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The North of Myanmar

MANDALAY

Global Mark : 12.70

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
2 3 2 5 3 3 3 5 1 12.00

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
20 85% (17) 55% (11) 80% (16) 6 to 18 13.40


Description :
A big busy city surrounded by great ancient cities 

Comments : The surroundings are basically the reason to visit but the town also offer a few free attractions (plus numerous expensive ones).

What to do ? 
- In town : Buy a gas mask & earplugs / Walk around the markets / Select the places worth the government fee (not too many actually) / Find ways to avoid the fees (quite a few possibilities actually) / Shop for handicrafts (silk weaving, wood carving,...) / See how gold leaves are patiently created by hand / Decorate a Buddha with some of them (at any of the numerous temples in or out of town) / Watch colorful monks & nuns everywhere / Help them break the record of the number of passengers per vehicle / Watch a Marionettes show (K1000, 20:30 daily, 1 hour) 
- In the ancient cities : Get up lots of stairs to lots of temples (Sagaing) / Cycle a charming island (Ava) / Walk a 1.2km long wooden bridge (Amarapura) / Makes a river cruise toward a sandy city (Mingun) / There, see the biggest uncracked bell in the world or what kind of damage an earthquake can make to an old temple / Start a meditation retreat in Sagaing

What you may not like ? The city itself : noisy & busy / The continual sound of horn while cycling / The pushy touts & pedicabs drivers / The expensive & numerous entrance fees / Not always getting value for your money / The patient beggars / The "pen or candy" kids / The "donation" monks or nuns / The dirty markets / Not breaking the record but your nerves or the vehicle / 

How long ? One day for inside Mandalay. Two days for the ancient cities.


Where to stay ?  

Hotels  << Get precise info, book online and save money !

All the below places incl. Breakfast

  • Classic Hotel (25635), No59, 23rd St, west of 83rd St / Room w. AC, HW shower, CNN TV & fridge $8(1) or $15(2) / Bike $1 per day / Massage $1 per hour / Small but acceptable clean rooms
  • ET Hotel (25491), No129, 83rd St, just south of the above / Room w. HW shower $4(1) or $8(2), w. AC $5(1) $9(2), w. CNN TV & fridge $8(1) or $12-15(2) / More expensive during HS / Free pick up / Go there for the OK big rooms at good price / What you may not like : the lack of "hotel touch"
  • Garden Hotel (27657), No174, 83rd St, north of 25th St / Room w. AC, HW shower, CNN TV & fridge $8-$10(1) or $12-15(2) / Go there for the good comfortable rooms incl. bathtub for the most expensive
  • Royal GH (22905), No41, 25th St, west 82nd St / Room $2.5(1) or $5(2), w. shower $3(1) or $6(2), w. AC $5-$6(1) or $8-$10(2), Trpl w. AC & shower $12 / Slightly more expensive during HS (Oct to Feb) / Go there for the cheapest correct & clean Sgl or Dbl in town / What you may not like : the no-egg breakfast with the cheapest rooms, the rather small rooms
  • Sabai Phyu Hotel (25377), No58, 81st St, north of 26th St / Basic, not so fresh & not so pleasant big rooms w. shower $4(1) or $8(2), w. AC $5(1) or $10(2) / More expensive during HS. The latest is the least recommendable as noisy on the street or rooms without window. 
  • Taungzalat Hotel (36314), opposite the above at N60 / Room w. AC & shower $5(1) or $10(2) / Same kind of rooms but more noisy if on the street or more grotty if no window
  • AD1 Hotel (34505), Eindawya Sintada St, East of Eindawya Pagoda, between 27th & 28th St & 87th & 88th St / Room w. shower, local TV & fridge $3(1) or $6(2), w. AC $5(1) or $10(2) / Free pick up / Go there for the interesting surroundings (market & temple), the nice sunset terrace & the cheap prices / What you may not like : the tiny & not so clean rooms
  • There is also an hotel in Sagaing but it is rather expensive. It will however be more comfortable than the monasteries' alternative : Happy Hotel (21420), near the market / Basic rooms without shower $8(1) or $15(2), nice rooms w shower (bathtub), AC & local TV $15(1) or $25(2) 


Backpacker's Tips : Anonymous (Nov 01)
 Most air cond won't work 24 hours a day. During those time, you may wish to have a ventilator as well

Where to eat ? At the night market, along the 84th St (north of 29th St). Nylon Ice cream offers reasonably priced frozen delicacies on the 83rd St, just south of the 25th St. 

Backpacker's Tips : Hans & Greet, Belgium (Nov 02)
If you want to see some kids of +/- 8 years old working 20 hours a day for almost nothing : Go to the Nylon Ice Cream... Tell other travelers not to go there, tell them why it is "so very cheap" there !


A busy day in ancient cities ?

It is possible to visit Amarapura, Sagaing & Ava in one day without the luxury of a taxi-guide but you will need to start early to really enjoy all their charm...

Start by taking a "bus" to Sagaing (K50) from the 84th St, usually south of 29th St. They are fighting to pick up passengers there and do not always bother understanding your destination as long as you get in fast and pay the fee. I found myself at the big Mahamuni Paya and had to walk through it to get back to the 84th St (fine if you avoid paying the $4 fee but you do not have too much time to waste)

Once in Sagaing, get on a horse cart for a 20mn ride toward the stairs of Swan Oo Ponnya Shin Pagoda (K30, on the right of the golden sign "welcome to...") or try to find an available bike. If you lazily go up the hill by car, you will have no choice but to pay the $4 admission fee to the area. By walking up the stairs, just before the summit and the fees' staff, a small path on the left leads toward the parking on the other side of the temple. There, no one bother asking you for entrance fees as they deal with camera (K50) or video (K150) only. The temple is OK but the panoramic view is the main reason to visit. By the time you reach the summit, you have already spotted a lot of temples, including the 10km away breast-shaped Kaunghmudaw Paya (bus from behind Happy Hotel, near the market, $3) and the nearby originally shaped Ou Min Thonesae Pagoda. Some caves south of Sagaing Hill can apparently also be visited against a compulsory donation to the monks staying there. 

 << Discover Hilly Sagaing


It is now time to head toward relaxing Ava Island. The best would be to arrived there already equipped with a bike as it is too big to walk around. It might be possible to get a bike at the jetty but, when I was there, horse cart (K500 for 2-3 hours) were cleverly the only option. Two ways to reach Ava, both by ferry (6 to 17, K5 + K5 for bike) : from Sagaing near the bridge or on the opposite side, after a nice promenade on a shaded road (right after crossing the bridge). The latest is the best to (maybe) avoid the $4 entrance fee : there is also an office there but near the parking at the end of the road and not down where you take the ferry so if you are discreet and nice with the jetty staff... Using the other way, you will need to be the invisible man in order not to be spotted strangely going around the office through the village (in particular with a bike) but they might not bother following you. The $4 entry fee is certainly expensive but the place is big, the old unrestored temples charming, the people smiling and the atmosphere very relaxing. You could easily spend a day there biking around. Also, getting inside the nice teak Bagaya Kyaung Monastery might not be possible without a proper ticket (you lost it ?)

 << Discover relaxing Ava

Backpacker's Tips :  Marineve, France (June 03)
What you may like in Ava: The silence, the old pagodas between palm trees and rice fields, the beautiful light. What you may not like : The speedy package tourists as a massive attack, especially at the clock tower. Starts early morning. If you are too late or tired on the return, you can take your bike on the minitruck-pick-up back to Mandalay. It should not costs you extra fee; you just pay your seat. They take your bike on the side. 

 

Finally, take a bus toward Amarapura (K30) and ask to get off at U Bein's Bridge, the main free attraction and a favorite with local people. From the road, it is a 20mn walk via the market then alongside a road bordered with temples. The bridge is 1.2km long and there is a Paya plus a village worth exploring on the other side so it would be easy to spend a couple of hours in the area. Walking back the bridge at around sunset would be a great way to finish the day if there was not the need to fight your way inside a bus to go back to Mandalay (K40, last bus around 9pm). 

Need advise to thoroughly tour Sagaing and the area ? Then maybe Mr. U Win Maung could help... You might see him around the market in Sagaing but it might be better to go straight to his home : turn right after Sagaing bridge (toward east) and then left just after the fire station into an alley where you can spot a pagoda in the background. The house is the last one on the left, before the turn. He might be willing to rent you a bike (cheap price negotiable) but it is more likely that he will try to "sell" you his around-K500 (money is apparently not such an issue) slow day tour on bike. If you are willing to do a meditation retreat, he will help you find an open & acceptable monastery (famous Kyazwa Kyang is apparently open to westerners only in Feb and after getting registered in the USA only) and if you wish to spend the night in Sagaing, maybe find you a place in a monastery for the night. Not to say that only him can help nor that he will solve all your problems but it cost nothing to talk with the guy...


A boat trip to Mingun ?

Mingun is the easiest ancient city to visit, thanks to the relaxing boat trip & the relative small size of the place. 
Boats leave daily at 9am from the jetty on the extreme west of 26th St, about 3 km from Central Mandalay. The 15mn pedicab's ride cost around K50. Then add K200 for the return ticket.

The scenic trip upriver last just over an hour. The four first passengers who are not afraid of the sun are allowed to take a chair on the roof. For stability reasons, the others have to seat inside.

Once arrived at Minghun jetty, it is possible to skip the $3 entrance fees by walking the sandy path on the left, then going a bit up toward the police station. This way is also more peaceful than the tourist path full of "self turned guides" kids or "cold coca-cola !" salesgirls. 

The sights (the massive shaken base of a temple or a 90 tones bell, the second biggest in the world) would not really makes the trip worthwhile if it was not for the very sandy and relaxed atmosphere of the place. Go up what is left of Mingun Paya for a great panorama !

If you wish to stay outside tourist hours, it might be possible to get a bed in a monastery. Otherwise, the boat leaves back at 1pm sharp. Going downriver took us only 40mn. Just the time to eat free watermelons. A nice touch for a nice trip...

 << Discover sandy Mingun



A bicycle ride in town ? 

Mandalay is a huge place well spread out so biking is the only cheap option (K300 per day or K150 half day)

Start your workout early by cycling toward Mandalay Hill. The $3 entrance fee is now charged at the top. This means you can get up a bit. Avoid the last terrace. Most travelers are not ecstatic by what they see up there anyway. A series of temples in the area are worth a look from the outside but probably not the entrance fees. One exception might be the superb old wooden carved Shwenandaw Kyaung, also known as the Golden Palace Monastery ($5 incl. entrance to new Atamashi Kyaung). The small university compound on the east is also worth a visit. 
On the way back, you could stop at the huge Mandalay Fort to visit the well hidden & protected Golden Palace, Parks & Museum. The entrance for foreigners is on the east side and it cost $5 from 8 to 17 ( no admission for foreigners outside those hours. Note that visitors are usually disappointed by what is inside and that what is inside was built with draft labor)

The busy 19th street (Inwa Rd), opposite the Fort Gate has got a market, an art gallery and some silk fabrics (where you can spot Lunyargyaw, a woven with a hundred shuttles) & handicraft shops. A lot of small streets perpendicular to it also let you experience a more relaxed Mandalay, in particular along small canals. Then take the 62nd St toward south and pass 14 small monasteries until the major 35th St. 

Cycle toward the west, passing a few great places like psychiatric, drug addict or leprosy hospitals. More interesting, the Gold-Leaf Workshops (an exclusivity of Mandalay for Myanmar) are located between the 35th & 38th and the 77th & 79th streets. Aurora Handicraft on 78th St between 35th & 36th should happily show you the slow exhausting process (the last stage takes 5 hours of cadence hits with a 7 pounds hammer, a work paid K1000) of flattening the gold. 

Then you could head south toward busy Mahamuni Paya to see how local people are using those Gold creations. There is a $4 admission but the signs at the north or east entrances (better option, full of religious crafts) are quite hidden so it should be possible to enter for free for a discreet look. You might however be spotted by tickets officials at the highly venerated Buddha image's section... After being shown the exit, have a look at handicraft shops and Buddha sculptures workshops (84th St). 

Then head north west towards markets (jade & jewelry), small canals and free-to-visit (yes !) temples (incl. wood carved Shwe In Bin Kyaung).

Back in central Mandalay, go north the 84th St. At this time, you will probably see plenty of fully packed vehicles then reach the night market. If not, congratulation : you still have time to check out Zegyo Market, a huge ugly & dirty building by the Clock Tower (full of goods & shoppers from 7:30 to 16:30)... 

 

Backpacker's Tips :  Cathy White, USA (April 05)
Marionette show: 3500 kyat
Moustache Brothers show: 2000 kyat. I would not recommend this "show". First, the guy barely speaks English. I found him terrifically unfunny. The show was basically him ranting on about the government (ok,justified) and making weak jokes, berating the audience when we didn't laugh. A little weird. Probably, it would be better to visit privately and buy a t-shirt of something. The guy (one of the brothers) really wanted us all to buy a t-shirt.
Mandalay Hill: no more $3 admission fee. The new Mandalay archaeological area has a $10 admission fee. I think it would be near impossible to avoid paying this fee. Go to Mandalay Hill on Sunday evenings to chat with English students. They want to practice with you and are very charming folks.
Tea shops: The best in the country, IMO. Fresh food,fresh tea, clean teashops, good service. Also some of the best Bamar and Shan restaurants in the country.
I loved Mandalay despite the dust. One of the most memorable destinations on my world trip so far. 

Backpacker's Tips :  Marineve, France (June 03)
YE-U (a village north of Mandalay, on the way between Schwebo and Monywa):
Ye-U is a very small village. There's nothing really to see there but the way to reach the place is very nice, and if you travel with Burmese people, in the local minitruck/pick-up; it is still off the beaten tracks. Not any tourist there and they don't expect any! Go there if you are several friends, walk in same time to opposite sides of the village to make the military people crazy, and give them a big headache, as they wonder what you are doing here? At the same time you should meet friendly marvelous people. Just be careful if you have contacts with locals, even children, the members of the military police (not always easy to recognize as they aren't wearing special clothes), may make them troubles if they suspect you to be a spy- if you are too friendly-! 
What you may not like :To be asked for your passport three times a day, especially ridiculous in a so small place. Not to feel free to do what you want.
Where to stay (guesthouses) :There's no accommodation for foreigners. Only one basic guest-house for locals where I slept for 700 kyats in November 2002.
To come, the minitruck/pick-ups are easy to find in Schwebo. When you want to go to Monywa; there's several departures too from early morning, near the guest-house. 

Backpacker's Tips : Hans & Greet, Belgium (Nov 02)
Nylon-hotel, 6 $ to 15 $ is best value. 
Shopping : Two or three blocks from the Nylon-hotel - in the direction of the market - there is a shop with all kinds of things (baskets, jewelry, masks, sometimes very strange things) from hill tribes like the Naga's. The owner is a fat and ugly Chinese woman. Ask one of the boys of the hotel to bring you there (but if you want to buy something, return when you are alone !).
To see: Mingun Paya, boat trip of 45 min, 500 Kt/pp, entrance 3 FEC/pp; If you arrive at one of the little shops near the jetty and wait some time - and if you are lucky that the ticket salesman doesn't catch you - some student might show you the temple and his village for free (and you can give the 3 dollar to someone who needs it more than the government) ! / U Pein Bridge, at sunset, which is around 17h. Go there before 16h. to cross the bridge, take a boat to return (500 kt / boat). Warning : A lot of people (touts, rickshaw and/or taxi drivers, ...) will try to cheat you on your way from the city center to the lake ...to visit silk factories and other shops where they get their commission ! / Mandalay Marionettes show, 3 FEC/pp, but much more authentic in Inle Lake ! / The Moustache Brothers, daily show at +/- 17h. Entrance 1.000 Kt/pp; If you haven't seen them, you haven't been in Burma !


Backpacker's Tips : Franck Bertagnolio, France (May 02)
Moustache Brothers have resumed their show on 39th street between 80/81 street. It is a bit tourist orientated (well that the only customers they are allowed to have I reckon...) but quite funny and interesting.
By accident, I met a very nice guy from the country side living in Mandalay. He is rickshaw driver, but is renting a car to drive people around, when he meets such. The guy speaks good English and can drive you around for 15 US$/day. I confirm he is honest and reliable. Actually, I regret not to have rent a car for a few days, just to be able to get out from the beaten tracks... You can contact the guy through the ET hotel 83st, Mandalay. His name is Zaw Lynn.

Backpacker's Tips : Jean-Marc Delatre, France (Sept 00)
 Mandalay Hill: 3$. If you are not checked at the bottom, one will ask you to pay only if you go on the last terrace at the very top (thus stop before arcades with glass mosaics) 
Don't miss the Shwe In Bin teak monastery: great and... no entry fee (not so usual in Mandalay!) 
Puppet show : no problem to find it, all the trishaw drivers will propose to take you there. Entry fee : 1000 K  Quite interesting. 
Moustache Brothers show : very friendly, you should go to discuss with the brothers who is still free and to support the freedom of expression. Show will be hold only if there is at least 4/5 people. Starts around 8pm. Price depends on the number of people, we were 7:  500 K p/p.
The Telecom office's entry has moved : it is in the parallel street, opposite side of the building.


Bus Schedules :

To Company Tel Cost Type Time D
Yangon Leo Express (incl. 3 meals) 88512/88194 2500 AC ? 15
Taung Paw Thar Exp 88339 2000 AC ? 15
Mandalarthun 02-70573 2000 AC 17:30 15
Pyay Aung Naing Thu Exp 70573 1400 AC 15:30 12
Bagan Nyaung U Mann 88032/70543 1000 ordi 9,14,21 7 to 8
Inle Lake na na 1000 minibus 5:30 7 to 8
Hsipaw Duhtawati / Yetagon / Yoma na 700 ordi 6:00 8

Notes : D = duration /  To Hsipaw from station corner 60th & 37th St, free transport from ticket offices


Trains Schedules :
(prices in US$)

To Deluxe Ordinary Depart Arrive Remarks
Yangon 30/36 13/16 ? ? More exp = dining car / Also sleeper w. private trains = $50
Bagan 9 7 22 5  
Thazi 9 5 18:30,20:30 10,12:30  
Lashio 10 6 4:45 19:30 via Pyin U Lwin (8am) & Hsipaw (3pm)
Myitkyina 28 11 ? ?  


Boats Schedules : 

To Type Cost Day Time Duration
Bagan Exp (gvt) $16 at jetty daily except Wed & Sund 6:00 9  to 15 (dry season)
Slow (gvt) $10/$33 Wed & Sund 5:30 16 to 18 (dry season)
Mingun Ordi K200 return daily 9:00 1  (return at 1pm)


Backpacker's Tips :  Seb, France (July 05)
Avoid to buy train ticket in Mandalay. They don't want sell you the cheappest , try little station like Shwebo for going in the north. 

Backpacker's Tips : Aurelien Reys, France (Jan03)
 Monywa, west of Mandalay: a normal noisy city, but with important buddhist caves around and other interesting sites
What to do : nothing in town, but go to the buddist caves or the place where can see over 500 000 boudhas or other same kind of sights, be the only tourist
What you may not like : be overcharged by about 10 - 20 - 30 times rather than a local to eat in the street, or to pass the river, or to be taken by truck on the road, etc etc...  Don't go if you don't want be cheated!  The caves are not that impressive (I haven't been personnally)
Where to stay : the only place accepted foreigner, 7 $ the dble room
What to see/visit : the buddist caves (have to cross the river then rent a taxi and pay the entrance fees - no that cheap together), the Thanboddhay Paya with over 500 000 buddha images! the colorful temples nearby.
Transport to Mandalay: 500 kyats / mini bus / 4 hours / every 30mn

Backpacker's Tips : Anonymous (Oct 01)
 It is possible to fly from Chiang Mai (Thailand) straight to Mandalay. On arrival, you do not always need to get the compulsory FEC

The trip to Pyin U Lwin : SS / L&R / K300 / 2.5 hrs / Pick up

Pick up leaves regularly when reasonably full from the bus center at the corner of 26th & 82nd St. Price is very much negotiable at their advantage : it should be K300 but they will ask for up to K700, going down easily to K400 or K500. Get in the pick up, firmly resist the overcharge tentatives and tend the exact amount. If you are charged more, then you should at least be in the front seat.

The ride up would be pleasant if you could see something but it is a pick up so your view is rather restricted. With 3 or 4 checkpoints on the way, a gas fill up, a short motor fixing and a 15mn snack break, it took us 2.5 hours to reach the hill station. 

The trip to Bagan : Night  / $4 / 7.5 hours / Train, ordinary class

The train station was only 10mn walk away from the bus stop (coming from Pyin U Lwin) but I was lucky to have a guide as the path was not really clearly marked. A long red tape formality and $4 later and I had my reserved seat for that dreamable ordinary class. 

We left on time and it was packed with a lot of people standing or lying right on the floor. At least, this way, they did not have to sit on those dreadful hard wooden benches... Indeed, if the ones in the previous trains had been quite comfortable, tonight's were real back breakers with no place to rest the head. I tried the sitting position but could not sleep. After the train was deserted, I tried the lying down position, but could not avoid the pain. Thanks to the trains continual instability, I tried all kind of alternative positions but could not rest in peace. 

At 2am, I decided to have a look at the upper class. Maybe I could discretely get a seat there. I went and I saw : most seats were occupied or, to be exact, nearly each passengers had the use of two seats. A great way to travel but a disappointment to me. Before going back, I had a break at the toilets (I know you start thinking I would rather abstain this kind of details but wait). Going out, I bump into the guy in charge of the upper class who not only invite me to take a seat but actually manage to find me one. This was after all my lucky day ! But before finally falling to sleep, I thought I would rather liberate my bench in the ordinary class : maybe some locals could find a use to it. So I went, I took and I came back. At this point only, the guy realized his mistake : I was not a member of his Club ! So he came back to me and asked to see my ticket. He saw and decided to forget what he saw : I was allowed to finish my night here. Many thanks ! Those huge reclined seats were paradise !

At 5am, I was however waken up by a guy who made rather unclear sounds for a while, until I cleared my mind up. I eventually understood that he was a touts who wanted me to use his bus (K100) toward his guesthouse (Eden) as soon as the train would arrive. When would it be ? In about 30 minutes. Thanks for waking me up to tell me I can sleep another 30 minutes ! At least one guesthouse not to stay in ! Anyway, this was a perfect introduction to touts' oriented Bagan...

See also the trip from Pyay / Hsipaw