Yangon and the Giant Pagoda

So I woke up late today after bumping into a fellow backpacker that I had met in Inle lake, who was staying at my hostel. I decided to go out and look around China town after breakfast.

The streets around my area were all numbered so I started at 30th Street and just meandered up and down each street towards number 1. The food stalls were really cool and I visited the Chinese temple on 18th Street.

On my way back I walked through a huge market along the side of the river and sat eating some random fruit watching these colourful boats transport people from one side to the other. I walked back to the hotel and chilled out on the rooftop reading my book for a couple of hours and eating some random veggie food I had gathered earlier.

I was basically killing time before I walked up to Yangon’s number one sight, the Shwedagon Pagoda. This golden temple is 326 feet tall and surrounded by more pagodas and statues to make a whole complex of temples.

There are varying reports of when the Pagoda was built, but the earliest date is the 6th century!

It’s certainly a spectacular sight and it was definitely great going late afternoon, the sun going down cast an amazing light over the big golden temple, and the locals arrived lighting candles and incense which added to the atmosphere.

I was wandered around for a couple of hours before walking back down into the City, I stopped off at a cute little bar called O’thentic brasserie for a drink, and then had a couple of ice cold black tiger and vegetable tempura at a sports bar. I headed back to the hotel and packed up ready to sleep before heading off to Vietnam via Bangkok the next day.

I had a great lie in before getting some more pancakes for breakfast with some fruit from the nearby market stalls. I checked out from my hotel and walked up to the train station. I had Google mapped and decided that it would be fun to take the local train to the closest station to the airport possible.

I’m so glad I did it, we slowly chugged along through the City and surrounding suburbs. I enjoyed chatting to the locals and watching the buying and selling going on, it was almost like a real market!

We arrived at my stop and I jumped off, backpack on and started to walk. It was a little longer than I thought but you could get a taxi, I just felt like I was committed to walking at that point.

After about a 40 minute walk I got to the airport, grabbed a cold drink and waited for my flight. I got some nice vegetable pad thai while I was waiting and I next thing I was flying towards Bangkok.

I arrived late into Thailand, around 8pm and my flight was at 8am, to save money I had decided I would sleep in the airport. So I settled down in a comfy-ish spot of 3 chairs together and managed a few hours sleep. I was so excited to be heading to one of my favourite Cities from my last trip to Vietnam, Hanoi!

Mingun and the cracked pagoda.

I was up early again today, knowing that my bus to Bagan was booked for 2pm I deliberated on what to do. I went down for a breakfast of noodles and fruit and spoke to the reception for help. I wanted to know if I could make it to Mingun, an area North of Mandalay, and back by 2pm.

Luckily for me if I left in the next ten minutes I could make the 9am boat up the river, so with the help of the hostel staff I was racing there in the back of a tuk tuk.

After sitting around from 8:45 the boat was acually ready to leave for 9am so myself and 4 other tourists walked a very unsteady plank of wood up to the boat and we sped off up river. The journey took around an hour and it was great, I spent it bird watching and looking for river dolphins, unfortunately I didn’t see any of the latter.

Once you arrive in Mingun you pay a small tourist fee, and decide if you want to walk around yourself or let a local latch on to you and take you around with the expectancy of a tip at the end.

A young guy latched on to me and I let him take me around as he promised me some thanaka paste. It’s a traditional paste made from a tree, they rub the bark onto a flat stone with some water to create it. Then apply it to areas at risk of sun damage.

Thanaka’d up the first sight was the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, a huge unfinished pagoda, first the king who was building it died, then it was hit by several earthquakes. It’s very impressive even unfinished and it’s cool seeing the huge cracks going down through it.

Next up is the Mingun bell, the second largest in the world and the largest uncracked bell. I got to stand in it and listen to people striking it with a huge piece of wood before I had a go myself.

The 3rd sight is the white pagoda, almost blinding to the eye in the sunlight. Hsinbyume pagoda is striking with its wavy design and golden pagoda at the summit. I wandered around here in awe.

I stopped for a drink as it was getting pretty hot at this point and chatted to my guide. Then we went to see a small pagoda with some interesting Buddha inside. One was made completely from one teak tree, another was stone and another made from metal. It was nice but probably not a must see.

The huge traditional boat just outside was pretty cool, again being carved from one huge tree. The last stop were the huge lion sculptures that are now missing their heads. I thought they looked more like elephants but was assured they were lions. At this point I went my seperate way from the guide, giving him 5000 for his troubles. He started asking for US dollars and I think was a bit disappointed I didn’t have any.

I spent the next hour wandering around checking out all the fried goods and trinkets lining the main street. Then it was back on the boat and back to Mandalay. I took a motorbike taxi back to the hostel with 30 minutes to spare till my bus.

Then it was a 6 hour, 96 Mile journey of stopping every 10-15 minutes to let people on and off. Even when I thought the little mini bus was full they pulled out plastic stools for more people to sit on. I was super excited to get going to Bagan, it’s probably the main reason people head to Myanmar.

I arrived at the station around 7:30pm and had to take an expensive taxi -12,000 kyat into New Bagan where I was staying. There are 3 areas you can choose from, the others being Old Bagan and Nyaung-U. It’s pretty same same with anywhere you stay as they kind of surround the main temple area. You have to pay 25,000 kyat for a 3 day pass to the Bagan area. About £12 which I didn’t mind at all if it allows them to keep the temple complex in good shape.

I checked in and immediately headed to a vegetarian place I had heard of called Moon (Be kind to animals) it was a 15 minutes walk from the hotel and I saw my first pagoda in the darkness just off the main road. The food at Moon was amazing, I had a tea leaf curry with rice, it tasted so fresh and garlicky. I couldn’t wait to try more on the menu.

Heading back I was up early (again) to rent an E-bike, am electric motor bike at 5am to go see the sunrise from one of the pagoda.

Made it to Mandalay

I was awake early and spent breakfast making last minute plans for Mandalay. Don Mueang airport in Bangkok doesn’t have public transport access with BTS etc but you can get the metro half way and continue on bus.

I decided I’d stick with a taxi as I wouldn’t have to worry about time and it wasn’t too expensive, 340 Baht in the end.

The airport itself has quite a few restaurants and shops etc and it wasn’t long until I was boarded and ready for the next adventure.

As we were descending into Mandalay the clouds dispersed and I got my first glimpse of Myanmar. I couldn’t wait to start exploring, once I was through immigration (I ordered my E-Visa a few weeks back and had my printed confirmation letter, just make sure you go through the official government site) I jumped in a shared taxi for 5000 kyat or £2.50 and an hour and a half later I was at my hotel.

Downtown@mandalay was a pleasant surprise, I was in an 8 bed dormitory with air con. The showers were excellent, breakfast was great and the staff were very helpful. When I arrived a local was outside with a motorbike and offered to take me around. I realised the only way to get around Mandalay was by bike/tuktuk or taxi so once I was checked in I dropped my bags off and met Min Min. Min Min agreed to take me to Mandalay palace for 3000 kyat.

I jumped on the back and we sped off, following the walls and moat of the palace ground to the entrance. Here I paid 10000 kyat for the entrance fee, this includes 5 more places you can visit. Min Min said he would wait for me while I walked to the palace past the walls.

The palace itself is a model of the ancient Mandalay palace, it’s pretty nice to wander around and there’s a small museum with some artefacts inside. The highlight has got to the the tower, you can climb up to the top and it affords you views of the whole palace grounds and surrounding area.

I walked back along the road to the palace walls where Min Min was waiting for me. I asked to see the nearby pagodas and off we went, with no price agreed it made me a little nervous. The first monastery we arrived at was Shwenandaw monastery, the building is amazing and completely made of teak wood.

I wandered around admiring the carvings before we went to our next stop, the …. Pagoda which was a 15 second drive up from. Shwenandaw. This huge pagoda was very pretty with big golden arch ways, the inside is pretty plain with a Buddha and some tall columns to hold the roof up.

Our next stop was one I had been really excited about before my trip. Kuthodaw pagoda is famous for having the largest book in the world. Each page is carved in stone and held inside a small stone temple.

It’s so pretty to wander about between the little white buildings and the actual pagoda is a huge golden topped building. They even have a mini model of the site so to can really appreciate the scale of the place.

The next pagoda wasn’t as impressive, a golden stupa and a Buddha to pray to. I did enjoy the view that you got over the Kuthodaw pagoda though.

Finally it was time to head up Mandalay hill, I had read that the sunset from up here was out of this world and I couldn’t wait to check it out. You can walk to the top but after showing me the entrance to the hill, Min Min sped off up the road to drive us.

Unfortunately he didn’t bank on having a big westerner on the bike, I had to get off a couple of times and walk the steepest parts. Min Min even asked me how much I weighed! We arrived at the top with my ego slightly dented.

At the top you have to walk up a couple of flights of stairs, the first level has lovely windows looking out over Mandalay and the Irrawaddy river. This was a spot I definitely would visit all the time if I lived there. The tiling around the windows was beautiful, and it seemed very peaceful.

The next lot of steps takes you to the pagoda at the top, this has an incredible viewpoint, you can see the the whole of Mandalay up to the mountains in the distance.

It’s truly a stunning experience up there, I felt bad that Min Min was waiting for me but I could’ve spent so much longer enjoying the views. 3 Burmese men in their early 20s came over to chat so they could improve their English. I really enjoyed this moment as I got to know a bit more about Myanmar life.

Once I was done Min Min drove me back into the main City and asked if I was hungry. I hadn’t thought about it but realised I could eat and eat and eat. So he took me to a very local restaurant down a small alleyway.

Here we sat with many locals and the Burmese ladies working there started bringing all this amazing food out. You got your main curry dish, then about 4 or 5 side dishes and rice. It was all so tasty, I’ve been vegetarian for a few months now and unfortunately they brought out pork. I didn’t have the heart to say no so I ate a couple of pieces before filling up on rice and vegetables.

I was pretty tired at this point, especially when Min Min said he would take me out the next day from 5am! So he dropped me back at the hostel where I was soon sound asleep.