Yes, Sunday Spotlight is back this time with a city from my most recently visited country, Myanmar. Mandalay, made famous to the west by Rudyard Kipling and a poem he once wrote, possibly sounds a little romantic. For example:
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!
It’s a long poem, craftily placed in the lavatories at the restaurant at the guesthouse I stayed at there – ‘A Little Bit of Mandalay Tavern’, but to be honest the place is not quite as romantic as Rudyard paints it. Apparently, he never went there either!
Not to say that there aren’t plenty of nice aspects to Mandalay. But much of the city is certainly on the grow right now which means a lot of traffic, a lot of buildings, oh and oh so much dust.
For those, such as myself, who like to walk a lot in a city, it’s not the best city for that sadly either. Everything is quite spread out, with the citadel in the centre. Much of this moated space is a military-only area, so there are maps about that tell you what tracks you can and can’t walk on. The citadel as I said, is inside a moat with a large wall on every side, each side is something like 2km long. To go from the tourist entrance to the main temple inside which is why most go into the citadel, it’s a good 800 metre walk in a straight line, all inside the walls. So, yeah, it’s big, and there’s only one entrance you can use so you can’t cut through it which means you end up walking further because from one side to the opposite means you have to walk around the thing!
Mandalay has a reputation amongst travellers for not being a place with much to see and do, but nearby there are heaps of places that are worth doing day trips to. This is certainly true to a point – the U-bein bridge, the countryside and the amazing temples and more make a series of great tours or day trips from Mandalay. But the city itself holds a few gems worth seeing.
You could probably leave it to a day of good sight-seeing, however you’re best to get transport from place to place to expedite your movement. I started in the citadel. The gate is impressive as are the walls and the moat, and you can catch a motorbike or walk to the Mandalay Palace that’s at the centre. It’s well restored, but quite beautiful. The only real drawback is the crowds. There are many different buildings and a somewhat dodgy tower (handrails not the best) that well and truly sparked my vertigo.
You could easily spend more than an hour in the palace. There are a few places for food outside it, but I went to the Vcafe and Skybar for lunch which at least had nice air-conditioning. I wasted time in the tourist information centre, learnt nothing new really but I’d walked in the early afternoon heat so a twenty minute break and water was most needed.
I pushed on to see more temples in the afternoon. The Shwednandew Pagoda was the main one I wanted to see. It’s mostly wooden and kinda special. There are a few other temples around the area and I popped into a couple more, they are all different and very interesting. Just be aware it’s ALWAYS shoes off! No matter how hot or unclean the marble/stone floor is.
I finished the day by climbing Mandalay Hill to see the sunset over town. The climb was done with no shoes at all, I left them at the bottom and was quite relieved to find them still there when I got back down. It was a serious climb for someone as unfit as I. I THOUGHT that’s what everyone did, as the walkway is covered the entire walk, but I passed almost no-one coming down and no-one coming up, nor did I get passed. Where was everyone?
I passed through a series of temples all connected by this amazing walkway, and indeed the are more temples outside the city connected by similar walkways too, it seems to be the done thing! And then at the very top, well, suddenly there were a thousand or more tourists waiting for the sunset! Yep, they had taken transportation! My feet were killing me and I was hotter than a hot chili, laced with chili powder. But, a satisfactory way to end the day.
I didn’t get to see a show in the puppet theatre in Mandalay, but had time allowed I would have loved to finish of the day with it. I had visited the theatre earlier in the day though and see the space and puppets – it looked amazing. I had my puppet fill a week later at Inle Lake.
There’s more to Mandalay too, but I had three days proper there, and the other two were both spent going to attractions outside of town. Still, it was a very cool place indeed.
May the Journey Never End!