During our next two stops I felt a bit like a Japanese tourist. We raced through the sights in a very short time. Not because we were in a rush, more because we didn’t want to spend that much time in such touristy spots, but felt we couldn’t visit Myanmar without having been there.

In Mandalay we decided to have a classical tourist stay and booked a taxi for most of the day to drive from sight to sight. The day before, a taxi driver approached us asking if we wanted to tour the places of interest. We agreed for him to pick us up the next day at 9. We were a bit irritated in the morning when he appeared with a friend and even more when he told V to go with him and I should go with the friend. It then dawned on us that we had assumed without a second thought that our taxi driver had a car, but in this country you have to clarify beforehand that you are not booking a motorcycle taxi. 🙄

On our island in Thailand there was no other means of public transport, so you accept having to ride on the back seat of a motorcycle without a helmet for 10 minutes and just pray all goes well, while digging your nails into the back of the driver. But this was a different story. Firstly, there were alternatives in Mandalay and secondly we were not talking about 10 minutes, but the whole day! Just imagine how my nails, let alone the drivers back would look afterwards…

So, we apologized to the taxi driver for having to turn him down despite his reassuring words that it would not be dangerous and got into the car of a driver he motioned to come over. We spent the morning watching gold pounders create paper-thin pieces of gold to be used to cover Buddha figures in pagodas, saw monks receive their food in a daily (extremely touristy) ceremony at Mahagandayon Monastery and went for a stroll on the famous U Bein bridge. As it was neither sunrise nor sunset while we were there, the atmosphere was not that special though. On the way to Shwe In Bin, a beautiful teak monastery, our driver made a stop at a small, pretty temple where we were the only visitors.

monk feeding mandalay

monk feeding mandalay

U Bein bridge Mandalay


Shwe In Bin Mandalay

Shwe In Bin Mandalay

After lunch at a so-called “beer station” (we were in fact the only guests not drinking), where we enjoyed the view of the river, we headed back to the hotel to relax from the stressful morning. 😉

River Mandalay

Our taxi driver picked us up again in the afternoon to head up Mandalay hill for sun set. On the way there he made another unplanned stop at a magnificent temple where hardly anyone else was around.

Pagoda Mandalay

In accordance with our lazy day we decided against the 45 minute barefoot hike up the hill and let the driver take us as high as possible and took the escalator to the top. 😳  The driver had hinted that no one was goig to check if we had the 10 $ area fee card at this time anymore, which proved to be true. We did have to pay 1 $ for V to be allowed to take pictures though. For that she got a pretty little card strapped on her wrist.

Mandalay Hill

We still had some time till sunset, so we took in the great 360°-view around Mandalay and had a look around the big pagoda. Suddenly I was approached by two Burmese girls with “PES” badges pinned to their shirts: “Nice to meet you!” For a moment I was irritated, then they continued explaining that they come up to Mandalay hill to talk to tourists to practice their English. I remembered reading about this phenomenon in our guidebook and welcomed them to practice with me. “PES” stands for Practicing English Students and it seems the students of PES come up the hill every sunday to talk to….well strangers. Both girls were very friendly and it was great to get some insights from them on life for young women in Myanmar. I learned for instance that despite the ladies being over twenty, they still lived at home and because they were both single were forbidden to travel around their country. Their parents had told them they would be allowed to leave the area with a husband only. Even though it was interesting to talk to the girls, it was also a bit tiring as their level of English was really low and I had great difficulties understanding and carrying a conversation. So, at some point I excused myself to look around a little more before it got dark.

Mandalay Hill

Mandalay Hill3

Not long after, two PES boys came up to me and started posing the same questions as the girls had done. The group of two turned into four and at some point we were surrounded by six young PES men trying their English on us, including one chatty PES monk. Unfortunately his English was the worst, as we really would have liked to have had a good conversation with him. What struck us as peculiar was the fact that apart from the monk none of the boys had ever tried chewing betel nut. They all (including the monk) said it was “dirty”. Seems like the young (and maybe more educated) generation is moving away from traditional habits. The talkative monk was so excited about conversing with us, that the other boys had to break through his enthusiasm again and again reminding him that we had come up to the hill to witness the sun set.

Mandalay Hill4

Afterwards our friendly driver dropped us off at the “Green Elephant” where we had another fantastic Burmese meal in a very atmospheric setting.

The next day we were supposed to catch our ferry to Bagan at 7 o’clock. As we hadn’t packed yet, I set the clock in my mobile phone for 5 and as we had gotten different information on when the ferry was boarding and when it was actually leaving, we were to meet the taxi driver from the day before at 6 in front of the hotel. Sometime in the night my phone vibrated with incoming messages, because I had forgotten to turn the wifi off. Having this light sleep and not wanting to be awoken by another message, I drowsily turned the phone on silent mode. The next time I checked the time, my watch said 6 AM. 😯  I cannot remember the last time I was awake and standing beside the bed that fast. While I ran downstairs to tell the waiting taxi driver and the people at the reception that had prepared a breakfast to go for us what had happened, V started packing already. Within 15 minutes we were packed and dressed and flying out the front door, stretching out our arms for our breakfast bag, shouting a goodbye over our shoulders. Our taxi driver assured us that we would make it while he raced through Mandalays suprisingly crowded streets. We boarded the boat at 6:25 and it left at 6:40. Our adrenaline was pumping and despite having gone to bed pretty late, we were wide awake!

We were surprised about how fast and efficiently we had packed under pressure. And apart from Vs snorkel that for some reason ended up in her small backpack (you never know when you might need a snorkel on a boat), everything was in it’s place.

The boat was less than half full, so we were able to select deck chairs without a problem, not wanting to sit in our assigned seats inside of the boat. At 7:30 complementary breakfast was served in the boat restaurant and we were excited about being able to combine our breakfast to-go with the one being served on board. Who would have thought that we would be getting the identical items (tough toast with butter and jam, hard boiled eggs and bananas) twice?! Was I thrilled that we still had bananas left over from the day before….!!

Ferry trip Mandalay to Bagan2

The ride on the Ayeyarwady river was extremely calm and laid back and we enjoyed it a lot even though the scenery around us did not change much, apart from the area shortly after embarkment where we had a fantastic view of Mingun.

Mingun from Ayeyarwady river

Ferry trip Mandalay Bagan

Ferry trip Mandalay to Bagan3

We arrived in Bagan 11 hours later and were picked up by the hotel we had booked two days before. The driver stopped shortly after leaving the pier at a little office, where we had to pay 15 $ archeological area fee. Our one year old guide book stated the fee as 10 $…that’s what I call price inflation! After having paid I saw some small map of Bagan, like the ones you get at airports, lying there and wanted to grab one. I was told it would cost me another 2 dollars. I declined politely and left…No, actually that’s not what happened. I looked at the ladies incredulously and said:”I just paid you 30 dollars and now you want 2000 kyat for a map? You are thieves!” and walked out. Yes, I know! Not very friendly and especially not very smart in a country like this one…. 😕

To compensate for our laziness in Mandalay, we decided to rent bikes to tour the sights in Bagan. Riding around on the low traffic streets was very pleasant and we checked out quite some pagodas during the morning hours. In between we encountered friendly locals that would unlock small stupas for us, walk us through ancient sights explaining details and even paying for a coffee that we were having at a drink shop. Again we were baffled at how sweet and generous the people in this country are.

Biking in Bagan

Bagan pagoda

Buddha Bagan

Bike tour Bagan2

Bagan Pagoda

Bagan Pagoda

For lunch we made a stop at a typical Burmese restaurant, where loads of delicious food was served for almost no money.

Burmese meal

To keep out of the midday sun (and because the morning had been a bit of a pagoda-overkill for us), we visited an exhibition that we stumbled upon. Two female German photographers portrayed Burma/Myanmar with 100 years between them. Interestingly the scenes they captured are almost identical even though the photographer of today knew nothing of her colleague’s pictures. Amazing is also, how little has changed in Myanmar in those 100 years.

Golden Myanmar Exhibition Bagan

In the early evening we headed out to climb Buledi temple to view the area at sun set. Even though it was extremely touristy up there, it was still absolutely worth seeing.

Bagan sunset

Bagan sunset

The next morning we flew back to Yangon with a Cambodian airline, to take a night ferry down the Ayeyarwady Delta to Pathein.