After spending a few days in Yangon we took the night bus to reach Mandalay. It was very comfortable with 2 seats on one side and one on the other side and cost us 15$ per person, so it was definitely worth getting into this bus as we also saved a night of accommodation. Be prepared to be cold though, there are blankets but their thickness varies depending on the company so rather take a few more layers. You also receive a small snack, some water and a towel and toothbrush, so all in all a very nice and inexpensive way to travel.
Just be careful not to miss the stop in Mandalay as it wasn’t announced in English and not everybody got off so we nearly missed it 😅. Once arrived in Mandalay a crowd of taxi drivers will be running to you, they are a bit of a hassle but we had no other choice as it was 6am and our hotel was quite far.
Mandalay is located in the centre of Myanmar and is the 2nd largest city after Yangon. It is the religious hub of upper Myanmar. Apparently half of Myanmar’s monks live here or around.
We didn’t do much that first day but walking around the city to situate ourselves. We quickly decided to rent a motorbike for the next 2 days as it was boiling hot and the sites we wanted to visit where far from each other. It was pretty easy to go around with the bike, the traffic is not as crazy as in Yangon or other Asian cities. Also it was significantly cheaper compared to taking taxis and less hassle than commuting by bus, not to mention freedom of movement, an extended reach and that refreshing breeze when driving your motorbike.
On the 2nd day we visited the Royal Palace, a walled city from which 2 kings ruled between 1858 and 1885 (source wikitravel). The palace was destroyed during WWII and reconstructed, it is now supervised by the military. It sure lost a bit of its grandeur, but we got a good idea of the residence of the forner kings and took some nice shots, especially going up the watch tower. Be aware that only the very central part of this huge area is accessible to the public and you are not allowed to go “off the beaten track” as numerous soldiers patrol the site. The site is also used by he military for various purposes and numerous families are actually living there. An entrance fee of 10’000 kyats as to be paid and it gives you access to a handful of others sites in Manadalay, Innwa and Amarapura.
In the afternoon we headed to Mandalay hill from where you get a view over the city and is known to offer a perfect site to watch the sunset. We were a bit disappointed as the views are kind of screwed by a huge golf course that has been built to please the newly arriving tourists. The sunset was quite nice though and on the way back we stopped to see the Royal Palace again with its beautiful lighting and the reflection on the water.
The next and last day we visited a few more Pagodas around, one actually had a rose gold tip 😍 haha. We also visited the Lay Thar Kyaung Tike, a monastery constructed mainly from teak, the details of the wooden carvings were impressive!
In the evening we made our way to the U-bein bridge, 30 minutes drive from the city. It’s a 1.2km long teak bridge and supposed to be the longest wooden bridge in the world (though some cement pillars have been added with recent renovations…). This is another popular sunset spot and indeed it was very nice to watch. The spot, one of the most famous in the country is crawling with locals and tourists, the bridge must be one of the most pictured bridge in the world, so go early if you want a good spot and make sure you have the bridge between you and the sunset or else it’s totally useless.
The next morning we left early to catch our boat to Bagan. There are 2 options, the fast boat which takes about 10 hours and the slow boat which takes about 14 hours. We reserved the Shwe Keinnery boat the day before. There is a booking office close to the shore to book your ticket. We actually went to the shore to notice that there is no actual pier,so we asked the locals where to find the booking office. A very helpful guy brought us to the agency located about a minute or 2 by motorbike.
There is quite a price difference, the speed boat is 40$ per person, the slow boat only 18$. We still opted for the fast boat as the departure for the slower one was 4 am and we also heard that they regularly break down, making your journey a 2 days trip. It is definitely a great alternative though if you have time and are on a tight budget and you share the boat with locals rather than tourists.
The 10h on the boat passed by really quickly, we headed directly for the deck and stayed in he front of the boat instead of the air-conditioned room downstairs. Included in the price was some toast and coffee in the morning and fried rice or noodles at lunch, don’t expect much though it was very bad quality food.
Along the way we could see many Pagodas, fishermen in their boat and people living their life on the banks of the river. I absolutely recommend to use the boat, rather than the bus, to reach Bagan from Mandalay (or the other way around). The first 2 hours of the trip offer great views as well as the last half hour, in between there is nothing remarkable but the whole trip is very appeasing and quiet, great way to finish to work your tan or to read a few hundreds pages.
Once arrived in Bagan (actually Nyaung U) you have to pay the entrance fee of 25000 kyats to the archaeological site – it is not a scam, and don’t try to skip it as the clercks will call the police if ever you try to ignore them. Just make sure you don’t pay a single kyat more, the price is fixed and clearly written on the boards, if they ask you more they’re trying to milk you.
I will soon come back about our stay in Bagan and our visit to the temples and pagodas there!