Sunday, 18 October 2015

myanmar: exploring yangon, mandalay and bagan

Abandoned railway in Yangon city.

Prior to our visit to Myanmar, I expected it to be very quaint and rustic in almost every way - after all, the country only had its first ATM installed in late 2012 - but Yangon surprised me with a fascinating blend of old and new elements. Yes, the sidewalks are full of precarious holes, but the main roads are wide and clean. Cash is still king, but it is now possible to book and pay for accommodation online.

We would occasionally escape into air-conditioned cafes to enjoy a refreshing drink, but we also took our chances with gritty street stalls. I look upon this photo with amusement, as I recall that we ordered a fruit juice from this vendor, and to my horror, the woman scooped it out from that dirty-looking styrofoam container. In case you were wondering, we drank it anyway, and amazingly, we didn't get sick.

Fruit juice stall in Yangon.

The iconic attraction in Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda. We aren't really that big on temples or history, so we decided not to pay the entry fee for an in-depth look, but we did wander around and admire the architecture around the temple grounds.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.

After a few days in Yangon, we took an overnight bus (we chose the most luxurious option offered to us, which was well worth the few extra dollars - it even had little individual entertainment screens like on an airplane!) to Mandalay. Here, we climbed up the seemingly never-ending steps of Mandalay Hill. So many times we thought we had reached the top, only to find that we were mistaken. Fortunately, there were plenty of adorable cats along the way to keep us entertained.

Climbing up the stairs at Mandalay Hill.

Due to distractions along the way (patting cats and bumping into a fellow traveller who stayed at the same guesthouse that we did in Yangon), we arrived at the top of Mandalay Hill fairly late in the day, but still before the light completely disappeared.

The view from the top of Mandalay Hill at twilight.

I don't know if it had a name, but the night market we visited at Mandalay was pretty cool. The highlight, for us, was this man-powered ferris wheel. Several dudes would build up momentum by walking along the wheel, pushing and pulling, and even hanging off the spokes, then drop off as the wheel started to move rapidly. So dangerous. So amazing.

Man-powered ferris wheel at a night market in Mandalay.

While we were in Mandalay, we also hired a driver to take us around to see the sights away from the city for one day. We made an early start, and got to U Bein Bridge in time for a stunning sunrise. I definitely recommend walking across the bridge and visiting the village on the other end. We had a leisurely stroll and enjoyed breakfast there, then took a boat on the way back.

U-Bein bridge in Amarapura.

At Inwa, we took a horse-drawn carriage ride and stopped at various locations. The ruins of Yadana Hsemee Pagoda were pretty interesting.

Outdoor buddha statue at Yadana Hsemee Pagoda in Inwa.

Here's a fun fact. At one point during the afternoon, our driver stopped somewhere and instructed us to climb up some stairs to a temple (or maybe it was a monastery) for some fantastic views... it was the middle of the day, sweltering, and we were already starting to get a little tired... so instead of making the effort, we found a bench somewhere and took a nap before casually sauntering back to the car, haha! Yeah, we're bad travellers. In our defense, our trip was in September and Myanmar is HOT during this time.

But anyway, here's a picture of a cute family at a place where we stopped for lunch.

A random capture at a place where we stopped for lunch.

When we've had our fill of Mandalay, we caught a bus - this time during the day - to Bagan. I cannot even express how magical this place is. As I've mentioned, we're not huge on temples and history. It didn't matter. Bagan is amazing. We hired an electric bike - Simon drove, I sat at the back - and we had the most fantastic time cruising around Bagan. The sheer number of temples in Bagan is just incredible and awe-inspiring - there were temples everywhere we looked, and at certain times it seemed like we were zooming past one every second.

A view of the temples in Bagan.

There are also ox carts galore in Bagan. Look at the pretty decorations!

Beautifully decorated oxen in Bagan.

As I wrap up this post, I'll leave you with another shot of Bagan. We climbed up a secluded temple at sunrise and we were rewarded with sublime tranquility - and this view.

Sunrise at Bagan.


  1. I hear you on the heat factor, we were very tempted to do the same on occasion, particularly in Vietnam. Bagan looks absolutely breathtaking!

    1. Yeah, I grew up in Malaysia but it was still hotter than I'd bargained for! Bagan is spectacular, if/when you go to Myanmar, you should definitely check it out. :D

  2. Oh I loved reading this, you took me right back! I'm with you on Bagan... just incredible, and there were times when it was almost dizzying the number of temples going past as we drove along.

    I didn't get the chance to do the hot air balloon this time as we were tight on time, but I have to go back and do that one of these days. Hopefully before too long!

    1. We didn't do the hot air balloon ride either. It was a bit too expensive for us - would have been lovely, though!

  3. Such lovely photos! The decorated oxen is so beautiful. Really enjoying reading about your adventures.


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