As advised by the guide book, we approached from the southern side, past the lions, and walked the full length (1800 or so steps) to reach the main paya, passing a number of shrines and Buddha images and at least three signs pointing ‘To the Top.’ Good views once we got there, even though the day was hazy. We also spotted some interesting birds and a couple of tree hugging lizards.
We took things very easy in Mandalay – sightseeing by bike in the morning and staying out for lunch, then a couple of hours rest in the afternoon – and out again late afternoon.
Inspired by the postcard above, we went along to see the famous Mahamuni Buddha – the paya was packed! Very much a working temple. And this was the only place that M’s long shorts did not cut it – he had to hire a longyi to cover his knees.
We stayed at the Smart Hotel, which was a great location – close to the palace and a moderate bike ride away from the World’s Biggest Book and Mandalay Hill. And good food also within easy walking distance. We rode step through rattlers provided free from the hotel every day – it was a wonderful way to experience the city. Compared to the other locations in Myanmar where we stayed, Mandalay (0r at least this part) seemed very house proud – no rubbish in the streets, and people regularly sweeping and watering their patch to keep it clean and not so dusty.
We caught the MGRG ‘express’ from Bagan to Mandalay (12 hours). This involved walking down a sand dune in the middle of the night (ok, 5am, but it was very dark) and then shuffling along a narrow plank to get on board. Once there, however, it was a very comfortable and enjoyable ride. Breakfast and lunch provided, and two! flushing toilets. Luxury.
Apparently there are over 2,000 monuments in Bagan, in various states of repair/disrepair. Earthquakes have caused major damage, the most recent in August 2016. Some temples were closed due to the latest shakeup.
There are plenty of ‘must see’ monument lists but the two places I most enjoyed were not described in anything we read – it was more happy accident. Get your own transport, bring your headlamp and go for it. We travelled by mountain bike (A$4 per bike per day), small e-scooter ($10 from the hotel, but on the street $7) and large e-scooter ($10 on the street – and the most comfortable ride for this passenger). Taxis offer tours, but can’t get to many of the more interesting places – or you could also try horse and cart. Many of the roads are narrow, bumpy and sandy. You can’t hire motorbikes and we heard it was because foreigners were having too many accidents.
Favourite spot no.1 was the Wi-ni-do Group. We were looking at the stupas behind the main temple when a guy came out of a nearby dwelling and asked us if we wanted to look in the main building. Turns out he was the key holder, and gave us (and some other passing tourists) a look inside. It was remarkable – the interior paintings were extremely well preserved – and strictly no photographs allowed.
The second was building no. 1401. The staircase was unlocked and we climbed up onto the top for fantastic afternoon views of the area. No one else was around.
The Boat Tour is the thing at Inle Lake – and there are plenty of captains ready to broker a deal. Taking advice we decided on an early start, and an itinerary which began with the market for the day. As the guide books will tell you, Inle Lake has a 5 day market where the location rotates between villages. On the day we went it was Inthein, a longer boat journey of about 45mins to an hour. We left at 7.30am so were amongst the first at the market, after a lovely (and chilly) ride across the lake.
By the time we left two hours later, the place was teeming with tourists. The food market was excellent, and much less touristy than any we’ve seen. The adjoining tourist market had some lovely textiles, clothing, jewellery and trinkets, with keen but not aggressive sellers. We spent an hour at the market and an hour checking out Nyaung Ohak (pagoda ruins) and the Shwe Inn Thein Paya. Both were really picturesque and we could easily have spent longer in Inthein.
The rest of the day included visits to various craft workshops, the floating pagoda, and lunch on the lake. And we saw the foot-rowing fishermen of Inle Lake – real and those from central casting.
Due to a shaky Internet there has been no blogging of late – but hopefully now service has resumed. Back in Nyaungu Shwe we hired bikes – on the first day, some old rattlers which were fine for getting around town for the total princely sum of around A$2 for both. Our second day had us checking out something built for a longer journey. For around $15 from MMK we hired 2 mountain bikes, 2 helmets, a lock, 2 bottles of water, a map showing various routes and some advice on the best one ( a round trip including a boating section).
Getting from Bago to Nyaung Shwe (the main town for accessing Inle Lake, unless you want to pay big $$$ for a resort on the lake itself) was relatively easy. Taxi to Yangon $US35, flight to HeHo airport, taxi to Nyauang Shwe (25,000 kyat) plus US$10 for an Inle Zone entrance fee. We arrived at Zawgi Inn, settled in, then went for a look around town. We happened upon Ginki bar and restaurant, and had a good night drinking some local beer, enjoying dinner and listening to the live entertainment. ( We had asked the waiter what kind of music would be played – his response ‘ Foreign’. Which it was.) There was also the cutest pup hanging about…
Bago is described as an easy day trip from Yangon, but we decided to stay there for a couple of nights to more easily enjoy the sites on offer. A 10,000 kyat ( around $A10) Archeological Zone ticket gives you access, and lasts for three days. We checked out the Shwe Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha, Shwe gu lay Pagoda, Mahazedi Paya, Nuang Daw Gyi Mya Tha Luang Reclining Buddha, Kanbawzathadi Palace and the Shwe Maw Daw Pagoda. There were many more temples and places you could visit, but this was more than enough for a full day’s viewing. We hired a scooter from the hotel and M was fearless as usual in negotiating local traffic. I just hung on the back and gave the thumbs up sign to locals who appreciated M’s scootering skills.
As mentioned in the previous post, we stayed at the Kanbawza Hinthar Hotel which was very good mid-priced accommodation. They picked us up from the train and were very helpful with other transport needs (scooter, and taxi to Yangon airport). However, we happened to be staying there the week in February when the pagoda behind the hotel had 24 hour chanting pumping out of their speakers. Such is Asian life. For 2 nights it was ok – anymore and we might have been looking for somewhere else to stay. But it was well worth it as the sights of Bago were impressive, especially the mosaic work.