Amarapura, Sagaing, Inwa
After leaving Bagan, I set up a home base in Mandalay for the next few days. Mandalay has a lot to see, as I will get to in a later post, but it’s primary attraction is the surrounding small towns. At breakfast on my first full day in town, I met two Israeli girls and teamed up with them to share a taxi tour through three of these towns – Amarapura, Sagaing, and Inwa. For practicalities – the taxi cost us 24,000 kyat, which most likely was a rip-off but it was a nicer pickup than the standard “blue taxi” that most people use for this trip.
Amarapura was out first stop. This town is best known for Ganayon Monastery and U Bein’s Bridge. We began our trip at the former and returned to the latter several hours later for sunset. The monastery is famous for its massive monk breakfast. The Mandalay region is monk-central in a monk-filled country, and Amarapura seemed to be one of the larger bases. Hundred of monks of various ages and robes line up with their bowls and collect rice from vats the size of oil drums. Quote a few tourists show up for this, and I didn’t get the impression that the monks were particularly happy about this. I mostly tried to stay out of the way and act as un-douchey as possible.
Next we stopped by a pagoda nearby. I climbed it, but the girls had to stay on the ground level since, for whatever reason, only dudes are allowed up. Buddhism – a bit more sexist than one would think.
We moved on to Sagaing, which was across the Irrawaddy River. Two bridges cross it, the new one we used and the old colonial one that the British built in the 30s, right next to the new one. The main attraction is Sagaing Hill, a temple-filled hill with an impressive view over the river valley.
On our walk up, we ran into Ally, an older British woman that we had also met at breakfast. We had invited her to join us as well but she had already arranged for a motorcycle taxi. Ally told us she had been traveling for two years through South America and Asia, but was returning to her house outside of London in a few days. Prior to traveling, Ally had worked the coolest job of anyone I’d ever met. She was a pyro-technician by trade, meaning designing massive fireworks shows. She’d put together New Years fireworks displays at the Eiffel Tower and at the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
We parted with Ally – she was on the downtown stairs while we took to the uptown stairs. Of course, it wouldn’t be the last we saw of her. An hour or so later at lunch, she was just leaving as we arrived. Clearly, our taxi-tour was a more carefully orchestrated package than we realized. The restaurant that we ate at was filled with other foreigners doing the same tour. It was also, by far, the worst restaurant that I’d eaten at in Myanmar. Should you take this tour, ask your driver to take you somewhere else for lunch rather than the trap by the Inwa jetty.
Inwa, as you may have guessed, was the next stop. To get there, we had to take a ferry across the river, 1,000 kyat round trip. The standard way to tour Inwa is by horse cart. As there were three of us, all of the horse cart drivers wanted 7,500 kyat, though the people on the other side of the river told us it would cost 5,000. Apparently 5,000 is for two and 7,500 is for 3. Of course, the only extra burden would be on the horse, which likely doesn’t get a cut of the cash. After 15 minutes of haggling, we got down to the original promised price of 5,000.
Bagaya Monastery was the star attraction here, but to get in it required buying a $10 ticket. This money likely goes straight to the government, but it also covers admission charges into several of the attractions in Mandalay proper. Another moral dilemma. No traveler wants to give money to the military junta running the show here. For my part, I only stayed in private guesthouses and traveled by bus, as the government owns the trains, boats, and airlines. I also managed to dodge the $10 fee in Bagan. However, as I planned to visit other Mandalay sites that require the ticket, I bought the ticket. The girls were leaving the next day, so they didn’t buy one.
After Inwa, we killed some time playing cards at a local tea shop, and then moved on to U Bein’s Bridge for the sunset. This bridge is the longest teak bridge in the world, and was quite a nice place to watch the sun go down. In fact, it was the only sunset of the trip that wasn’t overly cloudy. We ran into Ally again shortly after we got there, and hung out with her on the bridge.
Once the sun went down, we headed back into town to eat at Nay Restaurant. Nay was awesome, and I ended up eating there a record four nights in a row. Two chapati, tea, potato curry, and side dishes cost only 300 kyat, which is roughly 37 cents.
Lots of pics, check it out.