The best way to go around Mandalay area: rent a motorbike!
Today my day started at 7am. And let me tell you, I’m definitely not a morning person!! That’s how it came to my mind to have the greatest breakfast ever: a can of red bull!! (just kidding, you might indeed find something better and healthier for your early morning wake up meal, but it worked for me!)
At least it got me all fresh and ready for my looong day!
There are not so many ways to go to Amarapura Temples and the other sites around Mandalay. Either you rent a taxi for the day, or a motorbike taxi, or like me, you rent a motorcycle – also it appears to be a very unsual choice for a foreigner girl!
For 8000 Kyats you get a nice little Twist&Go scooter for the whole day, it’s the cheapest solution and it keeps you free!
The only thing is… To my surprise it wasn’t so Twist&Go after all!! I started to feel vaguely anxious when the shop owner who rented me the scooter started to explain me – in burmese of course – how to change the gears!! Oups!! I was used to drive my nice simple scooter in Goa (that’s where I learnt how to drive), driving on the left hand side of the road, on small village roads, and suddenly he asked me to drive on the right, in this crazy Mandalay traffic, being focused on how to change the gears !?!? My god!! Too much for me!
Well how hard could it be, just 4 gears. It was 8am and the traffic was not so busy, plus I had to follow the 84th street to the end – around 12km. I decided I could do it! So here I was,
wobbling in the middle of the street, my foot searching for the gear handle that I couldn’t find, making everyone laugh. At least I was making people happy!! (and I had a good laugh too!)
After a couple of minutes I got used to the system and I was on the way to Amarapura. How great it was to head south on that street, every vehicle driver and every person on the street smiling at me and giving me the thumb. I doubt they had ever seen a foreigner woman on a motorcycle!!
Street 84 is one of the main streets of Mandalay, so it’s a bit busy but driving is fairly organized, I didn’t have any issue or fear, as long as you stay focused and follow the flow, it’s easy and even really nice! (although it’s in the middle of the city)
It was a bit of a struggle to find some petrol, as I was looking for a big petrol pump and people kept pointing opposite directions everytime I asked. I finally found a shop (crossroad 84th and 38th or 39th), with the usual look I should have looked for: a shelf full of plastic bottles (1L = 1000K). If you can’t find that one no worries, there are loads of them a bit further south on the side of the street, you can’t miss them!
12km later, after asking my way a couple of times not to get too lost after leaving the main road, I reached Amarapura, and more precisely U Bein bridge. With its 1.2km long, it’s the largest teak bridge in the world, crossing over Taungthama Lake. October is the raining season, so the water was high and I could see everywhere trees and roof tops underwater . Probably nice riverside restaurants in the dry season!
You can park your bike anywhere around the bridge, it will cost you 200K for a guy to watch it while you’re away. Leave your elmet too, there is no risk!
You can either walk on the bridge, or get a boat (one or 2 ways) to see it from the water. They will charge you 2000K for the boat if you bargain!
I chose to walk and it was really nice crossing the lake with locals on their bicycles and monks, watching the fishermen (and fisherwomen!), into the water up to the shoulders, catching small fishes with their thin bamboo rods.
On the other side of the lake I walked around the small town, admiring the temples, wooden houses, the market, the school.
I picked the smallest kind-of-restaurant I could find, the one that looked the more local, where 2 old ladies cooked a great Mohinga for me (noodle soup), for only 200K! Really nice food and really sweet ladies!
After a long struggle to get my bike start in the right gear, helped by amused boat drivers, I was on the road again, drive towards the other side of the river along nice countryside roads and across the massive new bridge where the “toll gate” men waved at me smiling instead of making me pay (but I think it was free for motorbikes)
I know… It’s not very safe to take pictures while driving… See what high risks I take for you, to document everything!!
Across the bridge I reached Sagaing, which I didn’t visit to avoid to pay the entrance fee (greedy backpacker that I am!!), and because it’s also great to see it from the view point on the other side of the river (see below on my way back!)
I passed Sagaing and headed to Mingun, which I didn’t realize was that far, and I really enjoyed the countryside road, driving past really pretty villages, people still waving and pointing and laughing and smiling at that crazy foreigner woman on a motorbike.
Suddenly the wind picked up… Huhhhhh, does that mean rain is coming??
I stopped on the side of the road to get a nice view of the river, a horse quietly eating in front of the water. The wind got seriously strong then… Leaves flying around furiously!
“Oh! Look at those big black clouds coming!!How beautiful!! ”
Not even a minute later I felt the first drop, jumped back on my bike and drove to the next village, stopped in the first tea house on the side of the road, just in time to avoid the massive heavy rain! Lucky!
A cup of warm tea, a nice small tea house, sweet Burmese from the neighborhood. That’s what it takes to turn an unfortunate rainstorm into a great break into the real Myanmar!
Huuuuhhhh!?! Just tried to save my article draft and everything crashed!!!! L Lost 2 hours work in a few second!!
After an hour the rain finally stopped. I was very close to Mingun and reached in 5 minutes.
Paya Mingun would have taken Bodnath’s (Kathmandu) status of the biggest stupa in the world, if the work didn’t stop with king Bodawpaya’s death in 1819. I have no doubt it would have been the biggest, seeing the remains of what was supposed to be the pedestal of the stupa!! Incredible!! I didn’t get in (there is an entrance fee) as the weather would have hid the view on the lake anyway. I just drove around and it was way worth it! Beautiful!
I drove back all the way to the other side of the river to go to Shwe Kyet Yet pagoda where the view on Sagaing Hill is impressive! No entrance fee, but the usual parking fee for the bike.
On my way back to the city, I turned west into the 38th street to see the unknown Shwe In Bin monastery, all in teak, surrounded by a very peaceful garden of high trees where different houses host the monks. I then see the first foreigners of the day! (Three of them! Waow!)