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Published: April 4th 2018
A tour of the west bank of the Irrawaddy from Mandalay has to be one of the most amazing day trips you can do. For just 40,000 kyat (US$30) our wonderful lady driver helped us move hotel, and then took us out to various places on an excursion that lasted the entire day.
The Irawaddy is also confusingly known as the Ayerarwaddy. Not to worry, we stopped at the bridge to have a good look at the river and its surroundings. There are two bridges - one built by the British in 1934 and the new one completed in 2005 which we were crossing. The views across the river are spectacular and seeing the myriad temples, pagodas and stupas on the hillsides of Sagaing was quite spectacular. It would take several day trips to try to explore them! On the other side of the river we were taken for a rather early lunch at the Minn Wun Valley Restaurant.
A popular stop with coach trips, it's not the sort of place we would normally have chosen to eat in, but we presume our driver gets some sort of commission from them. The quality of the food was incredibly good, so maybe we're been
avoiding such mass-tourism places for entirely the wrong reasons as we had always presumed the food would be average at best. It's also beautifully decorated with works of art from local artists.
After lunch we got caught up in several traffic jams as we made our way past some very ornate village festivals. The costumes were glamorous and colourful with oxen, horses and even elephants being used as transport. We felt quite privileged to have stumbled across the processions.
Our first stop was the giant pile of bricks otherwise known as Mingun Pagoda.
When I say a giant pile of bricks, that is literally what it is! It is the remains on an unfinished project which began way back in 1790 and was supposed to be a temple of gargantuan proportions. Cracks run down from top to bottom, evidence of earthquakes in 1819 and 2012. The front view was quite crowded so we walked around the track leading to the rear view where we had the place to ourselves, apart from a herd of cows.
Nearby is the Mingun Bell. Weighing in at 90 tonnes this is the second largest ringing bell in the world. It was supposed
to be located in the temple of the same name but its incomplete state meant that the bell acquired a residence of its own. Nowadays people come from all over the world to pose for selfies with the gigantic bell.
A short walk away was what was, for us, the most magnificent temple we have ever seen. The Hsinbyume Pagoda
is absolutely stunning. This magnificent pagoda was built in 1816 and restored some 60 years later after a series of earthquakes caused significant damage. The whitewashed walls mean that sunglasses are not an optional extra. They shine brilliantly against the pure blue Burmese skies on a sunny day. Walking around and climbing up and down inside is an absolute pleasure, and it wasn't too busy either. Once again, a short excursion round the back led to the illusion that we had the place to ourselves but for the cows! If you are lucky you may spot a saffron-clad monk exploring amongst the whitewashed walls. We weren't so lucky but it's still an amazing place for photos.
After a quick look at the Irrawaddy down a rather less than pleasant track edged by shanty developments, we made our way back
to where our driver was waiting. Along the way we saw the remains of the giant cats (or were they supposed to be lions?) which stood guard over the road from the Mingun Pagoda. Again the shanty development was a bit offputting but we felt it was worth a close-up look at the cats.
We squeezed back past the elephant-led parade as the taxi made its way back to the other side of the river. Our destination was the iconic U Bein Bridge. This is THE place to watch the sunset, but because of that it is also the place where EVERY tourist in Mandalay seems to go as the sun goes down. The long wooden bridge stretches out over the river and fields for over a kilometre. It's a bit rickety at times and the side rails have not all stood the test of time. Tread carefully and try not to be pushed too close to the edge by all the other tourists. Despite the crowds, the sunset was magnificent. If you are feeling flash with your cash you can rent a boat and see the daylight fade in glorious orange from the (dis)comfort of a wooden boat.
Oh, and make sure you have a good supply of mosquito repellent! With such a bountiful crop of white western tourists, they are out in force!!
We returned to our hotel feeling very weary from an extremely full day. After a rest it was time for one last Mandalay meal and a few beers before getting ready for another taxi ride, this time to the mythical temples of Bagan.
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