Published: February 19th 2011February 3rd 2011
As I said in the last blog, the road to Mandalay was long.. But unlike the roads in Laos, this was a proper highway so at least the ride wasn't that bumpy. We had a nightbus leaving from just north of Yangon at 8.30 and we were dropped off way ahead of departure time by our taxi. Luckily our ticket had a company name on it because the bus station was about as big as a large town. We were the only foreigners on the bus so we were also a prime target for the salespeople....water, Chiclets, chips...but we'd already bought our snacks back in Yangon so we had to disappoint them...
Our bus looked good, an old Japanese bus with comfy and bright velvet seats. The company even handed out toothbrushes and water! This was more VIP than any Lao bus I'd taken! We had seats 9&10, fine seats but unfortunately seated above a large vent, which not only limited our leg space but also created quite a cold environment for our legs. About three hours after departure we couldn't handle the cold anymore (we were wrapped up in warmer clothing, scarves and also struggled with the ventilation from
above which couldn't be switched off), so we asked a boy sitting in front of us if he could ask the driver to turn it down, or even better, off. In these cases, it's usually all or nothing...:) The 2nd driver said we could sit at the front, where he covered the ventilation with a curtain. No vent below our legs, instead a stack of water bottles, bags of rice (?) or other goods that were conveniently being transported along with us passengers. It - literally and metaphorically- smelt fishy...but we were happy to at least be warmer at the front.
We spent a few hours enjoying the Burmese entertainment, a typical romance movie with two famous Burmese actors. It was easy to follow the story despite the language... It was a clear love triangle between a girl and two guys. One of them blackmailed her but she got rid of one and two lived happily ever after. Lots of overacting and dramatic music, but pretty funny! A bit like the telenovelas in Latin America. Fortunately we managed to get a few hours of sleep here and there as well, but as we got closer to Mandalay in the
early morning hours we stopped more frequently to let people out. At about 3-4am we stopped and thought maybe we could use a bathroom somewhere as almost everyone got out. It was pitch-black, except we saw a small hut and then two officials. We had to line up and they asked for our passports and where we were going (I thought this would be quite obvious as everyone came out of the same bus from Yangon to Mandalay....) but that was it and everyone got back on the bus. No toilet break, just a Burmese provincial border crossing...
We arrived in Mandalay bus station (aka a sandy car park) at about 6am and saw a taxi driver holding my name. Very glad we had arranged a transfer for this early in the morning, we drove to our hotel which was just north of central Mandalay in a quiet residential area. We were knackered from the bus journey so we had a shower and breakfast at this lovely inn. Mom was not feeling very well so we decided to take it easy. The inn had a lovely quiet garden with some sunbeds and a pool so this was a good
place to relax. At about 4pm, when it was a bit cooler and we had gathered some energy, we walked around the palace walls towards the market area. Unfortunately this was almost over by the time we got there so we walked back through the centre towards a restaurant to have dinner. Our first choice (Ko's Kitchen) was fully booked for the night so we stopped at a large Chinese restaurant, the golden duck. It lacked atmosphere but the food was delicious!
The next day we set off early to visit the ancient cities of Amarapura and Inwa (Ava). We arranged a taxi to drive us there and back for 40,000 kyats, which we thought was quite a crazy price, but having an A/C car on the dusty and bumpy roads was a luxury we were very happy with.
We arrived in Amarapura which is just outside of Mandalay and has the oldest teakwood bridge, the U-Bein bridge. Locals cross this bridge across the Taungthaman river daily and this is a beautiful sight. The start of the bridge is very touristy, souvenir vendors selling bracelets, paintings but also a few leper victims which is a saddening sight to
Taungthaman river and boat
I thought I'd gotten a nice shot of local fishermen. When I zoomed in I saw a rather largebodied tourist. Ah well.
We walked across the bridge when a few monks asked to take their picture with us (huh, why with us?) so that was quite funny. Across the bridge is Taungthaman village where Kyauktaungi Paya is located. This temple has some very nice murals that are still in good condition. We left through the back entrance which was right in the village. It is so rural, small bamboo huts, we saw a few men making new bamboo walls, it's quite a job but they do it beautifully. A little girl holding her cat walked over and said hello very politely (we often heard mothers or fathers whispering to their kids to greet everyone nicely, which the children always do!). I asked if it was OK to take her picture and showed her the result, they are so excited to see digital photos, very cute.
We paid a short visit to a weaving workshop in the village and bought two souvenirs for a tiny amount of money, but the lady was delighted with our visit! We then walked back across the bridge and visited the monastery where hundreds of monks (many novice) study. We spoke to a 36 year
old monk who told us about his life in the monastery, very interesting.
From Amarapura we drove to Inwa, which is an island nearby and which was also a capital of Myanmar at one point (as were Mandalay and Amarapura). We took a small boat across and decided to rent a horsecart which would drop us off at some of the major sights. There were 5 main sights; our definite favorite was the Bagaya Kyaung, a beautifully crafted teak monastery. It has not been renovated so it looks old but there is a very good atmosphere. It has beautiful views across the fields and banana palms. There were 2 temples and another monastery which I can't remember all the names of :) and there was the leaning tower of Nanmyin, this was the only part of the original palace that was left in Inwa. It provided great views across the river to Sagaing which we decided to skip. Many people visit the three places in one day but we preferred to do things at a relaxed pace. And after Inwa we were happy to head back, we were tired and very happy with how our day in the ancient
cities had been.
After freshening up we had dinner at Ko's Kitchen and got ready for our next destination: Bagan.
(I'm uploading the rest of the Myanmar blogs now so hope you don't get bored of all these stories..... :)
There are more photos below