Mandalay has an impressive literary heritage.
Mandalay – the city of Kipling and Orwell, an ancient royal capital, a place of incredible beauty and history - no wonder it's no longer a secret! Over a year ago, when we started to draft an itinerary for this trip, the country known as both Myanmar and Burma was untouched, almost unheard of, to the average traveler. How much can change in a year! After topping everyone’s list of where to travel in 2013, tourism has exploded here, with the guidebooks barely able to keep up. Myanmar has hosted its first international literature festival and marathon in decades, hotels and guesthouses are cropping up on every corner – this is the place to be!
While flying into the Mandalay airport means there’ll be no doubling back on transportation throughout our trip, it does mean we’ll have a long commute into the city. We’ve already looked into this and have plans in place for our transportation.
In Asia, street food rules the culinary scene. We’ll be eating at street stalls and small, family run restaurants in Mandalay.
Splurges and Souvenirs:
Us? Splurge? Never! Likely there won’t be any, since we’ll be recovering from more expensive days in Istanbul and Bangkok.
We want to get a general overview of the city’s main attractions and visit several temples. We’re also planning a visit to the Gold-Pounders’ District, where the small sheets of gold leaf that devotees use to coat Buddha images are painstakingly pounded out by hand.
A lot! Things are changing rapidly in Myanmar and, for our entire trip; we've done a lot of research on money, customs, food, and more.
Leaving to Chance:
To hire a guide or not to hire a guide? We’re still debating the pros and cons of this!
SOOO.... How Did Our Day Go?
While we were first off the plane and first through customs we had to wait at the airport for 45 minutesto catch the shuttle bus, which took over an hour to reach the city center. And, of course, we decided to walk the 45 minutes from central to north Mandalay! While it was slightly uncomfortable with our packs and the scorching heat of mid-day, we were happy to take in the sights and Mandalays' grid system for numbering streets made it impossible to get lost.
In Mandalay, nothing went as planned, but all in a very good way. We never made it to the gold pounding district, we never ate at any street stalls, but we still had an amazing time.
After checking into our guesthouse, the Mandalay View Inn, and taking a bit of time to refresh, we hit the road again, this time with Fort Mandalay in mind. While Fort Mandalay is still functioning in part as an active military base, guests are welcome to visit the on site historic attractions (with access through the east gate only). The walk towards the moat was beautiful and East Moat Road, a sweeping boulevard, was in excellent condition with well maintained sidewalks - an utter departure from the pothole filled residential streets we hiked on route to the hotel!
Of course, us being us, we didn't make it far before our stomachs rumbled and we realized it was well past 3:00 pm - time to eat! We stopped in to the Cafe City (directly on East Moat Road) to refuel. Cafe City lived up to its description in multiple guidebooks - it was clean, fun, and friendly. Styled like an American diner, it wasn't just ex-pats who were dropping in for blended ice coffee drinks and grilled fish - there were lots of locals there as well. In fact, a table filled with 20 something Myanmar women who alternated between giggling bursts and cell phone checking were a vivid illustration of Myanmar's many changes.
Finally, with our bellies bursting and our bodies re-caffeinated, we were off to visit Fort Mandalay - only to arrive a few minutes too late! With tourists streaming out, we asked the officer on duty if there was any chance just to poke our heads in for a quick photo and we were firmly, but politely, denied. Signage outside Fort Mandalay gave us our first hint of politics in Myanmar, with a giant bilingual banner proclaiming the need to "crush all those harming the union". It was an unnerving site and we were left wondering if it was simply a general military slogan or a more modern political statement.
Having been turned away at the gates we decided to take the long way back to the guesthouse, turning away from East Moat Road to the unpaved lanes behind it. We were greeted with a hive of activity as people made their way home from work, women prepped tasty street eats over open fires, and kids played in the roads. We passed energetic games of badminton and jump rope, watched women grind flour, and cheered and clapped enthusiastically when we came across a one year old take what must of been some of her very first steps, with a proud family looking on.
But our favourite encounter of all came as we met this little guy (below), who was having a riotous time playing with a broom. As he leapt and sprinted about, there was something oddly familiar about this movements - why, it looked like he was playing Quidditch!! He was so into his playing and he was so animated that it was a delight to watch this future Hogwarts student in action. We had a good chuckle with his mother, who was clearly as amused as we were. (Unfortunately, our young wizard became a bit camera shy when we went to catch him in action!)
With daylight fading, we made our way back to East Moat Road to head back to the guesthouse. The setting sun cast beautiful shadows against the fort and, while I was saddened we didn't have the chance to see the inside, it was still a wonderful experience to walk along side of it in so many different lights.
Collapsing on the bed in exhaustion, I couldn't believe how much we walked all day. Mandalay is a fantastic city to explore on foot (and bike would have been even better!) The friendly residents, stunning sites, and easy street organization make it a great first stop in Myanmar. I wish we had a few days or even a week to spend in Mandalay but the open road was calling -only this time, it was open water! Stay tuned for our water voyage to Bagan!
Previous Stop: Bangkok (via Istanbul) - Day 8
Next Stop: Bagan
Read More About Myanmar!
Getting To and From Mandalay Airport
Sailing Down the Irrawaddy: Traveling by Boat from Mandalay to Bagan
The BEST Travel Experience of my Life: Balloons Over Bagan
Where to Stay in Bagan
Where To Eat In Bagan
The WORST Travel Experience of my Life: The Overnight Train from Bagan to Yangon
Besotted with Bagan: Day 10 &11 of Our Round The World Trip
At Long Last: Yangon. Day 12 &13 of Our Round The World Trip
Guest House Review: Yangon's Motherland Inn 2