Not only was it our first flight with AirAsia, it was also our first visit to Myanmar. With probably one of the smoothest landings my boyfriend and I had ever experienced, we arrived in Mandalay. Looking out of our plane window, we spotted countless stupas and temples, and we immediately knew that Mandalay was going to be everything we had hoped it would be, and more.
An up and coming metropolis along the Ayeyarwady River, Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar. The sprawling city has much to offer, and not wanting to miss out on any touristy highlights, we rented a couple of bicycles to take in the sights.
After a hearty breakfast on our first morning in Myanmar, we set off on our Mandalay adventure. Our first stop – Shwe In Bin monastery. The most striking feature of the monastery is the central teak structure built by Chinese jade traders in 1895. Here, we observed Buddhist monks as they went about their daily routine.
After a few prerequisite selfies, we headed off to Mahamuni Pagoda. Before entering the temple, we made sure to first remove our shoes, a customary practice in many places of worship around Asia. We enjoyed the peaceful ambience, and admired the beautiful statues and sacred sculptures on display in the temple. One particular gilded statue of the Buddha seemed to be the main attraction among worshippers and tourists. Seated on a throne with feet turned inwards, the Mahamuni Buddha glistened, and I soon realised why – the statue was adorned in gold leaf. I watched as male devotees patiently lined up to paste gold leaf on the statue, adding to its already gilded beauty. I would have loved to have done the same but alas, the privilege is only accorded to male devotees.
As we exited the pagoda, we suddenly realised that we had no idea where we’d parked our bikes. The grounds of the pagoda is like a maze, and it took us around 20 minutes to finally locate our bikes. Though it may seem an amusing scene in hindsight, scouring the grounds of a pagoda barefoot on a searingly hot day wasn’t funny at all!
Later in the afternoon, we cycled to Mandalay Hill to watch the sunset. There are a few impressive pagodas and stupas at the foot of the hill. Kuthodaw Paya, one of the more popular pagodas, is also called the world’s largest book by virtue of its numerous marble slabs inscribed with Buddha’s teachings. The hill became steeper as we neared the summit and we had to walk the last few hundred metres to the top. But our efforts were worth it, as the view from atop Mandalay Hill was simply breathtaking.
The next day, we felt more adventurous and rented a scooter to explore the city’s surroundings. The first place on our itinerary was Hmwe Paya (Snake Pagoda). It was almost deserted when we arrived, and apart from a few locals, the only living creatures there were the snakes, for which the temple is famous! Apparently, the monks had, in the past, made many attempts to chase the snakes away, but the pagoda’s slithery residents kept returning. Taking this as a sign that the reptiles were meant to stay, the monks finally accepted their presence, and the snakes became a sacred addition.
We then continued our journey, heading towards Inwa village, near the well-known Shwezigon Pagoda. On our way, we came across several abandoned temples that were not marked on the map. Most of them were in ruins, but it was impossible not to stop and take a closer look. A few of the temples were remarkable, and looked like miniature versions of the stunning Shwezigon Pagoda!
The cherry on top was our visit to the famous U Bein Bridge – our final stop. It was almost sunset when we arrived at the bridge- the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world – and the site was brimming with tourists, waiting to witness a glorious picture perfect scene as the sun dipped below the horizon.
Our stay in Mandalay was truly memorable. Many say that there is not much to see there, but we disagree. One has to look deeper, past the cityscape and crowds, to see Mandalay’s charm, and our discovery of the amazing hidden temples is ample proof of that.
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