- Accommodation: Royal Guest House ($??/night for a triple with A/C and private bathroom) – The staff at the Royal Guest House were very accommodating since we showed up at 3:00am, although I think they’re used to people showing up at all hours of the night because of the odd bus schedules. We booked a room in advance for that night, but we didn’t have anywhere to go when the bus rolled into town in the early morning. They let us sleep on the couches in the lobby (along with the rest of the staff who were sleeping on the floor). It was completely booked and the only reason they let us stay in the lobby was because we made a reservation in advance – we saw many people being turned away – so definitely book ahead! (We asked our guesthouse in Nyaungshwe to call and book a room for us). The layout of the guesthouse was bizarre and our room strangely resembled a cabin in a boat, but it was clean and comfortable. It was really hot in Mandalay so we opted for an A/C room, which worked well except for a few power outages throughout the night, but that’s to be expected everywhere in Burma!
- BBB – A western restaurant in Mandalay serving typical European/American dishes. We heard there was wifi at this place and it worked well, that is until the power went out during our dinner (it came back on eventually). It’s definitely a nicer restaurant for Burmese standards, but the food is nothing special and it’s over-priced. However, if you’re looking to eat, check your email on your phone and sit in A/C for a bit, then it’s a good option.
- There are lots of street restaurants in Mandalay serving typical Burmese dishes. There’s one not too far from the guesthouse that serves good breakfast, although I’m sure they’re all pretty similar. Ask the guesthouse for other recommendations.
As I mentioned above, the bus got to Mandalay around 2 or 3am, even though we thought it wasn’t supposed to get in until much later in the morning. So we got off the bus after being dead asleep and I was completely disoriented and just wanted to get to our guesthouse as quickly as possible. Rosie found us a taxi driver to take us to our guesthouse for a small price, so we hopped into the back of his pick-up truck with our packs. Then suddenly out of nowhere this weird old American guy, who was also on our bus, asked if we could share a taxi with him. We didn’t care, so we said okay and he hopped in the back. This guy was probably in his late 60s and was dressed in all white, including a floppy white hat that resembled a baby’s bonnet. We asked him where he was from and what he was doing in Burma. He said he was from Iowa and was just traveling through the country for a month or so. I don’t know where these people come from and how they make their way out of the country – no less to Burma – but he was rambling on and on about the strangest things, like the color of Burmese people’s hair, and we were all so tired and couldn’t wait for him to stop talking. The taxi dropped all of us off at our guesthouse because he didn’t want to pay an extra dollar to get dropped off where he was staying. So instead he decided to walk the 50 blocks to his hotel at 3am dressed in a tennis outfit and a sailor’s hat. Oh the characters we met on this trip! We never saw him again so I can only hope he made it there safely!
In truth, we found Mandalay to be quite boring. Granted we didn’t spend much time there, and we were also exhausted from having gotten very little sleep the night before. I envisioned Mandalay to be this exotic, ancient city, but there wasn’t anything too appealing there. The big attraction for most tourists is the 4 ancient cities surrounding modern day Mandalay.
I believe there were 4 Kings that ruled during different periods in Mandalay’s history. According to Unesco’s website “…residences of Myanma kings: Sagaing from 1315 to 1364, Innwa from 1364 to 1841, Amarapura from 1841 to 1857, Mingun in 1810-1819, Mandalay after 1857. They are close to each other, inside a span of 30km on both banks of the Ayeyawady River. Innwa, Amarapura and Mandalay are noteworthy instances of city planning. The royal palace is located in a corner of the city wall at Innwa, at its centre in Amarapura and Mandalay. Numerous religious monuments, temples, stupas and monasteries.”
We hired a taxi to take us around for the day and show us the ancient cities surrounding Mandalay. I feel like we missed something because we were not excited by anything we saw that day. Other travelers told us how amazing the U Bien Bridge in Amarapura is – apparently it’s the longest and oldest teak bridge in the world – but to us it just looked like a rickety old pier. Sure, it was a nice place to watch the sunset, but we didn’t understand what all the hype was about. Also, if you sit down on one of the benches you will inevitably get a stream of Burmese people wanting to take photos with you. I know this is standard practice throughout Asia, but this was to the extreme. One woman sat down on the bench, grabbed Brittany’s hand to hold during the picture, like they were best friends, and then just walked away without looking at her or saying anything. Very odd!
At Inwa, they forced us to go around in a horse and carriage, and the horses looked like they were going to collapse at any minute. Plus there really wasn’t much to see except for a few monuments that weren’t that impressive, especially compared to Bagan. The whole thing felt like a tourist trap. Sagaing was definitely the most interesting, but it was quite large and we didn’t know where to go. The taxi dropped us off in front of a steep staircase and after climbing to the top (where there was a great view), we didn’t know how to get to the other temples. Maybe it would have been best to hire a guide so they could have shown us the right places to see.
The next morning we took a bus from Mandalay to Bagan. It took about 6 hours and you’re driving on unpaved roads for a portion of the trip. The bus was extremely hot and the windows didn’t open, so I felt like I was going to pass out. It also broke down a couple times after stopping at “rest areas.” At one point half the passengers were pushing the bus from behind while the driver threw water on the engine to cool it down. I had a brilliant idea, why didn’t we just go straight to Bagan and not make anymore stops? That way we didn’t have to keep risking the bus braking down every time we stopped and they turned off the engine. But alas they must stop at those roadside restaurants so everybody gets a cut of the business. Very frustrating when it’s 100 degrees out and you just want to get there!