Mandalay, Myanmar

I must say that I wanted an adventure and I certainly got one. Travelling in Myanmar is so much different to anywhere I’ve been before. I flew into Yangon in the early evening and jumped in a taxi headed to the bus station. Wow, I thought the roads were bad in Thailand, well they are awful here and road rules don’t seem to exist. Once at the bus station I quickly noticed that I was the only foreigner and that no one could speak English. Luckily my taxi driver helped me buy my bus ticket to Mandalay and gave strict instructions to a lovely lady to help me through the chaos of the bus station. Most foreigners that travel to Myanmar do so on package deals and luxury buses so I got a lot of stares. Everyone was incredibly friendly and tried really hard to help me to get where I wanted to go. I made it onto the overnight bus and so began the bumpiest and most freezing bus ride of my life. The bus then proceeded to break down twice, which was followed by some very sketchy repairs. I was sitting next to an elderly lady who kept chewing betel nut and spitting it into a bag hanging in front of her. I spent the whole 12 hours stressing that it would go all over me every time we hit a bump… But I eventually made it to Mandalay in one piece.

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The Bus Station

Mandalay has some interesting places to visit and what better way to see the sights than from the back of a scooter! I paid a local US$20 to show me around for the day.  On our way to our first stop we zoomed past workshop after workshop of people carving Buddha statues and soon found ourselves at Mahamuni Paya, which has the nation’s most famous Buddha image.  It is covered in 6 inches of gold leaf and women are not allowed to approach it… The feminist within me rebelled against this, but my logic urged me not to test this rule in Myanmar, so I had to admire it from afar.

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Next we made our way to Mandalay’s old cities. The first one was Amarapura which, at 200 years old , is also the world’s longest teak bridge.  Walking along it to the small village offers beautiful views of the river and people ploughing the fields with oxen.

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The next old city to visit was Inwa. You pay a small fee to cross the river on a boat and then another small fee for a horse-drawn cart to take you around the sites.  The crumbling and abandoned temples were beautiful.

The last stop for the day was Sagaing Hills which gives great views of the city from a temple at the top. It was great to just take some time to relax and take in the sights.

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While driving around all day I was able to get to know the city quite well. The city was dirty and busy, yet interesting and entertaining.  Horse-drawn carts roamed the streets and children played in run-down buildings.  There were people using the side of the road as a bathroom and dogs were everywhere you looked.  Yes, it wasn’t exactly pretty to look at most of the time but it was a trip back in time.  A truly unique experience.

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My brief time in Mandalay was enough to see everything I wanted to see and to get a taste of this old city. Cost wise, you’re looking at approximately NZ$60- $70 (US$40-$50) per day.  I highly recommend booking accommodation in advance when coming here, just like Yangon, it can be difficult to find somewhere to stay.

Editor’s Note: Visited Myanmar in 2012, updated in 2017.

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