We have been very excited about Myanmar as a destination on our trip, because it is always described as a yet non-touristic destination and a partly unexplored country. This is definitely true, especially when you look at those many areas where tourists are not allowed to go (like the old city of Mandalay to start with, as well as the northern part of the country). But there is also a hype at the moment and everybody is heading towards Myanmar, so the idyll might possibly change soon.
We arrive to Mandalay with a direct flight from Bangkok. When we started planning this trip we actually wanted to travel overland to be more flexible about how much time we spend in each country. But very few borders between Myanmar and Thailand are open, and the situation might change unexpectedly. So we booked some flights in advance.
The drive from the airport is about one hour, and all we see on the way are some temples and a really flat country – the total contrast to Nepal. Mandalay seems at first sight like a big village and you could expect a beach around any corner (which might just be our imagination, we really need some beach days). Driving though the city we notice that it is huge and the minibus needs another hour to drop everyone of at their hotels. The streets are numbered so it is easy to get around. We spend the first evening just walking around, and notice again the huge distances.
The next morning we decide to rent a motorbike to be more flexible. Most people go on guided tours renting a taxi, but we prefer to do it on our own. The motorbikes are extremely cheap and cost just 10€! When you start driving you must remember these rules:
- There are no rules.
- Whoever honks first, drives first.
- Streets might magically appear to be oneway streets, but there is no sign. Just guess.
- When you try to cross a busy road, just stay close to a local. Even if you think you can´t drive yet, just follow them. No risk no fun.
As a foreigner on a motorbike, people always smile at you (or laugh?) and wave, they seem very happy to see you there. In general we do not see too many tourists in these first days and all the Burmese people are friendly, curious and open-minded. Some even speak surprisingly good english.
As we start driving we notice that Mandalay does not have too many major sights to visit. We even skip the royal palace, as it has been rebuilt in the 90´s and isn´t even the original. Driving around and just watching daily life is much more interesting. We come across a fruit and vegetable market close to our hotel and buy some really cheap and really good papayas.
We visit some buddhist temples (like Eindawya Paya) and monasteries like Chanthaya Paya.
There we are warmly welcomed by a local who offers us some water and a banana and doesn´t stop taking our pictures. He proudly shows some pictures of other tourists who visited the place, and we might be the next picture on his wall. Then we go on to Strand Road and enjoy the river views of Ayeyarwady River. There is a market again where they sell fresh fish from the river.
Close to the fish market we find a small street food market and decide to eat something. Unfortunately the guy doesn´t speak English so we try to explain that he just can mix something for us. After a couple of minutes and the help of some other Burmese we finally get a leqpeq salad (fermented green tea leaves mixed with a combination of sesame seeds, fried peas, fried garlic, peanuts chili and more) for less than 1 €. It was the best Burmese dish so far!
In the evening we drive to Mandalay Hill and climb up the many many stairs to the top to watch the sunset. We got beautiful weather and nice views of the city!
Coming down from the hill there is some kind of festival going on in the streets. We stay a little and have some street food.
We decide to keep the bike for the next day as well to drive out of the city. The plan is to visit Inwa, Amarapura and U-Bein Bridge, Pyin Oo Lwin and Anisakan Waterfalls. When we wake up the next morning it is raining! This is unbelievable, yesterday was the sunniest and hottest day of our trip so far! We have breakfast and decide to wait a little. But it doesn´t stop. So around 12 we decide to just put our rain coats on and go, otherwise we would just waste the day. U-Bein Bridge is the closest of all sights, so we decide to drive there and then go on if possible. When we get there we are soaking wet, but had a funny ride out of the city. U-Bein bridge is not as great as expected (it is supposed to be the most photographed sight in the country?). But we still cross it as we have nothing else to do.
When we come back the sun is finally shining. We are hungry so we have some lunch. After that it is almost 4 o´clock. We drive on to the ferry to Inwa, but getting there we decide it is too late to go, as it will be totally dark at 6 and we don´t want to return on the bike too late in the dark. So unfortunately we miss some of the major sights around Mandalay, because we already booked our bus ticket to Kalaw for the next day. Still it was a really funny day out in the rain. Jens returns the bike only reluctantly.