The roads round magical Mandalay!

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.

So we ordered and these arrived. Soup, creamed corn, corn, lime pickle and a sort of pickled veg dish.....
So we ordered and these arrived. Soup, creamed corn, corn, lime pickle and a sort of pickled veg dish…..
Then this happened, food just kept coming and the 4 dishes that arrived first were bottomless! This is Burmese dining!
Then this happened, food just kept coming and the dishes that arrived first were bottomless! This is Burmese dining!

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.

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One of the may places to buy offerings/souvenirs.

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This statue along with the elephant was looted from Angkor Wat.
This statue along with the elephant was looted from Angkor Wat.

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Gav on his way up to apply the Gold leaf
Gav on his way up to apply the Gold leaf. One of the chaps up there showed him how to place the gold leaf, also asked him where his “wife” was. Gav’s answer: “outside”. That’s how easy it is to get married folks!

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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!

Starting with clay baked chicken..
Starting with clay baked chicken..
BBQ plates arrived and went
BBQ plates arrived and went- it was a lot of food- the pictures don’t really give a sense of it
This is me eating a prawn wrapped in a potato chip
This is me eating a prawn wrapped in a potato chip

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.

So it begins- an array of temples
So it begins- an array of temples from the Mandalay side its like a sea of gold spires in a green carpet.

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Buffalo cart
Buffalo cart

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.

Massive Pagoda!
Massive Pagoda!
We expected the interior to be massive- it contained only a tiny shrine.
We expected the interior to be massive- it contained only a tiny shrine.
Two bells hung outside the entrance.
Two bells hung outside the entrance.
Alligaior water spout
Alligaior water spout
Views from the top
Views from the top if the Pagoda
View from the top of the Pagoda.
View from the top of the Pagoda.
Phone panoramic
Phone panoramic
We were wondering where the incense was going- not burnt at all just bent into the cracks..
We were wondering where the incense was going- not burnt at all just bent into the cracks..
View from the top
View from the top
Lions, They were huge! View from the top of the Pagoda.
Lions, They were huge! View from the top of the Pagoda.
Lions, They were huge! View from the top of the Pagoda.
Lions, They were huge! View from the top of the Pagoda.
The broken top of the Pagoda and one of Gav's guides-I didn't get to this bit. Too painful in barefeet!
The broken top of the Pagoda and one of Gav’s guides-I didn’t get to this bit. Too painful in barefeet!
Cutest dog!
Cutest dog!

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!

Mingun Bell.
Mingun Bell- I tried to get a photo straight on but some other tourists were taking elaborate portrait shots and I got fed up waiting- I do like the monk for scale 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.

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This guy had his photo taken with us!
This guy had his photo taken with us! He was very excited by it! I dread to think how many photos of me are now in Myanmar after this trip.
So many buddhas!
So many buddhas!

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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.

Little stupa by the river at Mingun
Little stupa by the river at Mingun
On the road from Mingun to Sagaing- a whole village with shrines over a window.
On the road from Mingun to Sagaing- a whole village with shrines over a window.

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Detour up the mountain.
Detour up the mountain.
Detour up the mountain.
Detour up the mountain.

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The road to this pagoda was so steep I had to get off and walk up..
The road to this pagoda (the white spiral one) was so steep I had to get off and walk up..

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Road to the top
Road to the top
A valley of temples- road to the top
A valley of temples- road to the top
Pagoda at the top of Sagaing Hill
Pagoda at the top of Sagaing Hill
Pagoda at the top of Sagaing Hill
Pagoda at the top of Sagaing Hill
Pagoda at the top of Sagaing Hill
Pagoda at the top of Sagaing Hill
Views from the pagoda at Sagaing Hill
Views from the pagoda at Sagaing Hill
Views from the pagoda at Sagaing Hill
Views from the pagoda at Sagaing Hill
Views from the pagoda at Sagaing Hill
Views from the pagoda at Sagaing Hill
Views from the pagoda at Sagaing Hill
Views from the pagoda at Sagaing Hill
Pagoda at the top of Sagaing Hill
Pagoda at the top of Sagaing Hill- nice tiles.

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.

Gate into Inwe.
Gate into Inwe.
Watch Tower
Watch Tower
Goats on the road!
Goats on the road!

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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.

Silk dyers-shot taken from the back of the bike.
Silk dyers-shot taken from the back of the bike.
U-Bien Bridge
U-Bien Bridge
You can do a boat ride on the lake for to see the sunset- reasonably priced too- unfortunately we had to get the bike back.
You can do a boat ride on the lake for to see the sunset- reasonably priced too- unfortunately we had to get the bike back.

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 had planned to watch the sunset on our last night at a sky bar with views over the Palace. Unfortunately the
We had planned to watch the sunset on our last night at a sky bar with views over the Palace. Unfortunately the “sky bar”was only two floors high and the sunset was behind it blocked by another building. Still we got this photo on the way.
Our first Nepali food on the trip: total cost was less than the drinks at the
Our first Nepali food on the trip: total cost was less than the drinks at the “sky bar”. Thali set and Potato paratha
We also got a ride in one of these. Gav at the front (as he was heavier) and me at the back. The driver approached us in the street, he hadn't had anyone use it all day. Poor chap was dripping with sweat when he dropped us off. Did I mention he was 60? The equivalent of having one of our parents do this.
We also got a ride in one of these. Gav at the front (as he was heavier) and me at the back. The driver approached us in the street, he hadn’t had anyone use it all day. Poor chap was dripping with sweat when he dropped us off. Did I mention he was 60? The equivalent of having one of our parents do this.
Odd Catholic Church
Odd Catholic Church
This thing is genius- I've yet to have one as the queue was so long here and we've only seen it once since. So you take a block of ice- grind it up in a vice to make coarse snow, press it together to make a sphere and top with syrup and toppings! Old style snowcone!
This thing is genius- I’ve yet to have one as the queue was so long here and we’ve only seen it once since. So you take a block of ice- grind it up in a vice to make coarse snow, press it together to make a sphere and top with syrup and toppings! Old style snow cone!

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,

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