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Published: February 17th 2019
I can't remember the trip up from Inle Lake at all! All I know is that I arrived safe and sound to my home for the next four nights - Yoe Yoe Lay Homestay - 11 USD a night getting me into a 6-bed dorm room. It was one of those hostels that works solely on the awesomeness of the people working there! The place itself is nothing special and definitely in need of a face lift or two, but I was made to feel welcome the moment I stepped through the door and I wouldn't hesitate to go back there again should I decide to revisit Mandalay.
Mandalay isn't a particularly pedestrian-friendly city (yet) so we decided that the best way to explore was via taxi. We bargained with a local taxi driver to take us round the sites and between the three of us I don't remember it being very expensive. It's the most comfortable way to do it - door to door service and blissful air-con en route! First stop was a gold leaf workshop and showroom! I suppose it made a refreshing change to doing the obligatory tourist trap sales pitch at the end
of the tour! That said, it was mildly interesting seeing how gold leaf is made - essentially by pounding a tiny piece of gold with mallets until it's super duper thin! Then it gets packaged up and sent to places like our first real
stop - the impressive Mahamuni Buddha Temple, 6 kilometres southeast of the hostel, with its magnificent 6.5 tonne diamond-jewelled Buddha image inside. This temple is still very much in use today and the Buddha is highly
venerated. In fact, so much gold leaf has been applied to it, that it's started to lose its shape and some parts are starting to look freakishly out of proportion! As always shoes off, and only men can approach the image. Then it was off to the teak-made Bargaya Monastery, 30 kilometres to the south, to marvel at some seriously impressive carvings and decoration, and not be even remotely surprised at how many times it's been burnt down and rebuilt!
That brought us up to lunch time! We were in the mood for some local fare so we asked the taxi driver to take us to a decent local restaurant where they serve decent local grub, and
he did just that. And what we ended up with was a feast big enough for easily double the amount of people. I can't remember what we ordered but I do remember that at one point there must have been something close to about 30 bowls and plates on the table!
After lunch, we rolled out of the restaurant and picked up where we left off and managed to fit it another 4 of Mandalay's main attractions - the Mandalay Palace, Shwenandaw (Golden Palace) Monastery, Kuthodaw Pagoda & the World's Largest Book all topped off with a bit of sunset viewing from Su Taung Pyai Pagoda on top off Mandalay Hill. These four places are all conveniently located around the palace grounds. The palace was first, the last royal palace of Burma and home to the last two kings of the country before those pesky Brits ruined it all! As always with things made of wood, it was no surprise to learn that very little of what stands today is original, with most of it having been rebuilt in the nineties. The watchtower, however, has survived and the view of the palace grounds and surroundings was impressive
from the top. Apart from that, it must be said the rest is fairly standard and not really worth writing home about! Still worth an hour or two though. Shwenandaw Monastery however was one of the real highlights. It sits just outside the northeast corner of the Royal Palace and is the single remaining major original structure of the original Royal Palace standing today. Just as with Bargaya Monastery, Shwenandaw Monastery is made of teak and if I thought the carvings were impressive at Bargaya here they are simply amazing and it really showcases the skills of the carpenters of those days. After admiring the craftsmanship for a while it was a hop, skip and a jump to Kuthodaw Pagoda which contains officially the World's Largest Book - 730 marble slabs each inscribed back and front with Buddhist scriptures. It was a memorable sight since it wasn't like anything I'd ever seen before.
Last stop of a very productive day was Su Taung Pyai Pagoda and Mandalay Hill a stone's throw to the north of Kuthodaw Pagoda. Our taxi driver drove us up the winding road and dropped us off right next to where you take the
escalator the rest of the way up to the pagoda. From the top you get a complete 360 degree view of Mandalay and the surround region - the Irrawaddy River to the west and the mountain range to the east. We timed it perfectly; getting there just before sunset so we had enough like to appreciate the pagoda and then relaxed as we admired the sun setting over the horizon. There are some fantastic photo opportunities to be had here and I would say this is a must-see for anyone visiting Mandalay. From here, it was back to the hostel for some much needed beers a decent dinner at Lin Lin BBQ on 35th Street.
The following day was my last in Mandalay and indeed my last in Myanmar. Sob sob! To make things worse I was all on my own since Anke and Mark, who had more days left than me, buggered off to Hsipaw, northeast of Mandalay, for some trekking and the famous train trip down to Pyin Oo Lwin. I would've loved to join them but I had two flights booked for the next day so my hands were somewhat tied! I decided I
would haggle a little bit with a moto-taxi driver to take me down to the U-Bein Bridge which crosses the Taung Tha Man Lake, 13 kilometres south of the hostel. Going to see a bridge at first might not sound all that interesting but this is a 150 year old, 1.2 kilometre-long bridge and is said to be the oldest and longest teak wood bridge in the World! My mototaxi dropped me off on the east side of the lake and I strolled slowly across, staying for a while at a bar on the other side with a fresh bottle of Myanmar watching yet another beautiful sunset.
On the morning of the 9th November I shared a taxi with a girl from the hostel to Mandalay International Airport, about one hour south of the city, for the first of two AirAsia flights I was to catch that day; the first leaving Mandalay at 12:50 and the second from Bangkok at 19:55.
My eventual destination - Chennai, India.
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