Firstly I should mention that Mandalay has more temples than you can shake a stick at, you could probably visit a different one every day for a year and still not see them all. It is the main centre for Buddhism in Myanmar with the highest concentration of monks- they don’t have exact figures but there are loads! Incidentally in Burmese families can win merit with Buddha by sending their son or daughter off to the monastery for a few days/weeks/months… however what we have seen is that putting kids of 6-10 in robes and shaving their heads they still run around the place like anywhere else. Also all the monks (and the majority of others) have smart phones and the love taking group photos everywhere (and with random foreigners as we saw in Yangon).
So after escaping from the “taxi mafia” at the train station, we headed the 800m on foot with our bags, found our hotel, Golden City Lights Hotel. They had a heavily discounted rate of $22 a night dropping them squarely in backpacker budget territory. When we arrived, they offered us a free breakfast while they got our room ready. We were delighted! Shortly after we were in our room and had a shower and relaxed a bit. That evening it was dinner at Aya Myit Tar, which rather randomly we found through Wikitravel, there was much excitement at us coming in-people were much more excited in the north about us especially my colouring, we got fussed over loads. From the menu-which included various viscera,we steered clear of that- we ordered chicken salad, pork salad, fried kale, fried veg.
The following morning hotel offered us some bicycles to ride to see the Mahamuni pagoda and the gold Buddha there, another one of the most holy sites in Myanmar. I hadn’t ridden a bike in ages so it was quite fun. My bike was making a weird noise however and as we got to a crossroad over the main road near the hotel, Gav shot ahead as my chain came off so I was stranded at the side of the road next to the traffic lights. It was a ladies bike too with a cover so I couldn’t even fix it. Gav was at the top of the bridge across the road when he realised I wasn’t behind him so he came back to see what was happening. As it transpired Gav’s bike had no brakes so with mine broken and we walked the bikes back the 200m and braved the 2km walk in the heat, it was 10 am so wasn’t too hot…yet.
One thing about this temple was that the main attraction- the Gold Buddha-was interactive- well in such a way as you could buy gold leaf for 1600 khat and put them on the Buddha. Making this offering is supposed to bring weath. This turned out to be one of Gav’s favourite things in Myanmar, mostly I think because I, along with all the other women, was not allowed in the room with the Buddha, let alone apply the gold leaf.
That afternoon was blisteringly hot, so after the long walk back in the mid-day sun we retreated back to the hotel and emerged again for dinner. This time at Super 81- a bbq place with a massive menu.We opted for an increasingly spicy Chicken pot- I wanted a different one but the waiter said it would be too spicy- he was right, this one was spicy enough and built up over time. Gav got a selection of BBQ, Quail eggs, prawns wrapped in potato chip, potatoes, Chinese nuts, pork and chicken sausages, fried kale plus it had 700 khat draft beer! Also when we were here we found out the correct way to get a Burmese waiter’s attention-making a kissing noise (like a gecko), the first few times I heard it it was behind my back so was a bit un-nerved by it as it felt like being cat-called slightly-I needn’t have worried! In case you were wondering we didn’t try to imitate it!
The following day we decided to rent a moped to do the 4 ancient capitals of the northern Myanmar -Mingun, Sagaing, Inwa (Ava) and Anapura. Unfortunately we were delayed getting out due to the late arrival of the moped- so it was getting very hot (10am) before we hit the road to our first stop of Mingun.
At Mingun Pagoda built in 1790. It was not completed, as an astrologer claimed that once the temple was finished the king would die- that’d put you off finishing it alright. If it had have been completed the stupa would have been the largest in the world at 150 metres (490 ft). Huge cracks are a result of the earthquake of 23 March 1839. you can climb to the top (a sign tells you not to though for safety, but they they put a staircase with a handrail….)- like all the temples here you have to do it barefoot, it was very, very hot on the soles of the feet. Gav got talking to some local boys who brought him on a tour of the top- I took a break with some local girls and monks in the shade at their invitation. There was the obligatory photo taken on one of the monks phones, they then headed off and I went on to see how Gav was doing. Turns out he was negotiating with the boys- they wanted $5 but he gave them 1000 khat- for the 10 mins it wasn’t too bad a price. Facing the river across the road from the temple are the remains of two massive lions- the heads long gone but we had a quick drink here before moving on.
Next stop was the Mingun Bell at 90 T it was, at many times, the largest ringing bell in the world- unfortunately it has now been beaten by a bell in China. Pretty impressive though!
Slightly up the road was the Hsinbyume Pagoda, I quite liked this pagoda and again we had photos taken with some giggling local schoolkids. The people here are great fun altogether.
Next it was back down the road by the Irrawaddy River to Sagaing. Basically this is a whole hill of temples, the drive up to the main temple more dramatic and enjoyable than the main event but the views were impressive as you can see.
Next up was Inwa (also known as Ava). I would have liked to spend a bit more time here but we were running short so just had a quick run into a few temples we saw on the way to the main old city which was encircled by a massive wall- there was a teak monastery here that you could see as part of the Mandalay tourist ticket (which we didn’t get and costs $10/1000 kyat) and we didn’t have time to see the rest and annoyingly you can’t pay for just one so we left it for next time.
Then it was back to Mandalay via the U-Bien (Teak) bridge at Amarapura– the longest in the world at 1.2 km. The place is a massive tourist trap though-a can of coke was 5 times the normal price. We were starting to run out of time with the bike, so decided to walk out until we were over the water, that was far enough! It was a bit on the rickety side and very narrow with no barriers and for some reason an entire team of girls were out there in uniform getting their photos taken.
Other than that we did a few other bits and pieces in Mandalay (see below), but have definitely left enough to warrant another trip back.
We will definitely come back to Mandalay some day (I hope!) however we had run out of time here for this trip and the following day we headed for Bagan,