For our final day in Mandalay, we opted to hire a private car and paid about 35 000 ks for a “three city tour”. As it is common for taxi drivers to advertise private tours of the surrounding area, it wasn’t necessary for us to book ahead. We had collected a few business cards from taxi drivers during our first few days in the city and opted to go with the driver who seemed the friendliest and spoke the best English.
For our first stop, our driver took us to a monastery in Mandalay where we had the opportunity to speak to his friend, a monk who teaches English there. We were shown around to various buildings (the dormitories, dining hall, study halls…etc.) and learned about life in the monastery. Becoming a monk is a well-respected and esteemed route to take for boys and men of all ages. A family’s status is elevated if they have a son who decides to become a monk. Of course, not many choose to stay one, some quit years, months, weeks, or even days into monkhood, which is not uncommon. At one point, both our taxi driver and tour guide (whom we would meet later in Bagan) had taken up monastic life.
At the monastery, we met an especially charming and charismatic young monk who went by the name of “Drake.” Funnily enough, we would later run into “Drake” again three days later in a totally different city, at sunset, on the top of a temple, where he would re-introduce himself as “Maha Raja,” and add us as Facebook friends. To this day I am still not sure if he is using his real name.
Our friendly guide around the monastery.
Notice to foreigners about proper etiquette and dress.
We were told to stay for the monk procession, in which 1000 monks would line up according to rank and seniority for their second and final meal of the day. If I’m completely honest, the sight made us feel uncomfortable in comparison to our calm and quiet morning around the monastery. In an instant, the empty streets became crowded with tourists, with their big cameras, tablets, and cell phones; we witnessed a few elderly women handing out sweets and loose change to the younger monks, perhaps out of charity or something else, I don’t really know. It just seemed like such strange way to sensationalize their lunch time… It was good to finally get out of the crowd.
Heads bowed, bowls in hand, the monks walk in procession to get lunch.
Tourists looking to get a shot of the action.
Next, our driver took us to a location where they made longyis, a long sheet of cloth commonly worn as a skirt by both men and women in Myanmar. We were shown how the longyis were woven and taken to a nearby store were they could be purchased. Sarah suspects we were taken to what is known as a “tourist trap,” but heck, it was cool and we bought one for ourselves anyways.
Afterwards, we ate lunch at a restaurant of our driver’s choice. The food was pricey and not particularly noteworthy.
Like Mandalay Hill, U-Bein bridge is a popular tourist destination at night time, as people like to go for the sunset. We decided to go earlier in the day to avoid the crowd. Here, we purchased some coconut ice cream (DELICIOUS) and walked about halfway across the bridge before turning back… on account of some uncomfortable cat calling. We weren’t dressed in scantily clad clothing by ANY means but my Sarah does happen to have strikingly blonde hair and fair skin which drew a lot of unwanted attention. We definitely had to check our privilege at that point.
PRO-TIP #1: Please don’t do what we did and walk the entire length of the bridge! We missed out on exploring Amurapura city as a result, but we ended up having a great day regardless (read on to find out!)
A tasty snack in the February heat!
U-Bein bridge is said to be the world’s longest timber bridge (according to Wikipedia).
Various vendors and stalls at the entrance of the bridge.
Along the walk back… a sight for sore eyes. Two young boys flying make-shift kites out of plastic bags and string along the side of the bridge.
Now at this point we had been to half a dozen temples and seen a ton of pagodas so if you can forgive me, I do not recall the name of the temple our driver took us to next. The highlight for me, however, was watching the line that quickly formed as soon as Sarah agreed to have her photo taken. One, led to another, and then another… People wanted group shots and individual shots. Blonde, white-skinned, and beautiful, Sarah quickly became a hot commodity! (Only 2000 ks for a photo with this beautiful foreigner! Anyone? 1000 ks special discount just for you!)
“Save me” she whispers without speaking.
Having my friend taken from me for photos would be a common occurrence throughout the entire trip. Me, on the other hand, being of Chinese descent, and having been told I have a face that can pass for a variety of Asian ethnicities, was able to (at times) conspicuously blend in with the crowd.
The next part of our journey would be my favorite in Mandalay. That was our brief tour of the ancient city of Inwa.
First, a pit stop in one of the smelliest, but by far not the worst, porti-potty I had ever encountered.
Then, a short ferry ride to our destination, Inwa Ancient City.
Once we arrived, we hired a horse cart and driver to take us around the Ancient City (~9000 ks). It’s possible to do on foot, but you’d need at least two hours and we were running short on time. He took us to a few notable locations before dropping us off for the last ferry back.
PRO-TIP #2: Keep in mind most places you visit will require you to go barefoot (temples, pagodas, ruin sites…etc.), so bring comfortable shoes that slip on and off easily!
A journey via horse cart.
Bagaya Monastery, built entirely of teak wood in 1834 A.D.
Beautifully cultivated green pastures.
On the way back, we saw a little boy and a dog at one of the ancient ruin sites.
It looked like they were friends.
(The dog was likely a stray).
But still, it was a fine friendship.
We decided to explore the area.
Some post-card vendors preparing to close up shop for the day.
But we noticed that someone kept showing up in our photos…
“Follow me!” he said.
And so we did.
And saw the most breathtaking statue.
There was something about the way the light fell, the little boy giggling and running around us, the other little one who turned out to be his brother, prodding us along, telling us to climb here, sit there, pose like this, not like that… Making faces at us when we did something they didn’t like and giving us the thumbs up when they deemed we had the perfect pose…
We had so much fun running around with those two that we didn’t even break a sweat when they eventually busted out their post-cards and offered to sell us some.