Myanmar – The Roads To Mandalay

The unique and fascinating sites in the Ayerarwady River Valley south of Mandalay in Myanmar are a wonderful surprise. From sparkling pagodas to scenic bridges there is a large variety of things to see.

Amarapura

The country’s largest Buddhist Monastic College is located in the town of Amarapura. Tourists are welcome to visit the monastery during morning alms and meal service. Two thousands monks live at the college and most attend the morning meal. As you can imagine feeding them every day is quite a challenge. The college’s kitchen has developed a great system to get this accomplished. There is a large storage area filled with bags of onions, potatoes, carrots and rice. Several kitchen staff prepare huge quantities of vegetables. Large woks are used to cook soup and curry over a fire. A few buildings away is a large pool for cleaning the dishes.

At 10:30 am, 2,000 monks exit their quarters and parade in silence down the main walkway, carrying their alms bowls (patras). The sidewalks are filled with tourists watching the procession, but the monks mostly ignore the constant clicking of cameras. They walk toward the dining hall, stopping to recieve their portion of food. Then they then sit down in a large, open dining hall and, in silence, eat their meal.

It was such an interesting custom to witness. The only complaint we have about this site is that there were a lot of tourists. Both sides of the street were lined with tourists, all vying for the most Instagram worthy picture. We were with them, adding to the problem. Although it’s a revenue souce for the college, the mass of tourists did take away from the experience.

Sagaing Hill

On the other side of the Ayerarwady River, Sagaing Hill sparkles in the sun. The hill is covered in countless gold and white zedis and pagodas. You have your choice between walking up the stairs or driving to the top where there are, of course, more pagodas. We stopped to visit U Mine Thonze Pagoda. A row of golden statues of Buddha, each with its own arched door, wrapped around the pagoda’s exterior. From the top of Sagaing Hill there are nice views of the river valley below.

Inwa

Set on an island in the Ayerarwady River, the village of Inwa is a charming spot. A 5-minute long-boat ride takes you up the Ayerarwady River to reach the island. It was the capital of Myanmar from mid 1300 to mid 1800s. Scattered around the island are a few remnants from this time. The sites are very far apart so we took a horse and buggy to get around.

The most impressive site is the Maha Aungmya Bonzan Monastery. It’s a grand building with thick brick walls covered in intricate stucco designs. The inside of the monastery was mostly empty, but the long hallways have beautiful arched doorways decorated with sculptures. Behind the monastery is a group of Bagan era (1200 AD) stupas.

From the monastery, a short horse and buggy ride took us to a beautiful teak monastery built in the 1800s. Bagaya Kyaung Monastery has massive teak pillars decorated in detailed carvings. Inside huge teak pillars fill the open room. Other than the new tin roof, it is completely composed of teak and is still a functioning monastery today.

Amarapura

The oldest and longest teak bridge in the world is nearby in Amarapura. The bridge was built in the 1850s and is over 1 km long. Most of the original 1086 teak poles remain, only a few have been replaced by concrete. We walked accross the long pedestrian bridge. It’s pretty shaky in the middle though so maybe more posts need to be replaced.

Being here at sunset is the nicest time and we were lucky to have a beautiful, smoke-free sunset. If you look closely at the first picture you can see a monk walking on the bridge in front of the sun!

Mandalay

Mandalay was briefly a capital city, but only a few remnants of its reign are left. Today, it’s a busy, congested city with a few attractions.

The original royal palace was made of teak and included over 40 buildings. The palace burned down so the museum is a reconstruction of the original. Unfortunately, it has not been maintained and the remaining structures are in rough shape. The buildings that were rebuilt allow you to imagine how spectacular it must have been.

One block north of the palace is Mandalay Hill. At the base of the hill is the world’s largest book. Kuthodaw Pagoda is actually 729 white pagodas set in tight rows around a golden pagoda. Each pagoda contains a marble slab etched with a mantra from the Buddhist Pali Canon (Buddha’s teachings). It’s a stunning view.

Further north are the south east steps going to the top of Mandalay Hill. While walking up the steps of the hill, we passed a number of different zedis, shrines and pagodas; many are covered in gold, coloured glass and mirrors. On the walk there should have been good views of Mandalay but the sky was very smokey, so it was difficult to see too far. At the top of Mandalay Hill is Su Taung Pyi Pagoda which means wish-granting pagoda. When we were there, we saw many pilgrims from neighbouring villages dressed in colourful, traditional attire.

Traffic is a nightmare in much of Myanmar and especially in Mandalay. Most intersections are uncontrolled with no traffic lights, stop signs or even yield signs. The only thing preventing accidents is that the speed limit is only 48 km/hr. The funny limit is a straight conversion from the British rule when it would have been 30 mph!


Visiting Mandalay and area

Tickets for the Mandalay archeological zone are USD $10 and is valid for a week. It includes access to most of the sites around Manadaly including Amarapura, Innwa and Sagaing. We purchased tickets and hired a private tour from our hotel.

Coming next – Yangon’s Glittering Shwedagon Pagoda

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Myanmar. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca Click on a picture to view it as a slide show.

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60 comments

    • The 700 zedis with the inscriptions was really impressive. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by most of Myanmar, although getting a little tired of gold pagodas! It’s very safe here and they need traveller’s so you should defiantly go.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Maggie and Richard, the pictures you are taking are beautiful.
    Such a contrast to our way of life.

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  • Those bowls in the kitchen from where the monks get their food, are just HUGE (I can understand why – with more than 2000 monks) …
    And your sunset photo’s at U-Bein bridge is really beautiful – your adventures are really something to write about 😉, I love to read about all the places you’ve visited.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I know, I was wondering how I’d ever increase my recipes to fill the huge woks! And did you notice they are over fires not elements. U-Bein bridge is very popular at sunset and you can see why, it’s a beautiful spot. Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Here is a question for you. Would you be knowing if the meal preparation is a voluntary service provided by the monks, similar to the one followed by Sikh Gurudwaras in India?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think it is. The meals I know of in Gurudwaras are free for everyone. This one is just for resident monks. I’m quite sure the kitchen staff are paid and the food is purchased through the tourism dollars. Monks in Myanmar (and in Thailand I think) take a communal meal before noon and it is their last meal of the day. Unless there’s a different meal in Gurudwaras that I don’t know of.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Another spectacular post, Maggie and Richard. What a great experience, tourists or no tourists. When we visited Thailand, we would often see the monks gathering in the temples for donated meals. It truly is a commitment to a simpler life. It is too bad Myanmar has had such a rocky political scene. The people strive for a peace that often does not come. Stay well and thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Allan, it’s really awful what is happening again in Myanmar. They are mostly peaceful people that just want a normal life. I hope it settles down soon. The difference with the meals in Myanmar is the Monks have these processions asking for alms. This one was the largest we saw with 2000 Monks. Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • The architecture is just unbelievable! Everything I learn about Myanmar makes me more and more fascinated about the country and their way of life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is an interesting country, quite different even from neighbouring Thailand. It is even quite different region to region and it’s not that large. Hopefully you can travel there one day:) Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Fascinating post again, Maggie – so many things to comment on but limited space and others have already done some … so suffice to say that if it wasn’t for the many reasons why we can’t, we would definitely be adding Myanmar to our list as a result of your posts. Great reading, great photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Myanmar was a fascinating place to visit, it’s so varied even in relatively close areas. Hopefully it will settle down there again and you’re able to see it for yourself. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • The gold on the pagoda and monastery looks stunning! It was an interesting contrast that you showed photos a more simple monastery too. I am sorry those tourists detract from the experience. You can imagine how the monks and other locals must feel

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I really felt badly for the monks, but I think it’s a good revenue source for the monastery. Most of the temples and pagodas in Myanmar are covered in gold so it was nice to see some simple ones. Having a hill covered in them was quite the site!

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  • A great set of photos with interesting explanations of a way of life unthinkable today. I like the note about the speed limit. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Mandalay looks incredibly beautiful and absolutely fascinating. What a place to visit and your photos are astounding. The monks all look so serene. Fabulous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! These little towns just outside the city were so interesting. Seeing 2000 Monks in a silent procession was really moving. Their devotion is inspiring. Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • This part of Myanmar was our least favorite, but that was mainly because of the bad weather. Throughout our four-night stay in Mandalay the sky was only kind to us on our first afternoon in the city. On the following days, it was constantly raining cats and dogs, and there was a torrential downpour when we were at the former palace. We did try the best mohinga — often called Myanmar’s national dish — in this city though. I can still remember its taste because it was so good and flavorful. Thanks for showing us what this corner of Myanmar has to offer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We didn’t really like Mandalay much either but loved the cute towns south of it that we talked about in this post. I had forgotten about that noodle soup. My favourite dish from Myanmar was Tea Leaf Salad. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

    • The situation in Myanmar now is horrible. I hope it settles quickly, but it doesn’t appear that it will. It is a great country with so much rich culture and interesting places to visit. Thanks for reading! Maggie

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  • Myanmar is a beautiful country with lot of remarkable Buddhist architectural marvel. All your pictures show how fantastic they are. The teak bridge is also very interesting. Myanmar is known for its excellent quality teak and this is the reason of the old bridge still standing operational.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes they have amazing old architecture. There were a few teak buildings in that same area so maybe that’s where the teak comes from. Thanks for your comments! Maggie

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  • I had hoped to visit Myanmar last year, but the current political situation is not encouraging for a visit anytime in the near future. My favorite photos in your story are the ones of the monks (I saw a similar begging lineup in Cambodia, also had thoughts about the many tourists) and am amazed at the number of people to be served at meals! And the white pagodas, a stunning sight.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Yet another visual feast! I can’t get over the number of golden pagodas on Sagaing Hill—it’s a mesmerizing photo. I’m sure viewing the monks at the Buddhist College is fascinating but I can relate to to the negative aspects of all the tourists trying to get the perfect Instagram shot (Luang Prabang is coming back to me). It’s a shame because I think respectfully learning about the monks is a valuable experience. Wish there could be more regulations (that are enforced).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, we did them in reverse, so when we were in Luang Prabang, it reminded me of the College. It was similar with people pushing to get the best spot. Kind of goes against the principles of Buddhism. This one I think gets a lot of revenue from the tourists, especially tour buses, so I think they put up with it. Wonder what they’re thinking now. Hopefully pleased that they have peace and quiet. We saw more golden pagodas in Myanmar than any other Buddhist country. It’s really something to see.

      Liked by 1 person

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