South East Asia 2017 - Day 8: Mandalay


12 August 2017 - partly cloudy, 32°

We got up at 5am and walked to the Moat then along the Moat to Sandamuni Pagoda to shoot the sunrise, which didn't really happen.  So then we walked back to the hotel through the back streets / alleys, past the Shwenandaw Monastery building and the markets on 63rd Street ( Mandalay has a slightly confusing system for naming their streets in the main part of town: low numbers ( 1st - 49th ) for the east west streets and higher numbers ( 50th + ) for the north south streets.  So our hotel is on the corner of 19th Street and 64th Streets ).  We walked past lots of new houses in the streets around our hotel, mixed in with the old and dishevelled ones.

We headed up for breakfast to the hotel breakfast room, which is on the 7th floor, with views out across all of Mandalay.  We had the usual simple fare; toast and jam with something that tasted vaguely like coffee.  But it was filling and included in the hotel price so no complaints here.

We decided that we were in no mood to walk up Mandalay Hill ( 1700+ steps ) so we caught a taxi from the hotel to the top of the hill carpark at 8am, and then the escalator up to the temple at the very top ( we had to leave our shoes at the bottom of the escalator, as this is where the temple technically started, and it was only an up escalator, so we would have to detour on the way down to collect them.

We walked around the 4 sided temple on the very top of the hill, the Sutaungpyai Pagoda, ( after paying our foreigners fee of Ky1000 ea ) with 360° views across Mandalay and the surrounding plains.

We then wandered down the southern walkway which heads to the bottom of the hill ( there are various routes down, but this is the main one ), detouring to pick up our shoes ( for a donation of course ), a brief stop for a drink and for me to buy some 'jandals' made of bamboo.  Then on with the serious task of walking down the many steps and through many pagoda.  Rather than taking our shoes off at each pagoda we walked down barefoot; thankfully the walkways down are covered so we were walking in the shade most of the way.  At intervals on the way down were people selling trinkets and food, always accompanied by dogs or cats or chickens or turkeys.  Nearer the bottom it looked like people were living in the bush next to the walkways in little shacks.  At the bottom the walkway is guarded by statues of Chinthe ( half lion, half dragon ).

We reached bottom at 9:30am, a walk of just over an hour ( yes, we did stop a few times for photos, but it was still a long walk and we were glad we didn't walk up ).

After grabbing a couple of bottles of water we walked along the road to the Kyauktawgyi Pagoda complex for a look at the 900 tonne marble Buddha.  Liz bought a small Buddha statue for Ky 3,500 on the way out.

Then on to the next Pagoda, the Sandamuni Pagoda, where shot sunrise this morning.  This time we went inside and walked around the central golden stupa, which is surrounded by 1774 marble tablets ( each in their own little white stupa ) which contain the teachings of Buddha.  

After leaving this largely outdoors temple we headed across the road to a cafe/bar for some shade, and a bottle of Myanmar Beer.  Nothing has tasted better than that bottle of beer at 10:30am, after walking for the last few hours in 32°.

For our last tourist visit we walked to the bridge across the moat around the Royal Fort ( this moat / fort wall is 2km long on each side, and it now seems to enclose a government / army base, with the Mandalay Palace at the centre ), and after handing over a passport ( which they kept until we left ) and paying Ky10,000 ea we were allowed to enter the fort and walk down the access road to the Palace.  We were definitely not allowed to deviate off this road.  So we walked the 1km or so to the Palace, handed over our entry tickets and entered the Mandalay Palace ( well not really the Mandalay Palace ).

The original Palace buildings were destroyed by the British in WWII ( well, the Japanese were using it as their HQ ) and what is now on the site is a recreation built in the 1990's.  Whilst they have recreated the buildings to what is believed to have been there, the whole complex feels fake, with modern materials being used instead of the original materials, and the buildings themselves are largely empty.  So we walked up the lookout tower for an overview of the Palace, then looked in the main Royal Apartment building ( empty ) and then walked back out the front again and left.  We stopped and sat in the shade with fresh water bottles for a while then walked back out to the east gate where we had come in ( this is the only gate that foreigners can enter into the Royal Fort, locals can use any gate ).

We walked back to the City Mall for some lunch and stocked up on supplies for the trip to Bagan on the bus tomorrow and then wandered back to the hotel at 1pm.  

On the way back we drew some Kyats; the currency is generally measured in 000's, and has bank notes of 100, 200, 1000, 5000 and 1000 Ky.  So if you draw NZ$200 you get Ky200,000 and you get it in the equivalent of $5 and $10 bills ( Ky 5000 and Ky10000 ).  Which is quite a wad of cash to put in the wallet. And it takes a while to count out when you are paying for a hotel room!

We organised for a taxi to take us to U Bein bridge for sunset, which is the longest teak bridge in the world,  at 4:30pm for the price of Ky18,000, return, and the driver would wait for us there.

Then it was time to rest and cool down again.

The taxi arrived at 4:20pm so off we went south to Amarapura.  As we drove through the centre of Mandalay we saw a very different side of the city to the area that we are staying in; lots of new shiny glass buildings, shopping centres and western brand stores ( like Timberland ).  It felt a bit odd to see these sorts of buildings when 1 block away were shacks built of woven rattan walls and thatched roofs.

We arrived at the eastern end of U Bean Bridge at 5pm.

The bridge is 1.2m long, mainly made of teak and was built around 1850 ( although, between you and me, I don't think the concrete supports that are under part of the bridge date from then! ).  After being dropped at the eastern end we walked across the bridge to the western end, along with hordes of tourists, and then back to the eastern end.  There was no nice sunset as there were a lot of clouds around ( one of the problems with travelling during the 'wet' season ) so we left at 6:30pm and were back at the hotel at 7pm.

We headed out for tea at Mya Yi Nandar ( same place as last night ) and paid the princely sum of Ky6200 for 2 dishes ( we ordered a seafood dish by mistake ( which we didn't eat ) so had to order another one ) and 2 beers.  Back to the hotel and into the cool of our room ( it is still hard to get used to working up a sweat at 9pm just walking along the street ).

We are heading off to Bagan in the morning so another early start, but no sunrise shooting to be done.