After an amazing experience in the temples of Bagan, Mandalay was my next stop, the 3rd leg of my 12-day trip to Myanmar. Mandalay is the last royal capital of Myanmar (Burma).
From Bagan to Mandalay
I opted to go to Mandalay from Bagan by land trip, this time on a day trip (8:30 AM to 12:30 PM). I booked for a bus trip through Green and Green Travel, which I encountered through Chengy Wong’s blog. She provided an email address, I tried it and they replied quite fast considering the intermittent wifi connection in Myanmar.
They have a satellite office in Bagan and a representative came to my hotel while I was in Bagan to give me my ticket. I expected for a bus ticket but it turned out to be a minibus, under the name of OK Express, for 9,000 kyats.
We witnessed a novice monk parade while still in Bagan,aboard OK Express
So, was OK okay? Yes, the seats were comfortable, with complementary 500 ml mineral water bottle and a wet towel pack. The only downside is that there were times I didn’t feel safe as our driver would sometimes overtake on curved paths, and forget to slow down while passing a sloping terrain. The most okay thing about OK minibus is the door to door transport style.
Somewhere between Bagan and Mandalay. The trees along the road are refreshing.
We stopped by an eatery along the road, but I decided not to eat because I found every food was drenched in oil and I don’t like to trigger any untoward reaction in my stomach. Even the snacks were fried stuff, one was a Shing-a-ling look-alike but again, drenched in oil.
Spotted an ox cart after I decided not to buy anything to eat at the "bus" stop
I was initially confused on the terms Inner and Outer Mandalay, as well as Mandalay Region. Mandalay Region covers Bagan, Naypyidaw, Amarapura, Inwa and Mandalay. Inner Mandalay is Mandalay City, while Outer Mandalay refers to Inwa, Sagaing and Amarapura. But Bagan, though within the Mandalay Region, is not included in the Outer Mandalay because it belongs to Nyaung-U township rather than Mandalay township. I don’t know why I’m explaining this, but I just wanted to tell that I spent a day exploring Outer Mandalay, and another day for Inner Mandalay.
I arranged for a motorcycle ride through my hotel, because this was the cheapest option for me that I know of. And so I traveled to Outer Mandalay with my friendly motorcycle driver as my guide, habal-habal style as we call it in the Philippines.
First stop is the Mahamuni Buddha Temple, which is a large complex, and a revered pilgrimage destination in Myanmar next to Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. This is clear with the presence of many local devotees kneeling in front of the Buddha. My guide told me that only men can come up the platform to rub golden leaves on the Buddha as an offering. By the way, I paid a camera fee of 1,000 kyats.
A fortune teller stall on the way to Mahamuni Buddha Temple
Only men can enter the Buddha platform but a TV monitor is provided outside for devotees
A monk having a serious moment with his cellphone
We reached Sagaing 50 minutes after leaving the Mahamuni Buddha Temple. To reach Sagaing, we crossed the Ayeyarwaddy River over a bridge. Sagaing is visited for Sagaing Hill for its vista of Sagaing, the Irrawaddy River, and a couple of golden stupas surrounding the hills.
View of Irrawaddy River from the bridge
The climb up the roofed path to Sagaing Hill took me around 20 minutes, with a few stops to take photos of the views on the way up.
Stairs leading to the top of Sagaing Hill
Views of scattered pagodas on the way up
Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda at the top of the hill
I like the refreshing pastel colored tiles and fence at the top of the hill
Sweeping view of Sagaing and Irrawaddy River
The mirror tiles give this place a fairy tale feel
Food offered to the Buddha - I wonder where this end up after
Forty five minutes away from Sagaing Hill is Mingun. The road from Sagaing to Mingun is mostly without any shade at all, so traveling on a motorcycle under the scorching heat gave me no choice as the sun looked down on me with its scorching heat.
Mingun boasts of Hsinbyume Pagoda, an all-white pagoda located on the banks of Irrawaddy River. I don’t know why but the temple reminded me of the movie, Narnia.
Some walking distance from the Hsinbyume Pagoda is the Mingun Bell, the second largest bell in the world and was supposed to be dedicated to the nearby Mingun Pahtodawgyi Pagoda, which was never completed and now in ruins.
The massive Mingun Pahtodawgyi Pagoda is like a giant version of the small temples of Bagan. It would have been the largest pagoda in Myanmar but the construction was put to a slow by the King due to a prophecy which foretold that the king would die once the stupa is finished. The prophecy turned out to be untrue because the king died before the completion of the construction. The construction was completely halted after the King died. However, some sources point out that the construction may have been slowed down due to lack of funds, lack of labor after the slaves escaped and engineering difficulties.
Nineteen years after the construction stopped, an earthquake caused cracks in the stupa. Now, isn’t that story a good material for an epic book or movie?
These days, visitors climb up the right side of the pagoda using a stairway, even though a large red sign tells visitors not to climb up for security reasons. I saw both tourists and locals go up, and so I went by the logic that “if others can, why can’t I?”
Incense sticks inserted on the crevices of the giant stupa's bricks
As with any other stupas in Myanmar, the practice is to remove the shoes when entering pagodas. I have to remove my slippers to go up the stairs that had sunbathed to the highest level under the 12 noon sun. The top gave me a magnificent view of the Hsinbyume Pagoda, the Irrawaddy River and the mountains on the other side of the pagoda. Much as I would like to appreciate the views for a longer while, I could not do so because the sole of my feet is already at the verge of blistering.
Hsinbyume Pagoda as seen at the top of Mingun Pagoda
This young guy managed to smile amidst the scorching hot floor
Local products for sale at the foot of Mingun Pagoda
This structure of giant Chinthe lion guarding the large stupa stands (or rather, is supposed to stand) opposite the Mingun Pagoda, facing the river. It was also in ruins after the earthquake.
I can't imagine a puppet monk hanging in my room
After lunch at Mingun, we proceeded to Inwa (formerly Ava), which was once also the capital of Burma, but unfortunately devastated by a series of earthquakes. I instantly liked Inwa because of its lush, green surroundings and laid back atmosphere. Entering Inwa is like taking a trip back in time. The roads are covered with thick canopies from side to side, with horse carts in sight.
Being once a capital, it also had a lot of stupas scattered around the small area, but most are in ruins due to the earthquake in 1839.
Le Htat Gyi Pagoda – it now lays in ruins but it must have been a magnificent structure in the past
Intricate carvings of Le Htat Gyi Pagoda
Khoe Thin Kyaung Pagoda Complex – some portions are crumbled by the earthquake
Yadana Hsemee Pagoda Complex
The Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery is a unique monastery in that it has a traditional teak monastery look with multiple roofs but instead of wood, it is made of bricks.
Close to the brick monastery is the Bagaya Monastery, a traditional monastery built of teak tree trunks as pillars. Pictures of this monastery I have seen before my trip had me so impressed so I especially made sure that this place will be part of our Inwa itinerary. I was not disappointed as I saw the beautiful intricate carvings of the monastery. The only thing let down for me is that at the time of my visit, the monastery was empty of monks, except for the lone monk I saw reading through the window light and a sleeping dog which I almost tripped upon.
A row of horsecarts outside the monastery, catering to tourists
After the laid back atmosphere in Inwa, here I am at the U Bein Bridge, where all tourists have converged just before the sunset. I didn’t expect it to be this crowded but anyway, my time at the U Bein Bridge both on it and under, had been the most interesting people-watching moment I had in my life.
A lot is going on around this bridge: locals crossing while carrying something above their head, local and foreign tourists taking their selfies everywhere, people sitting and just hanging out on the footbridge, vendors along and near the bridge, monks crossing, traditional boats crossing under, fishermen catching fish using a unique method, and photographers aiming and shooting about.
Photography service in Luneta-like fashion
No other prawn crackers or fish crackers can beat the freshness of these fried seafood snacks
That covers my one day exploration of “Outer Mandalay”. It’s a little bit of everything from each town of Sagaing, Inwa and Amarapura, but with my limited time in Mandalay, the trip is definitely worth it. It would be nice to go back in another time, and concentrate on each area because there are so much to see in these places.
I’ll tell you more of “Inner Mandalay” on my next blog.
Traveled March 2015