By Carolina Rocha
With a population of roughly 1-million people, Mandalay is the second biggest city in Myanmar. About 70% of the population practices Buddhism. Popular destinations are the Buddhist temples that have survived time’s ravages. There is much more to see in the city and surrounding countryside.
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Get lost in the Jade Market
The Jade Market is dedicated to trading Jade, but you can discover rubies and sapphires. Get lost in the confusion of people selling and buying precious stones. The outside of the market is free for everyone who wishes to have a look, and consists of the raw and unexplored rocks, as they are found in nature. People buy natural rock, cut it, and use the Jade interior to make jewelry, which is sold around the world.
Once inside, there is a flood of little stands selling jewelry, and businessmen from all over the world trading the rocks. Between stands, are men sitting on chairs, waiting to be approached by sellers. Buyers are open to buying full rocks or rocks already cut and shaped. Before committing to it, the buyers carefully inspect the rock to confirm its authenticity.
The business of precious stones is quite vast in Myanmar. The Jade Market is a pleasant stop if you are interested in exploring the culture.
If you visit: South Mandalay along 86th Street, Mandalay, Myanmar. The market is open every day from 5 AM to 12 PM. The entrance fee is $2 per person. US currency is accepted here.
King Galon Gold Leaf Workshop
Learn how gold is laboriously turned into leaves. A few men and teenagers work at the garage every day to make gold leaf from 24-K gold in an extremely thin layer. To do this, the men use a heavy wood hammer to hit on the material for roughly 6-hours.
The final product is used in several ways. Gold leaves that the locals offer to the Buddha; the leaves are stuck on the Buddha statue. It’s mixed with water to drink in little tubes of water with tiny particles of 24-K gold. It’s believed to be good for the heart and circulation. You’ll also find it in soaps and shower gels.
If you visit: No 143 36th Street, between 77th & 78th Streets, Myet Parr Yart, Mandalay, Myanmar
Gold Leaf and the Mahamuni Buddha Temple
Locals come to this temple to add gold leaves to the Buddha statue that lies in a quiet room. In this temple, only men are allowed into the Buddha room. Women are not permitted inside the small room and, instead, may pray from the exterior.
There are televisions on the exterior walls live-streaming the interior of the room where the Buddha peacefully stands. Men pass by, admire it, and donate gold leaves. This is a demonstration of respect by the women to the men and the Buddha.
If you visit: There is an entrance fee of 5000-kyats, approximately $2.50. USD are not accepted here.
Monks’ Lunch at Amarapura
Every day, the monks come out to have lunch and line the street between 10:30 and 11 AM. They have two meals a day – breakfast at dawn and lunch at eleven. Every day, the local community gets together to cook rice and curry in massive pans to feed the monks. Each monk has a metal container, for collecting food.
Locals and tourists offer them snacks and money. The monks retire to an open room, where they enjoy lunch together. Although this event occurs surrounded by masses of tourists, it remains highly interesting and something that is recommended if you are interested in the culture of the country and understanding the role that religion plays in society. It is important to be respectful here and open the way for the monks as they pass.
U Bein Bridge—Amarapura
The U Bein Bridge, famous for being the longest teakwood bridge in the world, is a must-do. Visit at the end of the day for a breath-taking sunset. On the riverside, there is a market where you can buy a longyi – the typical Myanmar vest.
The pedestrian bridge is over 1-km long; however, it is not wide. It is filled with locals who genuinely need to cross the bridge, and with tourists, who walk decisively until the perfect spot for a picture is found.
There is an option to take a boat ride in the river – highly recommended. After approximately 15-minutes of moving through the river to see both sides of the bridge, the captain stopped rowing, allowing the boat to simply float on the water. The view includes the long thin bridge cutting through a red/orange/pink sky. It is a mesmerizing view.
If you visit: The boat ride price starts at 15000-kyats, 10 USD. The ride takes about an hour.
Temples in Sagaing
Two bridges cross the Irrawaddy River to get to Sagaing, an older bridge built over 100-years ago by the British in wartime. Larger cars and trucks are no longer allowed on Sagaing. They use a relatively new bridge, built in the year 2000. The view over Sagaing is truly mesmerizing – the white and gold tones from the temples mix with the green plantation.
Sagaing is a deeply religious area and filled with temples. Absorb the view of the International Buddhist Monastery, where twice a year, Buddhist representatives meet from around the globe. Here, there are two hoisted flags at the entrance – the country flag and the religious flag.
Next, head to the U Min Thonze Temple – a building covered by a mix of white and baby blue with golden motifs on the outside and with an interior filled with Buddha statues in golden tones.
Finally, visit The Swam Oo Ponnya Shin Temple, which sits at the top of the hill, with an amazing view over the green scenery of Sagaing. Besides the golden towers in the temple, what stands out here is the colorful floor, which gives a unique touch to the space. If you’re lucky, you will visit it on a sunny day, when the sun intensifies the hues.
If you visit: Entrance to the two pagodas at the top of the hill is free. You are required to cover your shoulders and knees to enter.
After driving to the end of a small beaten earth road, cross the river to reach Inwa. When in Inwa local women greet tourists, selling their handmade jewelry. They carry their wares in a basket the whole day. This is an excellent opportunity to negotiate a fair price for souvenirs.
There are plenty of horse carts, ready to take tourists around a 10-km path to see local attractions. You can also do this on a bicycle. Inwa is a small town. Locals did not seem to mind tourists frequently passing in horse carts, leaving me to believe locals have come to adapt to tourist’s presence.
The temples here have survived earthquakes from the 19th century and remained through time. The horse cart drivers stop at each temple and allow time to explore.
Walk through the Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery and take your time to appreciate the Lawka Tharahpu Pagoda. Finally, the Watch Tower – Nan Myint. It is no longer possible to climb to the top, but it is worth the stop to take in the structure from the ground.
If you visit: The boat ride to Inwa takes approximately 2-minutes and costs 1500 kyats, 1 USD, round trip. The horse cart ride costs 15000-kyats, 10 USD per cart. There is a fee of 15000-kyats that includes entrance to a group of attractions in Inwa and includes a few attractions at Mandalay City Center as well.
Learn more about Mandalay HERE. No matter where you wander, you are sure to find the soul of Mandalay. ~TPM
About Carolina Rocha—Carolina is Portuguese. She lives and works in Barcelona. Carolina has a science background and works in that field. Caroline has a passion for travel. For a few years, she’s wanted to share her travel experiences. Recently, on a trip to Myanmar, Lao, and Vietnam, she kept a journal to document her entire trip and capture the uniqueness that each of these countries radiates. This is Caroline’s first contribution to TPM.
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