We had arrived into Mandalay at lunchtime, having taken a morning flight via Yangon from Singapore. As we descended I couldn’t quite believe that we were there, it was a dream to have finally made it to Myanmar.
As soon as we were settled into our hotel, we wanted to get out and explore. We had a bit of time so we thought we’d walk to the Royal Palace to begin with….it was a bit further than we expected and it was quite warm, but it was a good way to orientate ourselves with the city. It was a fairly dull day but that didn’t matter at all (in fact it was probably a blessing!).
We explored the palace, although to be totally honest, it wasn’t that exciting. Most of the original buildings were destroyed during WWII, so what you see now is a reconstruction.
In the palace we did get talking to a student who was doing research into tourism and the impact it has, so we gladly spent some time completing his questionnaire to help him.
Time ticked on and we were ready to return to the hotel before venturing out for dinner. We spent a little bit of time up on the roof of the hotel, enjoying a beer and watching the sun set over the city, before finding a small tea house just down the road that offered a quick and cheap dinner of noodles before we retired for the night (it had been a very long day).
We ended up spending just over a week in Mandalay as we both loved it so much. We had heard differing opinions on the city, some people really don’t like it, but my partner was looking forward to returning there after over 20 years since his first visit. I fell in love with the city too so we extended our stay there without much hesitation.
One of my favourite activities was climbing Mandalay Hill, a long climb up many steps to Sutaungpyi Pagoda, a wonderful temple with stunning views across the city,. It was one of the first times we had to deposit our shoes at the bottom of the ascent (there would be MANY more instances of this to come on our trip)….the main worry was remembering which entrance we had used and finding them again!
It was very quiet on our way up and we took it very easy as it is quite a long way – I tell you, my fitness levels definitely improved after a month of climbing up and down temples! About halfway up we were befriended by a Bhuddist Monk who insisted on accompanying us up to the top and showing us the sights on the way there.
As we neared the top, I was not only boiling hot, but also totally in awe, a feeling I would have to get used to in this country. Stepping out onto the tiles of the temple was magical, the twinkling and sparkling of the tiles was just too pretty for words and took my breath away (again something else I would experience many times in the weeks to come!).
There were quite a few people milling around as watching the sun set from the top of the hill is a popular attraction – and I can see why! It does get busy, but when we visited there was room for everyone.
Standing on the top of Mandalay Hill was where we first encountered the photo phenomenon – we felt like celebrities by the time we left Myanmar! We lost count of the number of people who asked to have their photo taken with us – mostly young girls and boys and the odd elderly family member who was shoved into the photo by the rest of their family! I’m not sure why they wanted these photos, but the laughter that often accompanied the photos was a bit disconcerting!! I’m not sure where the photos ended up either, but I’m sure they would give everyone a good laugh! Seriously though, it was never a problem and it was impossible to refuse the smiles that accompanied the request.
As well as wanting photos, we found that many people, particularly youngsters, were keen to talk to us. They wanted to try out their English, tell us about their country and ask us about ours. Again, our first encounter with this was on top of the Hill, when we were approached by two young students. All they wanted was to talk to us, to tell us about the courses they were doing (Engineering – taught by someone without any engineering knowledge!), how they hoped that one day they would visit Australia or America. It felt very humbling and an honour to speak with them about their stories and reiterated to me just how lucky we were to be able to travel to their country and be there talking to them.
After taking in the spectacle of the sunset we started our descent. Climbing back down in the dark was a bit challenging, as it was, well,….dark, and it was unclear which route we needed to take at times. We thankfully found our way back down to the same entrance again in the end….and our shoes!!
Climbing to the top was hard work but definitely worth it and set the scene for the rest of our travels in Myanmar. I would find myself climbing MANY more temples and seeing sights that I had read about and had never thought I would see with my own eyes. I felt incredibly lucky and very grateful that I had the opportunity to spend some time in this country.