We were really excited about visiting Mandalay. We had reread Kipling’s famous poem about Mandalay and were looking forward to exploring the city, even if our road to Mandalay was a flight from Yangon!
We arrived in Mandalay at 8.30AM from Yangon domestic airport and that is worth a mention. Yangon domestic airport is old, run-down, not particularly clean and at maximum capacity. It is a good example of the infrastructure spending that Myanmar desperately needs in order to grow its tourist industry.
We were met by our guide and driver. Both were charming and extremely helpful.We soon learned that Mandalay was once a royal playground, steeped in history and is surrounded by the royal cities of Sagaing, Ava and Amarapura. Mandalay is Burma’s second largest city and is located on the charming Ayerwaddy River (open link for a selection of photos). We were too early to check in to our hotel, so we spent the morning sightseeing.
We stopped for a visit to Ava, the capital from 14th to 18th centuries, left the car and took a short ferry ride across the river, where we joined our waiting transport for the next couple of hours – a traditional horse and carriage. We visited the old wooden Bagaya Monastery and the remains of the Royal Palace and Fort. We saw many delightful small villages located amid Ava’s ruins and as we traveled a very bumpy horse and cart journey we got a glimpse of local life in the beautiful Burmese countryside. We tried to take photos but it was impossible as we were continually jumping up and down in line with the road surface, but it was really fun to go back in time and experience Myanmar, as we know that change is imminent.
We returned to Mandalay for lunch, at a popular Chinese restaurant, with a table by the window and an excellent view of the Ayerwaddy River. we were recommended to this restaurant by our guide as it has good food and is clean – hygiene is something that we took very seriously. After lunch, we checked in to our comfortable hotel where we were booked for two nights. We had a large room overlooking the Ayerwaddy River, so a lovely location.
In the afternoon, we visited the Mahamuni Pagoda
, home to one of the country’s most revered Buddha images which, over the years, has been covered and re-covered with gold leaf giving it an almost ‘lumpy’ texture. We learned that Mandalay is well-known for its skilled craftsmen and we visited traditional workshops, observing the production of wood carvings, kalaga tapestries, lacquer ware and gold-leaf, where the techniques remained unchanged from those used centuries ago to craft items for the Royal Court. Later we visited the Kuthodaw Pagoda, whose 729 marble stone slabs of Buddhist scriptures have earned it the title ‘World’s Biggest Book’. Our last stop of the day was the Shwenandaw Monastery, the only remaining building from the 19th century Royal Palace. This is a grand teak built structure and has exquisite woodcarving for which it is famous.
We returned to our hotel after a very interesting day and at 5.30 went up to the roof top bar for a magnificent view of the sunset over the mountains behind the Ayawaddy River, not forgetting a nice cocktail courtesy of “happy hour”, and a splendid way to end the afternoon!