Flying into Mandalay and Exploring the City.
We decided to enter Myanmar from Mandalay, instead of the cheaper flight to Yangon. This made sense as we only bought one way tickets and planned to exit overland back into Thailand. The tickets to Mandalay from Bangkok cost us about 90$ one way compared to 50$ for Yangon.
We arrived in Mandalay on February 20th, 2017, exited to explore a new country, a new culture and a new cuisine! At the airport after customs, we immediately headed to the ATM and withdrew 300,000 Kyat, equivalent to about 225 US Dollars. Next we stood in line at the Ooredoo booth and bought a sim card and some phone minutes. People advise this as the wi-fi signals at hotels can be weak. And we planned to book hotels as we progressed using the internet as well as phone.
To get to the city center from the Mandalay airport, a shared minivan shuttle for 4,000 kyat a person is the cheapest way. These shuttles will drop everyone off at their hotel, so depending on where you are staying you get to watch the other tourists get off at their pre-booked hotel.
Coming from Bangkok you immediately notice the difference. Dusty small roads. Ox pulling carts. Dusty roads through farm land. That sort of thing. We were the last ones dropped off and were greeted at the Royal Yadanarbon by a smiling hotel staff and a orange welcome drink that tasted like Tang. The lobby looked good and the hotel staff were so friendly… so this is why we pay 25$ a night in Myanmar. The room they showed us was kinda dark so we asked to look at a different room and they found us a smaller corner room with windows looking out to the streets 4 stories below.
Hungry, we asked the doorman (who spoke decent english) if there was a good place to eat nearby. He recommended a place down the street and gave us directions. Walking isn’t too enjoyable in central Mandalay we realize…no sidewalks and lots of motorbike traffic. And we quickly discovered: they like to honk. Oh yes. They like to honk any chance they get. Still, its exiting to find yourself in a new country and we were happy to be out stretching the legs.
The restaurant was a buffet style place where for 4,000 kyat you eat as much as you want. A nice way to sample the cuisine but we were not hungry enough to take advantage of a buffet style lunch. At one point as we were eating, a huge tractor came roaring down the street and blew a ton of exhaust into the open windows where we were eating. Ha!
After a shower back at the hotel, we took the hotel bicycles out for a ride. Riding down the busy streets with motorbikes zooming past and honking… we took the first right turn onto a smaller street.
Found ourselves in a nice residential area, small shacks, kids playing in the streets yelling “hello” at you. Much better then the main road.
The sun was getting low. I took pictures and we biked over a bridge heading over a small lake. Monks walked by and the colors were nice.
We headed towards the river to see the sunset. A tri-cycle taxi guide chatted us up and tried to convince us to hire him to take us around to the sights the next day. But we already had a plan: we were going to rent a motorbike and do it ourselves.
Great dinner that night. Found a random hot pot restaurant near the canal. Lots of locals were eating so we took a seat. A nice fellow at the next table acted as translator and led us through the process. We were served a big bowl of soup broth that you add vegetables to. Also a large cooking stove that you cook your thinly slice meats on. We didn’t know it at the time but this would turn out to be one of my favorite meals in all of Myanmar.
Exploring the Sights Around Mandalay
As everyone tells you, the main “sights” are outside of the Mandalay city center. We asked at our hotel lobby where to rent a motorbike and they gave us a map to help us find the place. We walked 10 minutes through the calm streets, not yet completely full of traffic and found the place. They rented automatic bikes for 12,000 and manuals for 8,000 kyat.
We stopped once for gas and then headed west towards the river, then south and over the big bridge. Lena on back navigated using Map.me (more on how useful that app is later). First stop: Sagaing Hill.
On the other side of the Ayeyarwady river and south from Mandalay, Sagaing was the capital of Sagaing Kigdom (1315–1364). A large Pagoda sits on top of Sagaing hill and has great views. We sat down at one of the little cafes and had a can of iced coffee.
Back down the hill and through the town of Saging, we headed north following the west bank of the Ayeyarwady river. A really nice drive, it took 45 minutes to get to the town of Mingun where we each had to pay 5,000 kyat to enter the area. We saw the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, a huge unfinished pagoda that if completed would of been the largest in the world.
Down the street we visited the 90 ton Mingun Bell.
A little further is the Hsinbyume Pagoda, a huge white temple that you can climb up the steps and explore.
By this time it was getting hot. Any shade we saw, we headed for. We saw signs for the Garden Cafe and found a nice and shady cafe on the river to escape the heat. A cool breeze and a pot of tea. Much needed.
Further up the road past the sights and into the village we sat down at a small restaurant that a few locals were eating. We hoped to get some authentic Burmese food. The nice lady seemed exited we were eating there and asked us what type of curry we wanted, chicken or pork. She then brought us rice and side dishes- a small bowl of very firm beans, a small bowl of chili and dried fish and a bowl of soup each. It was actually a nice meal and I actually took a liking to the chili/fish dish.
We headed back. The breeze on the bike helped but we could feel the thick heat around us as we rode. We rode into Sagaing and decided against seeing any more pagodas, instead opting to sit at another river front beer station/cafe. I had a coke and Lena had a coffee, the famous 3in1 (coffee, creamer, sugar) that we would get to know so well in Myanmar.
We were getting tired at this point so decided against seeing the Inwa Ruins and instead heading the U Bein Bridge. The famousTik Bridge was nice though very crowded with tourists. We sat and had a coconut before we ventured down to the bridge. We wandered to the river and took pictures.
We watched the crowds on the bridge and I was asked to take pictures with a group of young local giggling girls. Finally, we climbed up the middle stairs to the bridge. It was packed with people. Down below, many were readying their cameras for the famous sunset picture. It was quite the scene. Kinda chaotic.
Driving back into Mandalay was intense with the evening traffic. The exhaust is bad. I’d advise a handkerchief around the face if motorbiking during Mandalay rush hour.
We were happy to return the bike and take a shower. That evening we took bicycles out and had Indian food. Tomorrow we head north to Pyin Oo Lyin.
Mandalay Budget and Expenses for 2 people:
- 7,500- Sim Card
- 8,000- minibus to hotel
- 8,000- lunch at buffet place
- 600- lg water x2
- 5,750- lg beer x2, lg water x2, mosquito repellant
- 1,000- chips
- 13, 400-Hot Pot dinner for two and 2 lg beers
- 30, 240- Hotel Royal Yadanarbon
74, 490 Kyat Total
- 30, 240- Hotel
- 12,000-motorbike rental
- 1,000- liter of petrol
- 2,000- ice coffee x2
- 10,000- entry fee x2 to Mingun
- 3,200- ice coffee and tea at fancy riverside place
- 5,000- Burmese Lunch and LG water
- 600- nescafe and coca cola
- 1,200- coconut
- 600- parking at 2 places
- 300- Lg water
- 7,100- Indian Dinner: duck curry, cow cheese curry and rice