Having a little time to explore Mandalay, we got up early and decided to walk down into town and to make our way to the Royal Palace, Mandalay Hill and the temple which houses the largest book in the world. It was quite a walk in to town, about 1.5km before we hit the moat / wall that surrounds the royal palace. The wall is about 2km square so it’s a heck of a size (bit like Angkor Watt). Anyhow, we knew that we could only get in the East gate so we made our way there.
On arrival at the Royal Palace, we were told that we needed to get tickets which cost 10000 kyat each (£6.50) which would then cover us for The palace, Mandalay Hill and a few other temples including the one we wanted to go to later. We duly ponied up the dough which was a bit of a con (same price as Angkor watt). Anyhow, we walked into the temple and it looked a bit ramshackle….which was a bit of a surprise bearing in mind that it was only rebuilt in 1990. The Japanese had flattened the whole place during the second world war. Within the temple complex there is a tower which is a bit like a badly put together helter skelter. We climbed this with others and got a fairly nice view at the top. After the royal place, we made for the temple with the largest book. We walked straight past it as it wasn’t very well sign posted and the map that we had wasn’t to scale. Anyhow, in we went, shoes off and soon, we were walking around all the small stupas which held a large tablet with words of the scriptures of Buddah on them. In total, there is over 700 large carved tablets which when put together, make up the largest book in the world. Really cool although I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a Guinness book of records certificate pinned up anywhere. Also, we didn’t need to show our temple passes which we bought at the royal palace so suspect that we could have wandered in here without paying anything!
After the big book, we stopped for a glass of frozen water at a small cafe which was friendly enough. They only charged us 500 kyat for the water so that was good.
We walked towards the base of Mandalay hill and saw the two large stone (concrete) chinthes which are half lion and half dragon which protect the entrance.
There’s a little tourist scam going on at the bottom of the hill where tourists have to store their shoes for 200 kyat a time. You aren’t allowed to climb the 1760 steps with shoes on…..whaaaat! It took 40 minutes to climb up to the top of Mandalay Hill and we spent 5 mins at the top (it’s a bit touristy) and the big sign which announced that tourists have pay 1000 kyat if they want to use their cameras was a bit annoying so we told them we didn’t have a camera and that we weren’t paying anything. The views from the top weren’t that good as the city was pretty hazy with pollution.
Soon, we were climbing back down the hill….it’s not steep or heavy going, just a lot of steps! At the bottom, we went to one of the tourist cafes across the road and had a couple of frozen sprites (2000 kyats – hotel prices). After that we asked around for a taxi and soon got one for 4000 kyats which seemed fair (similar prices to Cambodia but more expensive that Thailand / Vietnam).
Later that night, we went to the shopping mall and found a small Tawian restaurant where we had some beef with noodles and pork with rice and a couple of fruit juices (8200 kyat).
Now, there’s not really much else to see of do in Mandalay so the following day, we just went for a short hour long walk down into the city and round and back. We didn’t really see any bars, cafes or restaurants….just local people going about their business. Mandalay is not really a tourist destination as yet. The people are very friendly and you feel safe, but there’s just not many places to hang out and have a nice meal and fun beer. In fairness, over the 3 days that we were in Mandalay, we probably only saw a handful of other westerners there. If there are other tourists, then they are from China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea.