Day 1 U Bein Bridge
After enjoying a last sunrise over the temples of Bagan, we headed to Mandalay with the OK Express bus company. From our guesthouse in Bagan at 8:30 am, we were dropped off at our hotel in Mandalay shortly before 1:30 pm, after about 5 hours.
The time to check-in, we saw no alternative but to go directly to the U Bein bridge to enjoy one of the most beautiful spots in the city, especially at sunset. No time for us to stop on the way to the Mahamuni Pagoda, although it is located on the road to the U Bein Bridge. After a few detours, we arrive at the right place (finally via the west entrance of the bridge).
We are surprised by the crowd present on the spot, although a couple of Belgian crossed rather informed us of the world present at the bridge U Bein during their visit of Mandalay. On the first hundred meters, we walk almost in single file. Fortunately, moving forward, we have a little more space to circulate.
To enjoy the sunset and get good pictures, you have to go down below the bridge. For this, there are several places on the bridge where stairs allow the descent.
To join the downtown, we take the 84th street. This time, more detour as to go, it’s always straight. Checkered like an American-style city, it’s easy to find the way back to Mandalay’s downtown.
We end this day once again punctuated and embellished by the sunset and an excellent dinner at Shan Ma Ma, a few steps from our hotel.
Day 2 Temples and Mandalay Hill
Our hotel offers free bicycles, we opted for this means of locomotion to survey the streets of Mandalay. Although we hesitated for a long time with the rent of a scooter. Mandalay is a flat and grided city, added to the somewhat excessive price of scooters, our choice went to the most economical solution.
We start this second day in Mandalay by the Mahamuni Pagoda, considered as the most prestigious pagoda of the city. Located 3 kilometers south of our hotel, we discover the sensations of cyclists in a big Asian city of nearly 1 million inhabitants, with anarchic traffic. Admittedly, it’s impressive to see all these cars crisscross constantly. But we remember that it is almost less dangerous to be a cyclist than a motorcyclist.
We had read in our guide that we had to pay 1000 MMK (0.7 USD) to take pictures. For our part, we did not pay anything, lucky in spite of us not to have entered by the main door. The Mahamuni Pagoda is home to one of Burma’s most revered Buddhas! Men (only because access is forbidden to women) parade all day to stick gold leaves on the body of Buddha statue. After visiting the Mahamuni Pagoda, we go back on our bikes towards the Zeygo market. This market as such is not of great interest because it consists of hundreds of sellers (wholesalers) selling anything and everything, in any case nothing of interest to us. However, by getting lost in the streets adjacent to the Zeygo market, we finally ended up in a food market. And so, we finally found what we were looking for: walking in the middle of local life. We then walk along the Royal Palace under a blazing sun to go to the Kyauktawgyi pagoda. It is a set of temples, the most important (and especially the most kitsch) contains a huge Buddha carved from a single block of marble. Once again, we are witnessing an important fervor of believers facing this Buddha. Just the opposite, we discover the Sandamuni pagoda. What marks us is the contrast between the whiteness of the walls surrounding the golden stupa. That’s wonderful ! We are almost alone, which gives a sense of tranquility instead. A few meters further, we enter the Kuthadow pagoda, also called the largest open book in the world. It has similarities with the previous pagoda that we have just visited, but its particularity is that it houses the Buddhist canon inscribed on 729 steles, each protected by a stupa of a pristine white. To get an idea, it would take 450 days to read the entire text for 8 hours of reading a day … It is within this pagoda that we take the time to stop for a moment. The place is quiet and we found a place in the shade. We ride our bikes for a last visit of the day: Mandalay Hill. Arriving at the entrance guarded by two huge lions, we leave our bikes to climb to the top in songthaew. We negotiated 1000 MMK per person (the locals pay 500), against the 2000 MMK originally requested. At the top, you still have to pay 1,000 MMK / person. The summit pagoda consists of thousands of pieces of broken mirrors on its columns and kitschy decorative elements. It also offers panoramic views of the city. We decide to walk down the 1700 steps. On the descent, we arrive at other pagodas on the different levels. They have little interest. Mandalay in practice
Transport
From Bagan to Mandalay: There are several minibus companies (19 seats). The advantage of these companies is that they provide a pickup / drop off service to your hotel. The journey time is about 5 hours door to door. The ticket costs 9,000 MMK. The two best companies are OK Express and Pyi Taw Aye.In Mandalay: Everything is more expensive than in other cities. There is no bus to get around so you have to take a taxi or a motorized trishaw. To be completely independent, we favored renting a scooter (10,000 MMK half / day, 15,000 MMK / day) and borrowing (free) bicycles from our hotel. There are very few scooter rental agencies and the prices are the same everywhere. If your hotel does not offer rental, know that you can find at the restaurant Rain Forest but also on 34th street (between the 81th and 82th).
By taxi: a taxi ride into town costs 5000 MMK. You have to pay 6000 MMK from downtown to the bus station. For a round trip to the U Bein Bridge, count 20,000 MMK.
Where to eat in Mandalay?
Shan Ma Ma Restaurant is the must-see address to the west of the train station. As much appreciated by the locals as by the travelers (for which there is a specific card with adapted tariffs), our addition amounted between 10,000 and 13,000 MMK. OK, it’s only a few euros but it still seemed a bit expensive for street catering. But in the end, what matters is that it was good and really hearty (rice almost at will, soup and vegetables in accompaniment).
Where to sleep in Mandalay?
We stayed at the Hotel 8 which offers a standard room at $ 27 / night. The staff is caring and can take care of many services: bus tickets, scooter rental, free use of bicycles, taxi, etc. It is also two blocks from one of the best restaurants in the city so it is well located. The only downside is that we did not find the breakfast buffet very plentiful or even tasty.