What can I say about Mandalay, I was a very unique city. Of all the places I have been, this was the first country that felt 3rd world.
There was no road rules, cars, buses, scooters and horses filled the streets; also some streets were paved and others turned into dirt roads. From the places I had selected we ended up not being in the heart of the city, but after some reasearch I knew the hotel I selected in Mandalay was in the heart. But boy, I got us in a very unique spot, we had a nice hotel in the heart of the market. Which means dirt roads around us and chaos everywhere, the first day was quite overwhelming!
We adjusted quite quickly walking the streets to get to taxis but we definitely struggled with the heat, Thailand averaged between 32-35 degrees daily; but Mandalay was an average of 38-40 degrees daily. Ugh, lets just say I was a very unpleasant person when temperatures reached their peak in the day. Another thing we had to adjust to was the lack of translated signs/photos, you don’t realise how lucky you get it in other countries when you step into a restaurant with no pictures and no English substitles.
If I hadn’t had the chance to see a few temples in Mandalay then it wouldn’t have mattered because Bagan is full of them! and I mean a casual 2000+ temples/pagodas. What I also discovered is mixing the popular pagodas with ones that are not, is the best way to have your own little adventure.
We hired electronic bikes (e-bikes) and did the circuit between New Bagan and Nyaung U, its was great just stopping when we felt like it. This help us discover small pagodas that were even sometime more interesting than the big ones! For example there was this one pagoda heading out of New Bagan (south bound) that you could climb inside and explore. These two little girls took my boyfriend Alex through a hole/window in the side of this pagoda. (Sadly I am a bit to scared of small places). He said it was such a fantastic adventure and happy that he got the chance to do it. I loved how the grounds were well kept and I had a chance to play with a kitty (love, love, love cats!)
It was one windy ride to Kalaw! We took a bus from Bagan, it was suppose to be a 15 seater bus but we ended up on a 12 seater, with a 13th person sitting on top (Myanmar styles). We made friend with people at the back of the bus, as you know the naughty fun people are at the back of the bus.
I had my theories why we didn’t end up with a bigger bus, our driver was half an hour late to getting us to the depot and I reckon the company was like “well you can drive them all the way”. So we got into Kalaw half an hour later than estimated which was pretty sweet! But then our next problem was our bus driver didn’t speak any English, so hand gestures got us to the first groups hotel. After that we decided to walk to our new friends hotel, their hotel was very helpful and pointed us in the direction of our hotel. They said it was an half an hour walk which freaked me out, but using the map they gave us we got there between 20-25mins.
Though we trudged with our backpacks through the streets (I have reduced my backpack weight from 15kgs to 13kgs winning!) when finally got to our place, thanks to some helpful locals, it was AMAZING! Thitaw Lay Guesthouse was magical for me, hot showers, yummy breakfast and rooms naturally designed to keep the room cool. Since I hadn’t had a hot shower in close to 2 weeks, I basically jumped straight into the shower and started singing!
We only stayed 2 nights, it was such a lovely place that we wished we stayed longer. This little town is well known for its trekking, our new friends went on one of the treks and said it was about 40kms of walking which seemed a bit too much for me! But they would recommend it to people who like to do light trekkking. Me and Alex did our own little excursion which turned out to be crazy (yip you get it we got lost). But this town also is a great place to get r & r if you are travelling for a long period of time, there are some great places to eat.
Also we found out this is the place were rich Burmese come to for a break, a lot of them have holiday homes here that now reach the 1million mark!
So after we had such a lovely time in Kalaw, we decided to be a bit adventurous and take the train to Inle. If you know anything about Myanmar transport you shouldn’t take the trains because they are unreliable; but we did it and yip the train is absolute crap, though it was a fantastic experience. 4hour and 40kms laters we got into the township at the top of Inle Lake (Nyangshwe), our taxi driver took us to a hotel called the Gypsy Inn which was fine, comfy room and good price. We gave up on efforts to get accommodation after 2 places were fully booked, so the taxi driver pulled through.
We hired bicycles and biked around the like, went to very nice vineyard and took a boat across the lake and rode back up. Alex tried to tell me that it was around 10kms, but when we meet up with our friends from Bagan to Kalaw ride. They had tracked their route which was the same as ours roughly and it turned out to be 38kms including the lake crossing. No wonder my backside didn’t like me!
So to save some coin we took an overnight bus to Yangon f.y.i this was a 12 hour bus ride. A few people we knew flew Yangon but to do that was in the reigon of $120 US and over bus ride was only $22 US. So you can see what the budget conscious people like myself selected, yes it is a 12 hour bus ride compared to a 1 hour flight; but hey I wasn’t in a hurry!
To be brutally honest, Yangon was just another city similar to other places we have visited. Except this city was still stuck in a time zone, we found a few nice cafes and restaurants to eat at; but sadly everything in this city is quite expensive. This is not a backpacker city, cheap accommodation is horrible and we managed to get a pretty horrible place. It was $37 a night, there was no shower or toliet in the room, plus the breakfast was so saturated in oil we just went out for breakfast.
One thing that was nice to visit was the Shwedagong Temple, you can see from the picture above it was a pretty impressive place to visit. Just watch out for the 16,000 Kyat entry free when you get to the top, we definitely were not expecting that!
Overall Myanmar was an amazing experience, for me I might come back in 10 years to see how the economy is doing and to see the difference of tourism from when I last visited. But now that I have done beautiful Bagan, Kalaw and Inle Lake there is no dire need to return.