Mandalay

After several days in rural Myanmar Mandalay was a real shock to the senses, a chaotically busy city of two million people, most of whom seem to own a scooter. There were some interesting places but they took a bit of getting to.

Before visiting the better known sights I did what I enjoy doing while travelling, getting semi-lost wandering the streets. It’s the best way to get a feel for a place, and experience the unexpected. In Mandalay it was a relatively risky activity though, thanks to the absent / blocked pavements, lack of pedestrian crossings, and plenty of traffic (not always following the one way streets). Drivers like to use their horns, usually correctly to notify people that they are there, but if you’re not used to them it isn’t the best for the nerves.

The highlight was coming across Thinga Yazar Channel, a wonderfully reflective body of water, with several photogenic bridges. It did however stink, with rubbish pilled up everywhere, sad to see.

There were also unexpectedly a few horses by the channel.

As with everywhere in Myanmar I didn’t have to go far to find pagodas, the most interesting being Chanthaya Pagoda and Ein Daw Yar Pagoda.

Also demonstrating the religious diversity I didn’t really expect from Myanmar were the Joon Mosque and Sri Ganesh Temple.

The following day was more structured, with a morning visit to the lively local markets.

We then took a wonderfully relaxing hour long boat ride along the river to Mingun. This was an important religious place for the Kings of Burma who ruled from Mandalay from the 1800s.

Mingun Pahtodawgyi would have been the largest pagoda in the world if they hadn’t stopped work a third of the way through, and cracks developed after an earthquake. It is now known as the world’s largest pile of bricks.

Close by is a true record setter, built after the pagoda title looked out of reach. It’s the world’s largest ringable bell, which with some flexibility you can stand inside of.

The highlight of Mingun though, and possibly Mandalay, was the stunning white Hsinbyume Pagoda, built in 1816 to the memory of the King’s first consort and cousin who died in childbirth.

Back in Mandalay Shwe In Bin Monastery has a beautiful temple made of teak, with exquisite carvings.

Mandalay Palace is enormous, surrounded by a moat two miles long on each side. It was mostly destroyed during WW2 and rebuilt in the 1990s. I didn’t go inside, but enjoyed views from the East Gate, with Mandalay Hill in the distance.

Kuthodaw Pagoda and the World’s Largest Book is home to hundreds of stone tablets containing a massive Buddhist text, carved to ensure their survival in case the British burnt the paper copies. They’re housed in off white buildings that surround the main pagoda.

Mandalay Hill is an understandably popular spot to see the sunset, and there a few points of interest around the pagoda itself.

The seemingly endless Buddha statues in Mandalay are produced along a dusty street (even the tree leaves are white) with thousands of statues ready for sale. The Buddha face is often customised based for the buyer, resulting in the surreal sight of blockhead Buddha, like something out of Doctor Who.

To end with one of the most famous sights in Mandalay, the U Bein bridge. Made mostly of teak (though also concrete in places), it is an understandably photogenic structure, even with low water levels. I got there relatively early in the morning, before the crowds turned up.

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