Southern Burma’s sleepy Mawlamyine provides a stark contrast to modern Mandalay
The 13-hour bus to Mandalay with the Mandalar Minn Express (K15,000), leaves at 18:00 Hrs from Mawlamyine.
Boarding the bus, the seats seem smaller than the bus from Yangon to Mawlamyine, especially for an overnight journey.
The driver cranks up the TV and air-conditioner at the start of the journey, so no change from the previous bus. A welcomed pillow and blanket are provided on the bus.
Apart from many short stops along the way for cargo or passengers, there are two designated stops for meals at 21:45 Hrs and 03:00 Hrs.
The second restaurant stop is much pricier than the first – K2,400 for a cappuccino or K2,100 for the local coffee (typically K100 for a local coffee).
The bus company provides a fresh soothing towelette, toothbrush, and toothpaste at the second stop.
Shame the cloud cover is thick for a good sunrise as think the scenery is very pretty along the journey. Hopefully we will have clear skies on the next overnight bus trip.
When the bus arrives at Mandalay, brace yourself against the badgering from a herd of taxi drivers and hawkers. If you say no thank you in Burmese, they will usually leave you alone, moving on to the next victim.
As with all bus stations in Myanmar so far and best laid plans, they are built out of town so that buses don’t clog up the centre.
The taxi fare from the bus station to the 79 Living Hotel cost K8,000.
For some reason, Mandalay seems hotter than other cities and towns in Burma – take loads of water on a walk, wear a hat, and use sunscreen.
Meander around the outside of the Grand Palace, but be warned, it is a long walk as each of the citadel’s four walls forming a perfect square, is 2 kilometres long, so an 8-kilometre walk in total.
The impressive Grand Palace the last royal palace of the last Burmese dynasty.
Tourist admission to the palace is USD$10, which gives access to the 1990 reproduced area and only to a smaller original area of the palace.
I don’t think this is worth the money, so didn’t venture into the palace grounds.
Monastery of Books
This is a free worthwhile sight and is also the world’s largest books, which is at the Kuthodaw pagoda.
These are text-inscribed stone tablets containing 730 leaves and 1,460 pages. Apparently, King Mindon had 2,400 monks read the large stone tablets in a non-stop relay, which took almost 6 months.
Note: Mandalay is currently under a military curfew from 21:00 Hrs to 05:00 Hrs. So, many restaurants and shops close by 19:30 Hrs. It’s hard to find food after 19:00 Hrs and the streets are dead quiet, and very eerie, as typically Mandalay’s traffic seems busier and more congested than in Yangon.
Booked 2 nights and stayed 4 as the 79 Living Hotel (between 29th & 30th Street, 79th St | Chan Aye Thar Zan Township) is great value-for-money.
A comfortable clean room (serviced daily), excellent buffet breakfast, wi-fi in the room (if your room is close to router), and also wi-fi in the reception area. A central location as the hotel is across the road from the train station and about a kilometre from the start of the Grand Palace – not the palace entrance as that’s further.
Enjoyed this accommodation so much that we booked another night for our return from Hsipaw.
On the second stay, the bus arrived in Mandalay at around 20:00 Hrs. By the time we reached the 70 Living Hotel, staff advised that our room was flooded and they’re arranging another hotel. Very apologetic, staff ensured the substitute is a good hotel. We’re not convinced as this hotel is paying for a room in the next hotel.
To our delight, the room in the Hotel A1 is closer to the jetty and great news as the boat leaves at 05:30 Hrs tomorrow. The A1 seems more upmarket than the 79, and also excellent standard and service. Shame we didn’t enjoy this hotel for longer.
I would definitely return to both hotels.
Bustling Mandalay offers a plethora of street food and restaurants, for every budget. The alluring garlic spicy smells wafting around your nose, forces you to feel hungry, even if you’ve just eaten.
FUDO Cake & Ice-cream
On 35th St, Corner of 74th St, Mahar Aung Myay, as the name suggests, this place is great for cake. Haven’t tried the ice-cream, but coffee is also served at reasonable prices. FUDO is a chain of 4 cafes in Mandalay, so you don’t need to walk far before you stumble upon yet another FUDO.
Up a little way from the Unique Myanmar Restaurant (Corner 27 X 65 street) is a cheap restaurant with empty bottles hanging everywhere and a thatched roof as decor. Sadly, I don’t remember the name of this restaurant and not sure it had a name. Considering the proximity to the Palace, this restaurant is a great stop-over for local delicious food. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the owner practicing his guitar whilst lounging around sheltering from the scorching heat – all adds to the ambiance.
Arriving early in Mandalay, read the “Bible” (guide book) to see what is open for breakfast, which recommended the V Café on25th St at 80th St, for food and drinks.
Typically, I steer clear of restaurants and hotel recommendations from guide books as usually, they’re over-priced and not great quality. It seems that once an establishment is printed in a travel guide or is reviewed on TripAdvisor, prices go up, and the quality and service goes down.
Well, this time trying the V Café proved not to be a great choice as my partner ended up with a bout of really good food poisoning, which lasted a full 2 days. The luck of the draw I guess! Only ordering coffee and a club sandwich each for breakfast, both tasted pretty good but I wasn’t sick from my sandwich.
Decided on the 6-hour bus journey (K4,500), which leaves from Mandalay at 06:00 Hrs bound for Hsipaw.
I’ve read that this town is less frequented by tourists and offers spectacular scenery and great trekking!
Other methods of travel between Mandalay and Hsipaw are by the laborious train, private or shared taxi, or a pickup truck.