I had a total of 4.5 hours in Mandalay, which meant I had to make the most of it without stressing myself out and trying to do too much. Here’s how I spent my valuable minutes there.
I was grinning from cheek-to-cheek when I stepped foot on Mandalay soil, as I left the airport to wait for my motorbike pick-up service, courtesy of my travel buddy! 🙂 The airport was about 30km outside the city, and that’s a far motorbike ride, about 1.5 hours to be exact. It was 12:30pm, and I knew we had to catch our bus to Bagan at 5:00pm, which meant I only had 4.5 hours to see as much as I possibly could in Mandalay.
Without any delays we started our Mandalay discovery. Luckily my friends were travelling around Mandalay for the past 2 days, so they knew exactly where to take me. Between the airport and Mandalay city center lies some of the best attractions that Mandalay has to offer, including Inwa and Amarapura. Those were the only two places I got to experience in Mandalay, however I’m sure there is much more to be discovered. However I was crunched for time, and decided to fully enjoy and integrate with the two key locations, rather than having a “look-see” type of a hectic day.
Our first stop was at Inwa, located 22km south of Mandalay and about 8km from the airport. Inwa, known as Ava to the locals, is an artificial island and was the longest reigning capital of Myanmar. There is only one part of this island that is accessible by mainland, so we decided to bike it there, explore the island, and then finally leave the island via a boat transfer back to the mainland!
As soon as I arrived, I felt as though I went into a time capsule that teleported me 100-200 years back in time. This island is simple and basic with dirt roads paved through the entire town, and horse and carriages lining the streets to take people around from place to place. There was not a single car in sight, only motorbikes and horse-carts. I was thrilled. We decided to explore the town in the same manner; on a horse and carriage!! What a bumpy ride that was, especially on dirt roads. It didn’t help that our horse got overly excited at times and galloped so energetically. Luckily the carriage had some soft cushions to ease the pain… if you know what I mean.
I highly recommend taking at least a 45-minute ride on them. You’ll get to visit some attractions along the way, like a hop-on hop-off service as well. This activity will set you back about 8,000 kyat ($8) depending on your negotiation skills!
Important Information: There is a one-time fee of 10,000 kyat per person which each traveller must bare in order to visit the insides of the temples in Mandalay and it’s surrounding areas. We decided to opt out of entering any temples here, because Bagan was next on our list anyways, and there are 3000 temples there for us to explore!
The next stop was Amarapura, also an area south of Mandaly, and is home to the Taungthaman Lake and U Bein Bridge, which are the major highlights of this area. The sunrises and sunsets here are spectacular, and is the best location to witness both in Mandalay, so if you are a chaser of the sun like I am, make sure you head to Amarapura.
Taungthaman Lake is an absolute photographer’s delight, and also host to the U Bein Bridge that is known to be the longest wooden bridge in the world at 1.2km, stretching across to the other side of the lake. A large number of locals can be seen fishing either by boats, or simply by walking in the water with their nets. It was such a lovely place to make some local lifestyle observations. I found a comfortable spot to sit along the U Bein Bridge and enjoyed some local fried potatoe cutlets with a traditional chilli dipping sauce. It was so delicious, that I was on the hunt for it everywhere in Myanmar.
As I was walking along the U Bein Bridge, some monks stopped me and asked if I wanted a photo with them. As I motioned to grab my camera, I realized they wanted to have pictures with me… HA! It was actually quite hilarious, as I watched them whip out their iPhones and starting to queue up for photos with me. Not to mention, they even went as far as taking selfies with me. It was a rather lengthy photos session. This is what you call #modernmonks.
That was my first encounter of several to follow, where people would stop me and ask to take pictures with me. This has never happened anywhere I’ve travelled before, so I’m really curious as to what the Burmese find so enticing about me!? But nonetheless, I loved it, because it gave me a chance to communicate and interact with the locals in a very easy-going setting!
By that point it was already 3:45pm, and we still needed to head into downtown Mandalay, return the motorbike, grab a taxi somehow, and finally arrive at the bus station to depart the 5:00pm bus we had booked to Bagan. Luckily we made it to the bus station with 3 minutes to spare, so we bought fruits to celebrate! 🙂