"Mingalaba!" he said waving and pointing the empty seat in front of him. Being invited to join two strangers for a beer and snacks only two hours after stepping foot in the city, was a quick introduction to the friendliness of the locals.
Wandering through the streets of the last royal capital of Myanmar is an assault on the senses. Bikes speed through, leaving a trail of dust in the air, honking to greet friends or warn other commuters that they are passing through. Yet, it’s the politeness and curiosity of its people towards foreigners that makes it special. Greetings are shouted from across the street, off-duty drivers strike up a conversation, shop workers stare and shyly smile when eyes meet.
The city’s raw energy was so mesmerising that we ended up staying longer than expected in order to explore and experience the everyday things. However, if time constrained, two days are enough to see much of what the city has to offer.
Hop on a trishaw and catch the 9 am jetty to Mingun at the end of 26th Street. Dodge the eager tuk-tuk and bull cart drivers at the pier and spend the morning exploring the three major sights on the archeologic complex: the massive Pa Hto Taw Gyin, the Mingun Bell and the wavy Hsinbyume Pagoda.
Return to Mandalay in time for lunch at Lashio Lay, a local joint serving Shan cuisine. In the afternoon head to the temples north of the Palace grounds: Khuto Daw and Sandamuni Pagoda — housing the largest stone book in the world — Kyauk Taw Gyi Temple and Bo Bo Gyi Nat Shrine.
End the day at Mandalay Hill, wandering through the shimmering corridors of Su Taung Pyae Pagoda at the sunset.
Hire a taxi for the day and check the ancient capitals of Myanmar. Start with sunrise at the iconic U Bein Bridge in Amurapura. Not only a great way to experience the local communities early morning routines but also to avoid the hordes of sunset-seeking tourists.
Drive to Sagaing and visit Oo Hmin Thone Sel Pagoda and the opulent Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda at the top of Nga-Pha Hill. When heading back down, stop at one of the schools of monastic education, like Aung Myae Oo, to know more about the program, the kids and help a good cause.
Explore the archaeologic complex of Inwa on horsecart and wander through Maha Aungmye Pagoda. Feast with the monied locals at Aye Myittar Restaurant back in Mandalay before checking the lavish Mahamuni Buddha in the afternoon.
Good to know
- In Myanmar, shoes are strictly forbidden inside the temple grounds, unlike other places in Southeast Asia where shoes only come off when entering the main prayer hall.
- Start the day as early as possible, not only to avoid the intense midday heat but to eschew tourist groups.
- Try hiring a trishaw, taxi or moto-taxi for a day tour of the city while walking around. Most drivers speak excellent English and are extremely nice and helpful — even if you end up not taking on their offer.
- Mandalay Palace and a couple of other buildings require a 7$ combo ticket (profits revert to the government and military). Most of the Palace is also under military control and with restricted areas.
- The famed Mahagandhayon monastery where you can witness monks lining up for lunch is not far from U Bein Bridge but before you go, think if you feel that it’s ethical to intrude in a private moment only to get a couple of photographs. If you do go, please donate to the monastery before leaving. Read more about this here.