From Mandalay to Bagan, Myanmar

posted in: Asia, General, Myanmar, Travel | 1

The journey with Marc continued after Loikaw by bus to Mandalay and further by boat to Bagan.

It was 4 pm in the afternoon when we embarked the night bus from Loikaw to Mandalay. A daunting 13 hours drive. As usual I put the sweater and the Patagonia down jacket into my board luggage. According to expectations buses are drastically cooled down in South East Asia. Yet, this drive was without comparison. The temperatures plummeted as we ascended to a mountain range until I could not sleep anymore. I wished I had taken some long underwear into the bus but no stop was near to re-pack. The only warmth came from some “hot water”we were offered by a local passenger. To the question if it is really water he laughed and negated. It was pure rice whiskey.

After descending the mountain ridge again, the bus made a stop. Not only the temperature of the air but also of the brakes rose. Thus, the driver took a hose and cooled the brakes with water. Another two hours later, we arrived exhausted in Mandalay. Luckily, our hotel allowed us to check-in at 6 am in the morning. This seems to be common practise in Myanmar provided the rooms are available yet.

Relieved by a short nap with pleasant temperatures, we explored Mandalay by bike. Our first stop was the palace where the last king of Burma resided. Armed soldiers secured the palace and foreigners have to pay an entrance fee of 10’000 kyat (10$) to visit the palace and several other sights. However, in terms of prizes for visiting only one sight in Myanmar it is a huge amount of money. Moreover, the palace is a replicate because it burnt down during the Second World War by allied bombing. Admittingly, I was not that impressed by this palace so we soon continued our ride to the Mandalay Hill.

The Mandalay hill lies close to the palace. One can either walk or drive up to the top. We did the former and were rewarded by friendly locals who offered local food and art. At the top is a pagoda which at moment is being renovated partly. It was interesting to see how detailed they worked on the mosaic with the colourful stones and pieces of a mirror. Furthermore, the view up there was stunning and would have offered a splendid opportunity to take a time lapse. Yet, we went back down and visited two other temples.

One of these temples was made out of wood. This was a welcome change to the common stone temples and pagodas. Additionally, our entrance ticket was valid. Thus, the prize for one sight dropped significantly.

Nevertheless, both of us were not that into Mandalay. Therefore, we decided to leave this city the following day without seeing the famous sight of the U-Bein bridge. Owing to the fact that we had taken many buses in Myanmar, Marc and I wanted something else. Thus, bought the more expensive and more time-consuming (+2h) boat ride. This was a great decision because in contrast to the bumpy busses the ship drove gently downstream. What is more, the Irrawaddy river offers heaps of nice views of the country side. While on the boat I met Khinmaung, to whom I talked about his the Sony A7RII camera. He even invited us for some fine American Tennessee whiskey and we had a great laugh. The latter is not caused by the former. Promised.

Meeting Khinmaung on the boat down the Irrawaddy river from Mandalay to Bagan.
Meeting Khinmaung on the boat down the Irrawaddy river from Mandalay to Bagan.

Arriving 9 hours later in Bagan, we drove to New Bagan by Taxi. Thereby, every tourist has to pay an entrance fee of USD 20 to enter the archeological site. Given that the sun was still up we decided to hurry up and see the sunset from a pagoda. Some locals from the Bagan Empress Hotel told us about some good spots. We rented some electro scooter and speeded out of town with the maximum velocity of 30 km/h. It is a lovely way to get around and suits the relaxed atmosphere of the place best.

Bagan is a wonderful place. The whole are looks surreal with all it pagodas. The most impressive view you will have in the morning when about heaps of hot air balloons start their journey across the plain area. In awe we gazed at the balloons and could not take our eyes of the sight. Given that we avoided the crowded places to see the sunrise and sunset, we were looking for rather hidden pagodas to climb. Some locals helped us, but it was not until the very last evening that we have found the best hidden place in Bagan to see the Sunset and Sunrise.

However, due to the fact that Bagan is quite popular among tourists, the usual scams are used. Many kids asking for home currency of the foreigner to collect. Yet none of them collects money. They all try to exchange it for kyatt. Some of them ask you to change coins into kyatt and others ask only for bills straight away. I did not listen to my gut feeling and fell for the scam. I was pretty pissed about my naïvety to not being more careful.

This was the only bad thing that happened during my whole time in Myanmar. The only other foul happening was that I unluckily deleted the images from my Sony A5100 camera after cutting the movie. I recalled some images and drew some sketches to retain the memories better but it is still very annoying. Therefore this post does not contain many images and the ones that are used are from the drone.


Summary of travelling Myanmar

I was and still am very impressed by the people of Myanmar and their country. Although the tourism has definitely changed certain places, the country retains their own character and the friendliness of the people is amazing. Even monks start talking with you because they are interested in your story. A lot of information on the internet is outdated. For instance, that it is difficult to get accomodation on the go and should rather plan well in advance. The only place where this was the case is in Bagan. Still, we found accomodation though. Concerning accomodation it is not as cheap as in Thailand. Moreover, information about fees on the web seems dated too. Last but not least, I cannot emphasise enough to be adventurous and explore the places less travelled. You will not be disappointed.

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