In his apartment in Yangon, our host Nick had a photo hanging on the wall of a silhouetted bridge against the backdrop of a blazing orange sunset. This was U Bein’s bridge, the highlight of almost any trip to Mandalay – ours included. We knew we had to get that magical shot for ourselves!
The day started early, with a taxi ride to Mingun. I’d read a fair amount about the tourist boat, which arrives at 10am, so we set out to get there by 8.30am. This was definitely a good decision, as the drive was scenic, and when we arrived there were virtually no other visitors. Mingun would have been the site of the world’s largest pagoda, but it remains unfinished as an earthquake destroyed the foundations. What remains instead is a very atmospheric massive collection of bricks, and an enormous bell – the largest (uncracked) bell in existence.
The drive back took us to Sagaing, which must have the most monks per square mike of anywhere in Myanmar! A major religious site, there are golden stupas dotted everywhere among the hills. A few highlights were the Umin Thounzeh complex, with 45 Buddhas in a crescent shape and Soon U Ponya Shin, where we had a great view of the surrounding area.
Our driver spoke very little English (our fault for booking through the hotel as we met many English-speaking drivers throughout Mandalay, and so he refused to stop anywhere other than the pre-arranged places). That meant we had 4 hours to kill in Amarapura while we waited for sunset at the aforementioned U Bein’s bridge. We filled the time with an interesting lunch of tiny whole fish, deep-fried and staring at us with googly eyes, and deep fried sweet corn (something about deep fried food feels comfortably bug-killing), then took our time strolling across the rickety bridge. We stopped at a (pretty insulting!) fortune-teller for a laugh, and watched the daily comings and goings of the people on the bridge. We also posed for many photographs!
Sunset came up quickly, and we didn’t expect the rush for the little boats! While most boats carried only 2 people, we crammed 6 in ours, as it was the last one available! Still, the boat was by far the best way to see the sunset, and we got some pretty spectacular pics of our own.
Dinner was at a delicious vegetarian restaurant called Marie-min, then Lofty and I stopped for a Burmese massage. Lovely!
For our last day in Mandalay, we took it easy – strolling to an old Buddha so covered in gold leaf that its body and features have become all lumpy, and then to a gorgeous teak monastery. Lofty and I wandered through the back streets of Mandalay, to the delight of school children everywhere, and stopped for tea in a local tea shop where they kept trying to feed us rice. The tea in Burma is made with thick condensed milk and is quite sweet, but a fun atmosphere. I always find the best part of any trip is just getting out and meeting the locals, and the Burmese people are always happy to have a chat, or to let us join in on their games.
Tomorrow is an 11hr boat ride to Bagan. Wish us luck!