In the City of Kings

Getting from Bagan to our hostel in Mandalay turned out to be more complicated than expected. Since we were going to stay at Ostello Bello Mandalay (the sister hostel of Ostello Bello Bagan), we had booked a bus including pick up and drop off at the hostel. Arriving at the bus station in Mandalay earlier than expected (as almost every time we took a bus), no one seemed to know anything about a pick up service for us or understood what we tried to explain in English. After almost half an hour of discussions between the bus driver and taximen, one of them finally took us to our hostel. Once at the hostel, there was further confusion on who would pay the taxi driver, us insisting that it should be the hostel and the guys at the reception insisting that it was not them but the bus company which messed up. We ended up paying the driver and getting reimbursed the next day. As we were supposed to arrive in the middle of the night, we did not book a room and were offered to sleep on the rooftop for a few hours before exploring the city.

According to George Orwell, Mandalay can be defined by five Ps: pagodas, pariahs, priests, pigs and prostitutes. We did not see pigs nor prostitutes but we definitely noticed, that the city was more liberal than the rest of Myanmar, with even some “sex shop” stalls appearing in the streets at night. As for pagodas we for sure saw a lot of them, as we had also in the rest of the country.

In our two days in the city, we managed to visit a few different attractions. We first went to the royal palace, where the kings used to live completely cut off from the rest of the world. From the outside, the compound reminded us a lot of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The palace itself was rebuilt for tourists after it had burnt down. However, the military and their families live on the compound surrounding the palace, still inside the walls of the old fort. The whole place is like a small village inside the city.

We then went to explore two places of traditional work: the famous jade market and a golden leaf factory. Both places were very busy, the jade market more with local buyers and the golden leaf factory with interested tourists. We got to observe both processes of production and saw the men and women at work, which was extremely interesting. In between those two places, we stopped at a local restaurant to have a few samosa. It seemed like they weren’t used to seeing many westerners and we got treated like queens as they turned our quick snack-break into a huge second breakfast.

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To make it to one of the main attractions around Mandalay, the U Bein bridge  – longest wooden bridge of the world – we decided to rent a scooter as it was a few kilometres out of the city. Even though we were quite nervous about riding in the traffic, we quickly figured out a few techniques to make our way safely through the busy roads and it got much more quiet as soon as we got out of the center. We spent the afternoon on the less touristy side of the bridge, enjoying the view and some drinks. We then crossed the bridge as the sun was setting with a mass of other tourists, which was still a very nice walk.

After a few days in Mandalay, we decided to take a short trip a bit more North, to reach Pyin Oo Lwin. This quiet little town didn’t seem very touristy but popular among locals for weekend trips away from the city. When walking through it, we noticed a lot of colonial houses, including the one George Orwell used to live in!

Once again, we decided to rent a scooter to get around and made it to a beautiful waterfall. We had to walk half an hour down to reach it but it was definitely worth it and, for the first time of the trip, we actually took out our bikinis and went for a swim in the cold water. A bit too soon it was time for us to head back to Mandalay. We decided to do it the local way and to hop on a shared truck. It was not the most comfortable ride but we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets on the way.

That evening back in Mandalay marked the end of our stay in Myanmar. This incredible country left us with huge smiles on our faces and a lot of warmth in our hearts. We were sad to leave already but know that there is still much more beauty to explore, people to meet and food to try in the country and we will for sure come back one day.

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