We arrive in Mandalay around 6am. As always in Myanmar, arrivals are very early in the morning and nights by bus are difficult. We are dropped off near the bus station and explored the city in search of a hotel. The prices we are told at the beginning are too high for us so we continue our way to the hotel we spotted a few days earlier.
Mandalay, it’s a big city. It’s not very clean, it moves in all directions and often in any way, not forgetting to honk the horn on the way. We tried to understand the priority system at the crossroads before we realized that it was only the law of first come first served. It’s a bit of a mess and the city itself didn’t really seduce us…
DISCOVERY OF THE SURROUNDINGS
After a day of rest to recover from the bus ride, we rent bicycles and explore the surroundings.
The U-Bein Bridge
To get there by bike, it’s a short walk but the ride is nice. Nothing is really indicated in Myanmar so it is better to have a good map or GPS. Once there, there are already people there and there are plenty of souvenir displays. Women sell a lot of accessories (bags, jewellery, figurines etc…) made of watermelon rings! It’s pretty original for the job and once painted and varnished there are some pretty things.
The water level is not very high at this time of year so you can easily walk under the bridge. The view is beautiful and the lake is immense. On one side the Burmese fish by line or net or wash and on the other side they cultivate their fields with their buffaloes. It is a typical scene of Burmese life that can be observed here and it is really soothing. The bridge is about 1.5 km long and is the longest teak bridge in the world. It is high and imposing, be careful not to walk too close to the edge!
On the road
After eating, we take back the bicycles and we go up to Mandalay via another very pretty lake too, although dirty in some places. You can sit on chairs scattered almost all the way along, but you have to consume something. The advantage is that there is no tourist, just loving locals who enjoy the calm, and to access it you cross both fields and a small area with narrow streets.
A little further on, we stopped at a “sports stand” as there are many in Mandalay. These are small roadside facilities where abs, arms or legs can be worked on. In the evening, these installations are stormed by the Burmese!
Still on the road, we cross different craft districts. First we work with wood, then with iron or stone and then we paint and decorate. The street of the white stone statue factories is funny because everything is white! The trees, the cars, the people who work there… You can see in black and white for a few moments, only the golden temples stand out!
Then we arrive in front of a huge pagoda. It has the particularity of housing in its centre a Buddha that men have been covering with small gold leaves for years. Only men are allowed to touch the gold so women sit at the entrance and there are even cameras all over the temple to see what’s going on inside.
It’s a funny sight and there are pictures showing the evolution of the Buddha. At first he was “thin” but by putting leaves on it, he has grown bigger and the appearance of the statue is no longer smooth but forms small bumps.
A little further north of the city is Mandalay Hill, a small hill with a pagoda at the top. To reach it there are 1700 steps and as we like it, we don’t hesitate, we climb! Many people do it at sunset but we decided to do it in the afternoon to have fewer people.
The climb is not very hard, the steps are very small and spaced so it is easy to climb. There is really no one except a few merchants and a few dogs sleeping on the benches. Before reaching the summit, there are several small landings with statues or small temples but they are really nothing special and you have no view of the city because there are lots of trees all around. About twenty minutes later we are at the top. Signs kindly indicate that to take pictures, you must pay the sum of 1000 Kyats. Hop camera tidied up, promised Madam we won’t take any pictures! We thought we could see the Grand Palais but in fact we are misdirected and between pollution, cloud and light, the visibility is not very good. Too bad we prefer to relax a little on the benches.
Not far from Mandalay Hill is another pagoda that is surrounded by a multitude of mini stupas, each containing a page excerpt from the sacred Buddhist book. Once in the center, you see spikes on all sides. It is a quiet and relaxing place.
To finish the day, we go around the ramparts of the Grand Palais, which are about 3 km². We did not want to visit the interior because the price is high and the amount goes supposedly directly into the government’s pockets. Besides, the part we can see is very limited so for us it wasn’t worth it and we weren’t interested any more than that.