Marvels of Mandalay
As the sun starts to set over the Irrawaddy River, we can only marvel over our experiences in Mandalay. The city of Mandalay lies in the heart of Myanmar and forms the cultural capital of the country. Everything about Mandalay is real, everything seems like a rough gem, and everything feels like an adventure in this city.
Place names like Amarapura and Sagaing sound like a myth, unreachable to explore. In Mandalay however the ancient capitals are more than just accessible. In an unconventional way for Myanmar we explore the lands that surround this large city of about 1.2 million people. We ride our own rented motorbikes. What we see and what we do is hard to comprehend. The best decision we possibly made was to leave this day to the guide to fill in. With just a few hints of what we want to see and do, he got us to see far beyond the descriptions of a Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor Reviews.
Highlights of Mandalay
Besides temples, Mandalay and its surroundings offer an amazing array of activities. Observation of local life seems to be our favorite but there is much more to do. Just a short drive from Mandalay lies Sagaing. It is the home of many monasteries and religious temples. One of the more remarkable sunsets presents itself on top of Sagaing Hill.
The U-Bein Bridge is one of the city’s more recognized landmarks. Enjoying a sunset here is an incredible experience. The bridge connects the east shore with the west shote of the Thaung Tha Man Lake. Even though a tourist spot, the authenticity of the people and Mandalay itself prevails.
One of the most remarkable religious structures of the country can be found in the Schwenandaw Monastry. The monastery is build from wood. As we wander through the structure, the details of the wood carvings become incomprehensible. A remarkable creation that dates back 140 years must catch your attention. It is one of these places that leaves you in awe. Especially if you value craftsmanship and have a keen eye for art and culture.
Beyond local life
As we venture further of the beaten tracks around Mandalay we come to villages where people stare at us with curiosity. Not many foreigners made it this deep into the hinterlands of Mandalay. The effort we make is rewarded with amazing experiences. We talk with monks about politics and observe the farming activities that seem to follow techniques of centuries back. We get to see a whole lot more than we imagined.
As people come out to shake our hands, children pose for a picture at any opportunity they get. Peanuts, cake, and curries are served on plates at a random home where we were pulled in. This must be what life as a tourist was all about decades ago.
Village life has come to a complete halt. Everyone has walked out to come and see the four strangers on bikes who visit their village. Even though we do not speak a word of Burmese, our guide does an excellent job of keeping them and us fascinated. Once the plates are empty, the kids are tired of looking at their own pictures and the people accept we have to move on, we say our goodbyes. Of course we cannot leave without a bag with banana leaves in which different kinds of food are wrapped. It is one of those things that will forever be part of the travel memory in and around Mandalay.