace, built in the 1990s.
After wandering around the palace area, I got a better look at the layout by climbing high up a structure known as the watchtower. On my way up the watchtower’s spiraling staircase, I ran into another person from our boat ride to/ from Mingun. Again. It was pretty funny considering we didn’t chat at all during the boat rides. However, we chatted for a few minutes on this random watchtower staircase of all places.
There were plenty of beautiful buildings at the palace but the gold one above was my favorite. If you’re visiting or just stopping through Mandalay, the palace is a must visit.
Our last stop of the day was Mandalay Hill. We took a cab from the front gates of the palace to get there. The road up the hill was steep and winding. I can’t say that I would’ve rather walked up.
Once we got dropped off at the top parking area, we took a bunch of escalators up to the top. There were lots of people here, a good mix of locals, tourists, monks all here for the same reason- to enjoy the sunset!
We spent around an hour here and it was interesting to look down and see the all around Mandalay from high up. From up here, you can really see how flat the area is. I can’t say that the sunset was one of my favorites during the trip but seeing the top of Mandalay Hill is still pretty interesting.
This was definitely a great start to our visit to this fascinating country. Don’t forget to keep checking back for upcoming posts about more of our trip to Myanmar (Burma).