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 seemed smaller than the first bus, especially for an overnight journey. On starting the ride, the driver still cranked up the TV and air-conditioner, so no change there. 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 was 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 comes to a halt, brace yourself against the badgering from all the taxi drivers and hawkers. If you say no thank you in Burmese, they will usually leave you alone, and then go 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, so, take loads of water on a walk, wear a hat, and use sunscreen.
Take a pleasant walk 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; an 8-kilometre walk in total!
This is the last royal palace of the last Burmese dynasty.
Tourist admission to the palace is USD$10, which only gives access to the 1990 reproduced area and to a smaller original area. I didn’t think this is worth the money, so I 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: At the time of writing, Mandalay is under a military curfew from 21:00 Hrs to 05:00 Hrs. So, many restaurants and shops close by 19:30 Hrs. It is hard to find food after 19:00 Hrs and the streets are dead quiet, and very eerie, as Mandalay’s traffic seems busier and more congested than in Yangon!
The 79 Living Hotel (Between 29th & 30th Street, 79th St | Chan Aye Thar Zan Township)
Booked 2 nights and stayed 4 as the hotel 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) but 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.
We liked this accommodation so much that we booked another night for our return to Mandalay. Although, on the second stay, we arrived by bus at around 20:00 Hrs and advised by the 79 staff that our room was flooded and they are arranging another hotel for us; staff are very apologetic and as you can imagine, we didn’t know what substitute would be forthcoming as the hotel is paying for the room.
To our delight, a room in the Hotel A1 was provided, which is closer to the jetty and great news as the boat left at 05:30 Hrs next morning. The A1 seemed more upmarket than the 79, and also excellent standard and service.
I would definitely return to both hotels.
- FUDO Cake & Ice-cream (35th St, Corner of 74th St, Mahar Aung Myay)
As the name suggests, this place is great for cake (didn’t try the ice-cream) but also coffee at reasonable prices. This is a chain of 4 cafes in Mandalay, so you don’t need to walk far to 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.
- V Café (25th St at 80th St)
As we arrived early, read the “Bible” (guide book) to see what would be open for breakfast, which recommended the “V Café” for food and drinks. Typically, I steer clear of restaurants and hotel recommendations from guide books as usually, they are over-priced for the country and not great quality. It seems that once an establishment is printed in a travel guide or has a review on Tripadvisor, prices go up, and the quality and service goes down. Well, this time trying the V Café proved not to be a good 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! All that was ordered for breakfast was coffee and a club sandwich each – both tasted pretty good and I wasn’t sick from mine.
Leaving Mandalay for Hsipaw
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, and pickup.