As I mentioned in my previous post about Inle Lake (read here), I took the overnight bus to Mandalay departing Ine Lake at 8:00pm. When I looked on Google maps it said that the journey would only take 6 hours. The bus schedule however said that we would arrive at 5:00am. That’s a good 9 hours sleep right? In preparation for the overnight journey, I didn’t sleep much the night before and downed 3 glasses of red wine from Myanmar. I was out like a light until about an hour into the ride; our bus stops for noodles. I guess this is customary in Asia. Buy a bus ticket and get free noodles. I didn’t eat dinner so I got off to try these bus stop noodles. The noodles were actually delicious. I pass out again but am woken up to the man behind me puking his brains out. The locals on the bus were all getting car sick because of the lethal combination of noodles and windy roads. I miraculously fall asleep again thanks to headphones and a face mask. That was until we arrived in Mandalay at 3:00am; 2 hours earlier than I expected to.
When I got off the bus, the taxi drivers swarmed all of us and I wasn’t mentally prepared for that. I had emailed the hostel, Ostello Bello, the night before to find out how much I should expect to pay for the taxi so I wouldn’t be overcharged. All the taxi drivers high ball you so it’s up to you to negotiate which at 3:00am, I was not in the mood for. This was not my most proud moment but in my defense, I was delirious and losing my patience. Luckily, I met Jo Jo who was willing to go with the rate I offered. Jo Jo was an energetic young Burmese man who was constantly smiling and spoke a mile a minute even though I was cranky pants. He was unavoidably charming at 3:00am and I warmed up to him. I could tell he was a hustler because he whipped out a laminated sheet of paper with all the major sites in Mandalay and asked if I needed a tour guide. I told him that it was too much to take in and I needed to sleep first. He gave me his number and I checked into my hostel. The Ostello Bello hostel in Mandalay is the best. They let me check in at 3:30am so I could sleep. When I woke up 4 hours later, they called Jo Jo for me to arrange a tour of Mandalay the following day. They also helped me book my ferry ticket to Bagan. With free wifi, coffee, tea, and a common area where everyone meets up to share their day’s adventures, it was the best place.
A lot of people told me to skip Mandalay because there’s nothing there and I would have to agree if you were just in Mandalay town for a day. There’s 3 major things to see in my opinion but they only take up 3 hours. All the cool stuff is outside the city and you really only need a day to see all of them. I’m so glad I did because the one day outside of Mandalay was my favorite day in Myanmar. Mostly because Jo Jo’s friend Myo Myo (pronounced Miu Miu) spoke fluent English and he told me about the history and significance of what I was seeing. He grew up in Mandalay so he had a lot of fun facts. I’m a big nerd so I was soaking it all in. Up until this point, most of the drivers I had met barely spoke English which I wasn’t expecting them to since I was in their country. It’s just more helpful when they do speak fluent English because you can ask a million questions. Also Myo Myo was the sweetest man I have ever met. There was no shady bone in his body.
There’s a lot of shit that went down in Myanmar and to be honest, I don’t remember a lot of the things he told me. We visited 4 sites: Mingun is where you’ll find the world’s largest uncracked bell and an unfinished pagoda that is the Petra of Myanmar. At Sagaing Hill there are tons of monasteries and nunneries. Myo Myo told me that there are 4 million monks in Myanmar! The coolest thing at Sagaing Hill is the row of Buddhas. Inwa which was an experience in itself because you have to take a short ferry to get there and then take a horse cart around to see the sites. Lastly, the famous U Bein Bridge which is the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. I saw so many things in that one day that it took me a couple of days to digest it all. Everything I saw was so different and had an important part of history. Myo Myo told me that the children in Myanmar have Summer break so all the locals visit the pagodas in Mandalay which was nice since it wasn’t only foreign visitors.
I can’t imagine my trip to Myanmar feeling complete without visiting Mandalay. If you’re thinking about skipping it, I strongly suggest you add 3 days to your Myanmar trip instead. They say that what makes a trip memorable is the people you meet along the way and I think it’s pure luck that I met Jo Jo at the bus station at 3:00am who was so nice to me and who hooked me up with the best driver in Mandalay. I also met a bunch of friends at the hostel who were going to be in Bagan the next day; the same time I was going to be there. So Mandalay will also have a special place in my heart.
Entrance to Kuthodaw Pagoda
The Kuthodaw Pagoda which holds the world’s largest book
Steep climb up Mandalay Hill barefoot
Traditional Burmese at Mingalabar Restaurant
Women’s section at Mahamuni Buddha Temple
Flowers as offering at Mahamuni
Hsinbyume Pagoda in Mingun
I call it the white wave pagoda
Old school taxi
Mingun Pahtodawgyi the “Petra” of Myanmar
U Min Thonze Caves at Sagaing Hill
Row of buddhas in U Min Thonze Caves
Ferry ride to Inwa
My horse cart and driver
I loved the buddha statues here
Maha Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery
The famous U Bein Bridge
Woman selling owls and birds to set free