I arrived at the familiarly busy, Highway Bus Station in Mandalay by 6am. I was wide awake, having been able to sleep during the bus ride due to exhaustion. I waded through the crowd of touts by the bus entrance and immediately tried to look for motorbike ride to town. A guy with cleanly pressed white long-sleeved shirt wearing a red longyi hailed if I needed a ride. He seemed decent enough and his English quite good so I hired him to take me to downtown. I’m glad I’m back in Mandalay.
Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar, second to Yangon. It’s a pretty young city having been created in 1857 and only had 2 Kings. I’ve only seen Mandalay briefly, at night in transit to Pyin U Lwin and then in transit to Inle Lake. My premature arrival in the city would offer more time to explore. Looking from the back of a motorbike headed to downtown, I could see that the city also have a lot of modern high-rises. But in contrast to Yangon, where it is ruled by taxis, Mandalay has a lot of motorbikes, pickups and trishaws.
Gas or diesel seems to be a scarce commodity as we saw vehicles lining up early in the morning to have their fuel fill. My motorbike driver, who introduced himself as Olsen, said that fuel is expensive and they usually run out by noon.
I checked in at Nylon Hotel at Downtown Center of Mandalay. A hotel I wouldn’t really stay in again since it’s a bit stuffy with a few mosquitoes, the only saving grace was the price. Good thing I was only staying there for a night. I also decided to hire Olsen for a tour around Mandalay and nearby Amarapura for the rest of the day. He seemed to be used on doing these tours as he had a booklet already of places to visit. What I liked about his suggested tour is that we’ll be avoiding the places where the US$10 Government Combo ticket is needed. Besides he speaks good English and the price was reasonable.
Mandalay is centered on the palace with some of the attractions around it. The downtown center is located southwest of the palace. After a quick early lunch we headed northeast for our first stop, Sandamuni Paya, just off the road near the palace moat. It’s an impressive looking paya with the stupa surrounded by 1774 Marble Slabs inscribed with Buddhist writing. Each slab is housed in their own mini-stupa creating an impressive pattern of stupas spreading from the main one. Olsen said some of the slabs contain bones which makes the place also a cemetery ground. I could imagine there being on sunset or sunrise. And sitting quietly, I could hear the pleasant sound of multiple bells ringing on the top of multitude stupa when the wind blows.
The nearby Kyauktawgyi Paya was our next stop. We drove there but I thought the distance was easily walk able. I immediately went inside the main attraction of the pagoda – a 26-foot, 900-ton Buddha carved from a single slab of marble. The surrounding areas of the pagoda were so-so. I did notice a few people sleeping on the benches, probably taking advantage of the cool grounds and shade. As I make my way out, I noticed a number of fortune teller stalls in the area, from palm reading to cards. I thought that was interesting.