Sunday, February 1, 2015

On the Road to Mandalay

Mandalay is the second-largest city and the last royal capital of Burma.  The city gets its name from the nearby Mandalay Hill.  The root word has been speculated to be: "Mandala" (meaning, circular plains), "Mandare" (believed to mean "auspicious land"), or "Mandara" (a mountain from Hindu mythology).

As we arrive Mandalay, first thing I notice was the topography, see the vast plane, infinite land mass!

We took AirAsia free shuttle bus from airport to the city, which took an hour ride.

We hired a pickup van, which costs only 30,000 kts for the whole afternoon trip.  

It was an ideal vehicle for those photography enthusiast, specially in this region which has several interesting scenery along the way.

The city was bit develop with a shopping mall, and buildings around, traffic was smooth as well,

After our sumptuous lunch (click here for details), our first destination was Mingun, we drove for a little more than an hour, along Sagaing Hills, passing by a very interesting rural village scenery.  Worthy to be highlighted are the following:

Sagaing with numerous Buddhist monasteries is an important religious and monastic center.

The pagodas and monasteries crowd the numerous hills along the ridge running parallel to the river.  

Monks and Nuns, since Sagaing Hill have several monastery and nunneries,


The common village people, market sellers, kids playing traditional toys, adults wearing their traditional clothes, 

and specially the fresh looking women wearing the Thanaka on their cheeks.

Thanaka is a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark of Sandalwood.

It is a distinctive feature of the culture of Myanmar (formerly Burma), seen commonly applied to the face and sometimes the arms of women and girls, and is used to a lesser extent also by men and boys.

And the livestock, or the animals which helps the people in their daily lives, such as cows use for transportation, the geese, hens, horses,


While some houses have backyard industry such as clothes making, some have pottery products -

Some parts of this village even have
unique musical scoring which resonates some kind of Buddhist incantations or prayers.

For me, Burma maybe the only remaining traditional Southeast Asian Civilization in this 21st century.  Hoping that modernity / technology will not much change their way of living, for our next generation to have something to experience, and appreciate the simplistic way of life of our ASEAN neighbors

We had these multidimensional experience on the way to our first destination - Mingun.  Most travel books would actually recommend taking an hour boat ride along the Ayeyarwady River to reach Mingun.  But for me, I would advise future travelers to also try the road trip, its all worth the ride!

First stop was Hsin-byu-me pagoda, located on northern edge of Mingun stands the impressive Hsinbyume Pagoda (Myatheindan Pagoda), built by King Bagyidaw - a grandson of Bodaypaya - in 1816, in memory of his favorite wife.  

Isn't it looks like a wedding cake, or a white version of Borobudur?  Climbing this temple requires all visitors to remove their foot wear, so as other temples in Myanmar.

Its unusual architecture is quite striking. It is based on the Sulamani Pagoda on the peak of the mythical golden mountain of Meru, which is the center of the universe in Buddhist-Hindu cosmology.

Seven terraces with with undulating rails - representing the seven mountain ranges around Mount Meru - lead up the stupa, and all the way along are niches in which mythical monsters such as Nats, Ogres and Nagas (mythical serpents) stands as guard.

From the top we saw the Mingun Pahto (that brown cubic shape structure), which we also visited that afternoon.

We had a short stop at the Mingun BellWith a height of 3.7 meters, it is said to be the largest working bell in the world.

Weighing 90 metric tons, the Mingun Bell was cast in bronze in 1808, and once it was completed Bodaypaya had the master craftsman executed in order to stop him making anything similar.

Just few meters away is the Mingun Paya or Mingun Pahto.

The massive ruins of the Mantara Gyi Pagoda (commonly known as Mingun Pahto), which was built by King Bodawpaya to be the biggest pagoda in the world and was originally intended to reach a height of 152 meters. 

For precisely this purpose, between 1790 and his death in 1819, Bodawpaya had thousands of prisoners of war and slaves working on the construction of the stupa.

It is said that there were too much dissatisfaction over the heavy burden of building this massive pagoda among the people and the ruling class alike and there came a tabaung (a prophesy); "as soon as the building of the pagoda was over, the country would also be gone". Thus the construction came to a halt, much relieved to the people. 

Only a third of Bodawpaya's dream was completed. Twenty years later, the mighty brick edifice was badly damaged in an earthquake. Nevertheless, the remains of the pagoda, 50 meters high and 72 meters wide, are still spectacular. 

It is possible to climb up it barefoot and from the top there is a magnificent view of the Ayeyarwady as far as Mandalay.

Contrary to most online resources, they often advice to take morning trip to Mingun, and tourist fees were collected.  However during our visit in the afternoon, we didn't pay any fees, probably because only local visitors were there that afternoon, and we also looked like locals!?!

On the way to our next destination, before crossing the Ayerwaddy river, we had a short stop on a bridge, to appreciate the beauty of the bridge with the perfect hues of the sky.

Aside from the panoramic view of the bridge against a wonderful sky, 

I cant help but notice some activities under the bridge, on one side there are young gentlemen who were playing Volleyball,

while on another side are the young children and their mothers bathing in the river to relieve the heat.

As we crossed the bridge, 

we drove to the ancient capital of Amarapura, known as the city of Immortality,

to see the two-century old U-Bein teak bridge on the Taung Thaman Lake.

We arrive here at 630pm, which is a perfect timing for a colorful sunset

U Bein Bridge is a crossing that spans the Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura in Myanmar.  The 1.2-kilometre (0.75 mi) bridge was built around 1850 and is believed to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. 

It is particularly busy during July (the month of our visit) and August when the lake is at its highest.  

The friendly student monks are willing to have a photo together with the author.

The best sky color is behind this Buddhist temple across the bridge's entrance.


After completing our first day journey, I now realize how Sir Rudyard Kipling visualizes the poem he wrote. Excerpt below,

- Mandalay -
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"
    Come you back to Mandalay,
    Where the old Flotilla lay:
    Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
    On the road to Mandalay,
    Where the flyin'-fishes play,
    An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

His poem colorfully illustrates the nostalgia and longing of a soldier of the British Empire for Asia's exoticism, and generally for the countries and cultures located "East of Suez", as compared to the cold, damp and foggy climates and to the social disciplines and conventions of the UK and Northern Europe.

To navigate while on location download this article from

No comments:

Top 3 Posts