We flew from Yangon to Mandalay with Golden Myanmar Airlines and although we left Yangon a bit late our flight was good and they even offered a shuttle bus into the center of Mandalay which was handy because the airport is quite far.
Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar after Yangon and we didn’t realize how big it actually was until we got there. We asked a local what the population is and he said around 7 million. It’s a chaotic and noisy place and most of the sights are located just outside of the city. We had a limited amount of time here so we booked two tours through our hotel.
On our first day we went to see the ancient cities of Sagaing, Ava, and Amarapura. We had a very open guide and he talked a lot about how he hopes to see change in his country especially since they plan on having an election later on this year.
Our first stop was at the Pathodawgyi Pagoda, a beautiful shiny white pagoda with shimmering gold umbrellas. It was interesting that the local people hang these offerings on the trees to feed the birds and this was the only place we saw this.
We then stopped at the Mahar Gandaryone Monestary in Amarapura to watch the Monks and Nuns line up for their food. Apparently donors will give money and write down what they would like cooked for the Monks or Nuns, and then the kitchen prepares that particular dish as per the donor’s wishes. It was nice to see but it really gave us mixed feelings because it is being made into a huge tourist attraction which left us wondering how they can even enjoy their lunch.
Our next stop was at Soon Oo Pone Nyashin Pagoda at the top of Sagaing Hill, the view was nice but it was too bad that it was so hazy which we think is from all the burning they do in the dry season. From the top of the hill we could see the Buddhist University for the Monks and it’s quite a grand structure.
As we were leaving the temple we watched this guy do a painting in about 3 minutes with a carving technique, we really liked it so we bought it from him.
We took a break at one of the local restaurants for a bit of lunch. I loved the local Tea Leaf salad, it had so many textures and flavours. Then we popped in at a handicraft place and watched some wood carving and a process that was very similar to quilting.
After lunch we went to Bargaya which is a teak monastery and it was such a beautiful building. We spent quite a bit of time here admiring the teak carving inside and out.
On our way down the road from the teak monastery we saw this old pagoda and stopped in. It was an interesting pagoda and we really liked the old Buddhas.
Later on we took a walk through the local village that was next to Hsinkyone Fort. We especially enjoyed the village and it was interesting to see the locals go about their day. The Fort wasn’t much to see but it was right next to the village so we gave it a look.
After our village visit we went to Maha Aung Myae Bonzan which is an old brick monastery. It was huge inside with many hallways and archways. On our way out of the monastery, Gordon bought me a very nice jade bracelet for Valentines Day from a lovely lady who could negotiate really well.
We made a quick stop at a pagoda that is under construction but it was really something to see, it’s made entirely out of Jade. It is the first and only real jade studded temple in the world and Myanmar is famous for its jade but most of it is sent to China.
Our day ended at the famous U Bein Bridge for sunset. We enjoyed a nice cold beer while waiting for the sun to go down and tasted some deep fried corn kernels, they were battered and then deep fried, interesting but not necessarily my favourite snack.
After a long day of touring we had dinner at a restaurant (it looked more like an old garage converted to an eating place) near our hotel that was consistently packed with locals along with the odd foreigner. The food was good and very inexpensive with huge portions, we ended up sharing our meals at this place.
Our second day in Mandalay we visited Mingun which is another ancient city. Before we headed across the river for the one hour drive to Mingun we stopped at Mahamuni Buddha Image, it’s known as the face of Mandalay. It was so beautiful inside and watching all the people placing gold leaf on the Buddha was nice to watch.
On our way out of town we were stunned at the size of the watermelons that they grow here, they were at least 15 pounds if not more. We wanted to buy one but they were just too huge.
While driving to Mingun our driver stopped a few times to pay people that were holding out silver decorated bowls and holding up various flags. Apparently they were collecting money for road maintenance so that they could widen the road. In Myanmar when the government puts a paved road in, all the road maintenance and improvements are left to the local people because the government will only spend money on building new roads.
In Mingun we visited the Pathodawgyi Pagoda and climbed to the top for the view. Apparently the King slowed down construction because he was told the country would be gone and he would be dead once it was completed, later he died and it was never finished.
We also visited the Mingun Bell which is the second largest bell in the world. It really is the largest ‘ringing’ bell in the world and it was built for the Pathodawgyi Pagoda that was never finished.
Then we went to the Mya Thein Tan Pagoda which has seven wave like terraces that represent seven mountain ranges around Mt. Meru.
We ended our time in Mingun with a visit to the home for old ages which was constructed in 1915 by donation. It was the first home for seniors in Myanmar that can’t afford extra care or their families can no longer care for them. The ladies cook huge pots of food on a fire, they are all volunteers and they receive no salary for their time given.
We headed back into the city of Mandalay to visit the Royal Palace. On our way we stopped in at a little shop to see how they make traditional gold leaf. It’s quite the tedious process and a lot of pounding happens to make it very thin, it was interesting to see how it’s done (the locals buy a lot of gold leaf).
The Royal Palace was nice but we had to walk through a military base to get to it which was slightly intimidating and there were strict rules about photographs here. Once we were inside the palace grounds then we were allowed to take pictures.
After the Royal Palace we visited the Golden Palace Monastery which was stunning but very crowded. Even with the crowds it was worth stopping there to see it.
One of my favourite stops of the day was the Kuthodaw Pagoda which houses the world’s largest book. Actually it’s large marble tablets with ancient writing on both sides housed in approximately 729 little pagodas.
We ended our day with sunset views from Mandalay Hill which for us was highly overrated. It was very very crowded which really took away from the peacefulness of enjoying the sunset.
We enjoyed Mandalay but we were happy when it came time to head out of the city, it was so busy and noisy but we sure saw a lot in our two days there. We were also happy to get back to the hotel at the end of these days to wash our feet, we had to take our shoes off at all the sites we visited and it can be a bit yucky but we feel it’s important to respect their culture and beliefs.
Where we stayed: Hotel Sahara
Written by: Tammy Hermann…Live~Love~Travel