“Mingalaba, where you from? That’s a great country, why are you in Myanmar?”
I have gotten used to this usual greeting from people selling things at tourists places. I even tried asking if they really know about the Philippines but the usual reply is a genuine shy smile and then a repeat of the same question. However, in Myanmar, this happens all the time. The sellers, locals, children and those who are just genuinely eager to know about my impressions of Myanmar and offer help.
Mandalay is more vibrant than Yangon. Perhaps it was the presence of motorbikes around the city and it being the second largest city and former capital of Myanmar.
I had a full day to explore Mandalay and decided to hire a motorbike driver to take us to places he deemed interesting. For once, I did not consider reading about the places he took us, it was one of those trust whatever happens day. So as I put the helmet on, I looked forward to a full day of what Mandalay could offer.
U Bein Bridge
I had to wake up really early to catch the sunrise from this famous bridge made entirely of Teak wood. The structure took two years to complete with a total length being 1.2 km long, it is also the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world. This structure was built in the form of a right angle pointing to the south in order to withstand the battering waves and blowing wind from the Taungthaman Lake.
Sadly, the highly awaited sunrise never arrived. The sky was cloudy and the wind was blowing hard. However, I did not let that dampen my spirits and decided to walk half the distance of the bridge. The parade of people coming and going was more than enough to hold my interest. It is used as an important passageway for the local people especially when the lake is high.
It is located in Amarapura, a short distance outside of Mandalay city and can be accessed by motorbike or car.
Inwa or Ava
Inwa was the capital of Burma for nearly 360 years and was known as an ancient imperial capital. Located 21 kilometers away from Mandalay, the motorbike driver told us that we can get through without paying anything by getting there earlier than the fee collectors. Indeed, we got there just in time.
Driving around Inwa was a feast for the eyes with all the different temple ruins. Although at this time, I admitted that I had had enough of temples that I did not even want to stop at some of the not so interesting ones. Although, when the driver stopped at a monastery, I immediately got to my feet and explored.
One of the most interesting monasteries I have seen. It is made entirely of teak wood and has eight stairways made of bricks. It has intricate carvings, ornamentation with curved figurines and the reliefs of birds and animals decorated on the wall.
At the entrance of the monastery, children came running to me saying hello. At first I thought they were selling something but they did not really have anything offered. I then went up and explored and they still kept on following me. I then noticed one of the kids go to one of the low lying mango tree branch and picked one of the fruits. He then ran up to me and offered the fruit. The delight and smile of the other kids when I smiled and asked if it was really for me was so genuine. This small gesture touched me. It was one of the most touching moment in that trip for me.
Maha Myat Muni Paya
Myanmar’s second holiest pilgrimage site was fascinating to say the least. The most important image within the pagoda is the Mahamuni Buddha which is 4m high and is cast in bronze. Every morning, the Buddha’s face is washed and teeth brushed by a team of monks. Thousands of devotees apply layers of gold leaf on the image and now it is completely covered with thick gold.
However, only men are allowed to approach and touch the image. It was with a heavy heart that I reluctantly handed over my camera to Jireh to take a closer photo of the image.The Pagoda is open daily from 6am-8pm, and entrance fee is US$4 for foreigners not accompanied by a tour package.
It is another teak wood monastery closely located to Mandalay Hill. Built in the traditional Burmese architectural style, the teak carvings adorned most of its walls and roofs. It shows one of the most intricate carvings and is a great place to get an impression of what the Royal Palace once must have looked like. Since the Palace was destroyed by fire during the Second World War, the Shwenandaw Monastery is the only major original teak wooden building left of the original Mandalay Royal Palace.
“So you want to go another temple?” Ahhh no thanks, I think I’ve had enough for today.
The motorbike driver smiled and nodded. “You have fun, yes?” Yes, it was wonderful!
“Let’s go back then.”
“Cezu Tinba Deh.” (Thank you)