BACKPACKER GUIDE MANDALAY
I originally intended to do cover the entire country in one post, but then I realized that such is incredibly hard to do. There was too much beauty that has overcome my mates and I throughout our time in this magical place on earth. So, I decided to take it step-by-step and write a post about each destination as we wandered along. The first stop: Mandalay.
However, before I am leaping into sharing my insights about this magical place, I should clarify what the actual name of this place is, so whether it is called Myanmar or Burma? Keeping the inner conflicts aside, it is actually pretty straightforward. The country used to be called Burma until the military decided to rename it to Myanmar in 1989. The new name was supposed to show the re-birth of a nation that aimed to distance itself from its colonial past. Today, Myanmar is still being recognised as the official name by United Nations, as well as by a number of other states. However, countries like the United States or Australia still refrain from using the new term, as a sign of disapproval of the military regime. They continue referring to the country as Burma, similar to a great majority of the media world, as well as the country’s citizen, who felt oppressed and omitted in this decision.
Until not long ago, it was very difficult to enter Burma. My two friends and I visited the country in 2014, and still at times it felt like we were the first white people some of the locals would have seen. Aside from Yangon, which is the business capital of the country (Naypyidaw is the actual capital), and tourist destinations like Inle Lake or Bagan, Burma feels pretty untouched.
In total we spent around two weeks travelling around Burma. Though, the time we spent at each location was pretty compressed, it is definitely possible to see a great part of this magical country within 14 days. Nevertheless, a few more days would not have hurt and would have allowed us to indulge into and appreciate our surroundings a little bit more.
ARRIVAL IN BURMA
FLIGHT FROM SINGAPORE TO MANDALAY
We arrived into Singapore as our Asian in- and outbound airport. Unfortunately, I had to change my flights, as I messed up an university application, so I could only arrive a few days later. After one night in Singapore, I flew directly with Silk Air to Mandalay, whilst the other two had a layover in Yangon, before arriving in Mandalay at night.
We stayed two nights in Mandalay, which is the second biggest city in Myanmar with almost two million inhabitants. Our hotel of choice was called Royal Guest House. Since I arrived a bit earlier, I had time to explore the streets of the city, strolling through a market, making initial contact with Burmese people and playing some street football. Once the two Jacks had arrived, we set out to find some food and watch the World Cup. Unfortunately, I do not remember exact street names, or locations, but we ended being looked up somewhere inside a bar. As the law prohibits serving alcohol after ten, the owner simply shut down the place. We had some small bites to eat and drank a number of pints with the locals. The atmosphere was great, and our new friends got so drunk that we ended up drawing our own beer. Once the game was over, we moved on and ended up siting in the street with a big crowd of people. We ate more food, which tasted good, and tried smoking green-colored cigarettes, which everyone seemed to enjoy, and we could not resist to test. For disclosures reasons, I do not smoke, and those mysterious green things were not drugs, however saying that, until today we have no idea what it was.
We returned to our hotel. We slept for about one hour, as we wanted to the see the sunrise at U Bein’s Bridge, as well as watch the monk’s crossing of the bridge. In order to get there, we went to the main road and approached a guy that owned a tuk-tuk. We agreed on a price and he took us to the bridge. Along the way we stopped at Amarapura, Inwa, Sagaing, as well as drove up to Mandalay Hill to watch the sunset. But, step-by-step.
Without going into too much detail, the tour was totally worth it. Though, it was pretty cloudy and we could barley see the sunrise, U Bein’s Bridge was a highlight. We saw a number of the infamous longboats cruising by underneath the bridge, whilst monks were walking to the temple. Not far from U Bein, lies in Inwa, which is the former capital of the imperial Burma. A longboat brought us across to the shore of this ancient city, where carriages where awaiting us to show around. There are a number of stunning and well-preserved temples to see. After our round tour of Inwa, we hopped back into the longboat, which returned us to the other side, where our driver, unfortunately I forgot his name, was awaiting us. The ride continued. Whilst every now and then one of us would fall asleep, rocky roads and deep potholes would ensure that you always wake up again. On our way to Sagaing, we stopped by in Amarapura for lunch, as well as visited a local knitting manufactory. After our little pit stop, we reached the bottom of the stairs that we had to climb to get to the Soon Oo Pon Nya Shin pagoda, which is located on the top of the Ngh-Pha hill. The stairs are not difficult to climb and once you reach the top, you get rewarded with a breath-taking view across the valley and see other pagodas popping through the woods. A final look, and we went downstairs. We had to drive around 20 kilometres to get back to Mandalay, where we would visit the final stop of the day, which was Mandalay Hill. We reached the top of the hill just-in-time to see the sunset and the lights switch on across the city of Mandalay. It was breathtaking.
After enjoying this special moment overlooking the city of Mandalay our driver returned us to our hostel. We were very exhausted, but each had a big smile on our face. We dropped our daypacks and ventured out to find a bite to eat. What a way to start our Burma adventure.