City of Mandalay
Mandalay is one of the largest and most important cities in the country. Practically all attractions are related to Buddhist temples in the most varied possible shapes.
I left my backpack there and took a taxi with the German Henning, who had just arrived, to the Mandalay Palace. In an area of 2 km by 2 km, surrounded by a wall and a moat, are the reconstructed remnants of the government palace bombed in World War II. Most of the inner area belongs to the army. The palace buildings are virtually empty inside and lacking information in English, but the architecture is interesting and the view from the top of a tower is only surpassed by the Mandalay Hill, just behind the palace.
To get inside this attraction and many others in the Mandalay metropolitan area, it is necessary to pay 10 thousand kyats (7.5 dollars) for a tourist pass which is valid for 5 days. This ticket is sold here.
With the setting sun, we entered the nearby temples: Kyauk Taw Gyi, Sanda Muni and Kuthodaw. In the first one, you cross a cheeky green light corridor to see the largest marble statue of Buddha in the country, over 11 m high.
The other two are a bit similar. They are composed of a large central stupa and hundreds of smaller ones around, each holding a marble tombstone that contains a part of the teachings of Theravada Buddhism (Tripiṭaka).
While in the pagoda (temple) of Sanda Muni the stupas are in rectangular arrangement, in the one of Kuthodaw they are like a square. The tablets with the teachings are taken as a whole for the largest book in the world of 1460 pages.
At 8:30 p.m., there is a daily puppet show, a typical Myanmar art. It is in Myanmar Marionettes, right on the southeast corner of the palace. We paid 10,000 kyats to watch the 1-hour show, where stories are told with the puppets, including the complementary sound of an instrument band. Along with that, an introduction to Burmese dance. It was nice.
On our way out, we were struck by the nocturnal illumination of the previously visited Mandalay Palace. Across the vast moat that surrounds it, I took this picture of the yellowed walls and reddish towers.
I started the day pretty well with the hostel’s breakfast that included even Nutella! In fact, the accommodations of this country surprised me in a positive way.
Me, the German guy, the Swiss Corinne and a few others, did an organized tour for all day at 18 dollars, included guide, transportation and even meal! Rarely I do combined tours, but here the logistics clearly made it worth it. The first stop was the workshop and store for carpentry and tapestry. The art of woodworking is well developed in the country.
Amarapura, Sagaing and Ava
Then, already in Amarapura, we saw the Mahagandayon Monastery, where the monks and apprentices live and feed. We were there at the exact moment when they queue up with their donated food dishes and head to the refectory, for the last of their only 2 meals a day!
Then the silk weaving factory, where clothes are made with the aid of hand machines. A dress completely made with silk is very expensive!
Sagaing, the next destination, is a city for meditation in Buddhism. There are only temples of all kinds besides the basic commerce. The view from the top of the Sagaing Hill next to the Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, where we ascended, is very beautiful, being able to see the shrines and the river and bridges that cut with Mandalay. We had lunch near there.
Continuing, we crossed the bridge through the Thapyaytan Fortress, used in the Anglo-Burman War. We visited several important pagodas and monasteries in Ava (also called Inwa), the ancient Burmese imperial capital from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Despite having suffered several attacks from invaders, fires and earthquakes, the ruins are still standing as seen in the group formed by Wingaba Monastery, Myint Mo Taung Pagoda, Lawka Dawtha Man Aung Pagoda and Kyaung Lain Monastery. This set of the 18th century stands out for its unusual shapes in the architecture of Myanmar.
Bagaya Monastery, in turn, was a royal monastic teaching institution. Built in teak wood, it now serves as a school and home for local children.
Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery, or Me Nu Ok Kyaung, was built in 1818 and restored in 1873. Unlike the classical monasteries of wood, here the structure is masonry.
Quick stop at the collapsed temple of Lay Htat Gyi, before we reached the last spot visited in Ava: the ruins of Yadana Hsemee Pagoda.
Among other temples to be visited is the Inn Wa Archaeological Museum, which we did not go to. Admission costs 5,000 kyats for foreigners and there are English subtitles.
The highest building of Amarapura is the Pahtodawgyi Paya, almost all in white. And despite being on the tourist circuit, only a few natives also watched it.
Finally, the sunset was on the wooden U Bein Bridge over Lake Taung Tha Man. Totally crowded with tourists and locals, but still with a rather interesting view, both over the bridge and at the boats.
With the successful tour ended, Henning and I had dinner at Shan Ma Ma, a cheap restaurant almost in the middle of the street, where you can choose between 3 different dishes typical of Burmese cuisine, paying 1,500 kyats in total.
The next day, after breakfast I shared a taxi for the flight from Mandalay to Bangkok by AirAsia. As the international airport is a bit far from the city, it cost 7,500 kyats for each.