Mandalay and Environs – Myanmar – January 2013

After seeing the sights in Yangon and making our pilgrimage to Golden Rock, we took an early flight to our next destination, Mandalay.

The plane was surprisingly empty, and we wondered how many people who had been scheduled on our flight had been delayed getting back to Yangon from Golden Rock due to the traffic nightmare we had encountered the day before. Because of our small group size, we had been able to hop on motorcycle taxis to circumvent the back-up (see end of story about our Pilgrimage to Golden Rock).  Lucky us!

Upon landing in Mandalay, we made a visit to Paleik Town.  Not often visited by tourists, we were alone as we wandered through the more than 300 temples that had been built in the 14th century.

Stupa in Paleik Town


Stupa decorations – Paleik Town


Buddha – Paleik Town

These temples have all been abandoned and many are covered in ivy, very reminiscent of those in Cambodia.

Paleik Town

We had a wonderful early morning walk through the village, interacting with many of the people who were going to school…

Myanmar Children on their way to school

…cooking breakfast…

Woman cooking breakfast in Paleik Town

…and working…

Woman making thatched roof

Before heading on to our next village, we stopped off at a local market to experience the sights, aromas and the friendly people, all willing to have their photo taken….

Local Market outside of Mandalay

Enjoying the Market

Our next stop was the village of Shanlay Kyun where the houses are made of teak…

Teak House – Shanlay Kyun Village

Again, we wandered through the bustling village with the work day in full swing.  They are most famous for their teak carvings…

Teak Wood Carver – Shanlay Kyun Village

Other daily tasks included…

Making Buddha Images


Working in the Fields

Making Necklaces

…to name a few of the activities underway.

We stopped at a local restaurant to chow down on lunch.  Burmese meals differ from a typical Western meal which usually consists of one portion each of an entrée, a vegetable and a grain.  A Burmese meal instead consists of small portions of many different dishes…..something with chicken, something with fish, something with pork, several different fresh vegetables, dips, soup, rice, etc., etc.  It was quite overwhelming for our western senses.  (Plus we worried about the wasted leftovers.)  But we relished all of the different tastes as we grazed through the dishes set before us at each meal….

Typical Burmese Meal

After a brief rest at our hotel, we headed to Amarapura which was the capital of Myanmar twice during the 1700-1800’s, before Mandalay became the capital in 1859.  There is not much left to remind visitors of its former status as all of the materials from the palace building were dismantled and used to construct the new palace in Mandalay.  However, the mayor, U Bein (which means “skinny man”), was able to salvage enough of the teak from the old palace to construct the longest (1.2km) teak bridge in the world.

U Bein Bridge, Amarapura

…and the best time to visit the bridge is at sunset…

Sunset at U Bein Bridge, Amarapura

….after which we went to a local barbeque restaurant to enjoy another great Burmese meal.  Here, they have the food items displayed and you put what you want in a basket, again multiple items of both vegetables and meats….

Barbq Dinner Basket, Mandalay

…and then they grill it for you….YUM!!

The next day, we headed out to see the walls of the old palace.

Mandalay Palace Wall

The palace in Mandalay was the residence of the last Burmese monarchy which came to an end when the British took over the country in 1885.  The King and his entire family were exiled to India.  (The palace is the subject of the book, The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, which is a great historical novel about Burma.)  The palace was occupied by the Japanese during World War II, at which time it was destroyed by Allied bombs.

Our next stop was to be a nunnery in the Sagaing Hills, across the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay.  The Sagaing Hills region is a highly religious area with more than 7,000 monks, as well as over 3,000 nuns in more than 200 nunneries.  But first, a stop at the local grocery store to purchase some food items as gifts for the nuns (we had also brought sketch pads, colored pencils, pens and journals.)

Upon arriving, we joined them in their prayer room as they prayed in thanksgiving for their lunch…

Prayer Room at Nunnery, Sagaing

They then lined up for lunch….

Lunch Procession – Nunnery Sagaing

…leaving their shoes in perfect order as they entered the hall…

Lining up of shoes with precision – Nunnery, Sagaing

…and took their places…

Gathering for Lunch – Nunnery, Sagaing

We then entered and presented the head nun with our basket of gifts.  She had the younger nuns thank us and pray for our continued safe journey.  We were invited to stay and enjoy some fresh fruit with them.  It was quite an awe-inspiring experience!

But our day wasn’t even half over, and we had lots more to experience, including some of the over 600 painted white pagodas which are scattered along the Sagaing hillside.

White Pagoda, Sagaing Hills

One of my favorites is the U Min Thonze cave set into the hillside, with 45 porcelain Buddha images lined up along the wall…

U Min Thonze Buddha Cave – Sagaing Hills

…with mosaic glass tiles ringing their heads.

U Min Thonze – Sagaing Hills

A significant pagoda atop one of the higher of the Sagaing Hills is the Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda…

Buddha – Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda

An extra added treat was a visit to a school to drop off some supplies…

Dropping off Supplies at Local School in Longhi (long skirt) – Sagaing (Photo by Gabrielle Tierney)

…and to see the students …

Young girl at school – Sagaing

Young boy at school – Sagaing

…and their classes in action…

Class is in session – Sagaing

Daydreaming in class – Sagaing

…including this monk who took a workbook that Gabrielle had given to him to show to the kindergarten students.

Teacher w/Kindergarten class – Sagaing

It was FINALLY time for lunch, so we stopped at a local restaurant, Aung Htoo Restaurant, for another spread of traditional Burmese food….

Aung Htoo Restaurant

…before taking a short motor boat ride to the ancient kingdom of Ava (also known as Inwa.)  Ava served as the capital during five separate periods from the 14th to 19th centuries, being finally abandoned in 1839 after several major earthquakes.  Because of the condition of the non-paved roads, horse carts are the mode of transportation in exploring Ava.

Horse Carts – Ava

The watchtower is one of the few remaining structures at the palace site…

Palace Watchtower – Ava

….as well as portions of the outer wall…

Palace Wall – Ava

There are still several stupas remaining on the island…

Stupa – Ava

…but the primary attraction is the Bagaya monastery, totally constructed out of teak, including 267 gigantic teak posts…

Teak Posts – Bagaya Monastery, Ava

…and displaying many intricate carvings…

Teak Carvings – Bagaya Monastery, Ava

From Ava, we headed over to Mingun to see its main attraction, the Mingun Pahtodawgyi…

Mingun Pahtodawgyi Stupa

The original plans called for the building of the largest stupa in the world at about 500 feet high (the current tallest stupa in Myanmar is the one in Bago which is about 375 feet high).  It was never completed because an astrologer predicted that when it was finished, the King (who was building it) would die.  The large visible cracks in this structure were caused by the earthquake of 1839.  The Mingun bell….

Mingun Bell

…which is nearby, weighs about 90 tons and is the largest ringing bell in the world.

Also nearby is a white pagoda…

“Mount Meru”-like Pagoda – Mingun

…which was built to resemble the Buddhist mythical mountain, Mount Meru.  The seven terraces at the base of this pagoda represent the seven mountain ranges going up to Mount Meru as described in Buddhist mythology.

We then boarded our boat for a leisurely ride back to the Mandalay side of the Irrawaddy River, while enjoying some local wine and having the good fortune of seeing some of the famous Irrawaddy dolphins.

Enjoying Local Wine & Peanuts on Irrawady River

The next day we would head out to Monywa and then on to Bagan.

[Check out our Small Group Tour to Myanmar in October 2013]. 

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