My super luxurious JJ Express bus from Nyaungshwe, complete with complimentary water, blanket and dinner (14,000 kyat from Odyssey Travel) pulled into Mandalay’s bus station two hours earlier than expected which meant I arrived on the outskirts of Mandalay at 3am. A horde of motorcycle taxi drivers were waiting for me (though, unlike in other countries, they actually wait for you to get your bags from the bus before they harass you here) and I hopped on one to my guesthouse, Yoe Yoe Lay Homestay.
Backpackers honestly look no further than this place if you’re staying in Mandalay. You get a dorm room for $10 which includes the biggest breakfast I’ve ever had in a hostel (the food just keeps on coming!) and super friendly service. The head honcho, affectionately known as Mama by all who stay here, has the biggest smile and goes out of her way to help her guests. It’s a great place for solo travellers too as it’s so easy to meet other people and the staff help to buddy people/groups together to save on taxi fares when sightseeing.
As a result, despite wanting to take it easy, a few hours after I groggily arrived at the place, I was off on a sightseeing trip with three other travellers and our brilliant taxi driver Min Min. The whole day’s taxi hire came to around 8500 kyats each which was pretty good. Honestly though, I couldn’t tell you half the places we went to. It very much becomes a hop on, hop off tour, visiting a load of different temples and ancient cities. It doesn’t take long for it to get very repetitive.
As a result, after half a day, we got Min Min to drop us back in town for a few hours. There, we grabbed lunch at a local eatery where the highly anticipated South East Asia Cup semi-final was being shown. We had great fun joining in the locals watching Myanmar beat Vietnam to the final. We then washed our food down with some insanely cheap draught beers and regrouped with Min Min.
The one tour stop you shouldn’t miss is U-Bein bridge, the rickety teak bridge which is dazzling at sunset. The rain was in full force when we got there but it was still incredible. We chatted with monks, hijacked wedding photos and desperately tried not to slide off the slippery structure as we meandered across. It was really, really fantastic and a great way to round off the day.
The following day, I headed off to explore the city itself. Yoe Yoe Lay is a little far out so I enjoyed just wandering the streets, crossing railway lines and watching life go by. A sign of the Myanmar people’s kindness showed when I tripped and cut my foot open whilst walking. A nearby motorcyclist immediately ran down the street to find plasters for me and came back with a bunch of them. He double checked I was OK before letting me go anywhere. Myanmar has definitely restored my faith in humanity.
I strolled round the moat of the Royal Palace but decided not to pay the $10 to go in. Instead, I managed to locate a 4500 kyat Myanmar football shirt ahead of the big final against Thailand the following day. I then took the walk up to Mandalay Hill for sunset. It’s a long, barefoot but interesting walk up the hill and I’d definitely recommend walking it rather than getting a taxi up.
Sunday is a great day to go as many students and monks go up to practise their English. I was befriended by a monk on the way up and was later asked by a professor to spend some time with his students speaking English. It was a fantastic experience and made up for the rainy sunset. It’s always great when you go to a place to experience one thing and get involved in something completely different. I guess that’s been the theme of Myanmar as a whole.