One of my favorite parts of Myanmar were my two days in Mandalay, the second largest city and the last royal capital in Myanmar. Although compared to Yangon (the largest city), Mandalay appears almost sleepy in way.
There are buses that go between Mandalay and Yangon, but we were short on time and opted for a flight on Air Bagan. As much as I wanted to avoid giving the government more money, due to our time crunch, flying was our best option.
We learned the hard way that Yangon airport has two terminals, an international and domestic. How do you get from one to the other? You have an awkward 7 minute walk in the blistering sun. While the international terminals looks relatively modern, the domestic is quite a different story. The airline stands remind me of impromptu bake sale signs. There’s 2 gates, and since they don’t have or don’t use a PA system, you are kinda on the lookout for when your flight is being called. They give each passenger a sticker that lets the staff know which flight you’re on. Of course none of the flights leave on time, so all you have is a ton of confused looking white folks in a hot large room with a few giant fans.
Eventually we made it to the prop plane that took us the 1-2 hours to Mandalay. The flight itself wasn’t too bad, they had some snacks, coffee, Sprite, things that you can’t even get on an American flight anymore. One was around $90 or so, so 99% of the passengers were tourists.
The ride from the airport to our hotel was about an hour $12. We drove by pagoda after pagoda, after golden towers and more, giving us only a small introduction of what was to come.
Our hotel was next to Mandalay Palace, which is actually a lot bigger than it looks. We killed a few hours just trying to walk around it. We skipped going inside though since the original one was pretty much destroyed during WWII and what you see above was a replica that was made in 1990s (potentially with slave labor) and I think a large portion of the palace is off-limits to tourists and is being used by the military.
Behind it, you can see the grand Mandalay Hill.
After realizing that our walk from our hotel to the hill was going to be a bit longer than it appeared we took a taxi to Shwenandaw Monastery known for its beautiful teak carvings.
Shwenandaw Monastery is the single remaining major original structure of the original Royal Palace today
After the teak monastery, we walked by Atumashi Monastery (no photo) another forced labor reconstruction project by the Burma’s Archaeological Department. The photo above is Kuthodaw Pagoda, which holds the world’s largest book. Since the sun was already setting, we had to run past it without time for much exploration.
We wanted to watch the sunset from the top of Mandalay Hill, however, since we ran out of time, we ended up running up Mandalay Hill during sunset instead. The hill is 240 meters (790 ft) tall and is absolutely covered in beautiful Pagodas, and Monasteries. I tried to take some photos but most came out blurry as I snapped while running up the hill. On the bright side, since we were a little late for the sunset, we had the whole hill walk almost entirely to ourselves.
Since the stairs are all part of religious temples, the whole walk was barefoot, so there’s my intro to barefoot running.
As we scaled more and more stairs, each temple got more and more grand.
They say it takes about 45 minutes to walk to the top. Tony and I did it in 20 minutes and barely had time so see the few remaining minutes of the setting sun.
I loved being at top. Mandalay is the largest monk city in the world. I loved seeing the mix of traveling monks, local tourists and western tourist all enjoying the same beautiful sunset.
At first, I felt a little shy photographing people leading their ordinary lives, but as we were walking around, we noticed many locals and monks taking photos of us. Once a family even asked to pose with us which was a little weird but okay. Western tourists for much of Myanmar is still a new and recent new thing. It was a delight chatting with locals about life and the temples and Buddhism.
After exhausting began to hit us, we decided to head back to the hotel area and get dinner. I had the stupid brilliant idea of trying to walk down the hill, instead of taking a motor taxi. There’s two ways to get down, a long walk in pitch darkness, or on the back of a scooter. I was a little weary of being on a motorbike without a helmet. So I convinced Tony we should walk down the hill. Huge mistake, it was pitch darkness, with constant cars and motorbikes on the narrow road. Unlike the stairs, the road winds around and around the mountain, making it a longer journey that one would think when they took the stairs. So as we’re walking, Tony is ready to kill me, I’m ready to kill myself and a nice kind stranger offered to take us down the rest of the way on the back of his bike. At this point, I was over my fear of riding without a helmet because I wanted to be off the road. We tried to pay the guy, but he just left after dropping of us off and thanking him.
Dinner was at a Thai place called Rainforest, where for about 3 dollars we got to enjoy some green curry and a refreshing beer around the corner from our hotel.
Ever have a stranger do something nice for you?