Mandalay is not the prettiest city, but it is in the surrounding areas that the magic is hidden.
First stop Mingun. A little village along the Irrawardy river. The only way to get there is by ferry. There is a public one that leaves at 9am and returns at 1pm which costs KTS 5,000 return (USD 5) The boat ride is an hour. Alternatively you can hire your own boat.
Mingun is special for 2 reasons. It is the home of the largest pile of bricks and the largest bell.
The Mingun Paya which started to be built in 1790 was never completed because halfway through, the King’s astrologer prophecized that the King would die once the temple was completed. Hence the temple is missing the stupa. However, the largest bell was cast to be put in the largest temple.
The pair of Mingun lions sit at the base of the steps, overlooking the Irrawardy river.
Second stop Inwa, also know as Ava. One of the ancient imperial capitals of the Burmese Kingdom. To get here is by a short ferry ride across the river bank KTS 2,000 return. We shared our ferry with a few monks. It’s a 10 minute ride across to the other side. Once you get off, you hop straight onto a traditional horse cart for KTS 6,000 which is a tour that takes you to 4 important sites. There is no haggling. This is the official rate.
The Bagaya teak monastery is one of the highlights. It is not only a beautifully carved timber building, but it also sits on the most scenic landscape surrounded by emerald green rice fields and tall elegant palm trees.
For me, the most enchanting experience was our rickety horse cart ride with our local Burmese guide/driver. He looks too young to be working but he said he was 18 years old and he was wide eyed and enthusiastic to show us around the sites. He spent the whole hour chewing betel nut whilst chatting to us, and when we were walking around the sites, he was busy grooming his horse.
We only spent an hour here when we could have easily stayed longer but we were short for time and had to zoom around if we were to make it to U-bein bridge for sunset.
We arrived at ubein at 4pm which was a little early to be honest. I would have preferred to have spent more time not rushing in Inwa. Then again, that gave me enough time to stroll across the world’s longest and oldest teak bridge, mingle with the locals and people watch! The iconic U bein bridge is 1.2km long and the monks from the nearby monastery use the bridge daily. The bridge is ok, to me it’s just a bunch of sticks placed together, no offence, but it is the daily life that is the highlight here. There are people fishing, farmers tending to the rice fields, ladies carrying local produce, a farmer herding his cows, a bunch of kids swimming and jumping off the bridge, monks walking, locals dating and tourists like me ;p
The sunset is not too shabby. This is the view of the sunset from about midway across the bridge. Sunset is 530pm.
After sunset, we went back to the hotel. We had street food for dinner. I bought the same tempura vegetables from the local stall and he charged me half price. Ridiculous! I already thought I was ripping him off the night before when he said KTS 300 (USD 0.30) I’m not sure if you can see my bag of tempura vegetables in the photo below. I had that with a plate of plain rice and a fried egg, since I’m vegetarian. My friend ate the rest of the meat dishes. 2 meat dishes, 2 fried eggs and 2 plain rice that came with free trimmings set us back KTS 2,200 (USD 2.20)
I’m only confessing here at the end. We cheated a little bit today and got the hotel car to take us around Mandalay to catch the different ferries and to go to U bein bridge and one small pagoda stop. It was a full day’s use of the car including dropping us off at the bus station in the evening. We paid USD 50. We probably could have paid a lot less for a taxi but we were just too lazy today to have any mishaps. Our justification was that we knew it would be a super long day sightseeing, plus a 9 hour bus ride in the evening into Yangon. It was money well spent although I do hate importing inflation.
Our bus left on the dot at 9.30pm. Farewell Mandalay.