Tried to get a direct bus from Mawlamyine to Inle Lake but it was impossible without back-tracking through Yangon, then north again. So instead, decided on the overnight 13-hour bus to Mandalay with the Mandalar Minn Express (K15,000), which left at 18:00 from Mawlamyine.
Boarding the bus, the seats seemed smaller than the first bus but on starting the ride, the driver still cranked up the TV and air-con, so no change there (pillow and blanket are provided).
Apart from many short stops along the way for cargo or passengers, there are two designated stops for meals at 21:45 and 03:00. 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 local coffee). The bus company provides a fresh towelette and toothbrush/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 – maybe 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 go onto the next victim.
As with all bus stations in Myanmar 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.
Mandalay seems hotter than other cities and towns in Burma, so take loads of water; wear a hat and use sunscreen.
Take a pleasant walk around the outside of the Grand Palace, but be warned, it’s 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 is US$10, which only gives access to the 1990 reproduction area and to a smaller original area. I didn’t think this was worth the money so I didn’t venture into the palace grounds.
Monastery of Books
A free worthwhile sight as it’s the world’s largest books at the Kuthodaw pagoda. These are text-inscribed stone tablets containing 730 leaves and 1460 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 was under a military curfew from 21:00 to 05:00, so many restaurants and shops closed by 19:30 – it was hard to find food after 19:00 and the streets were dead quiet – eerie, as Mandalay’s traffic seemed 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, wifi in room (if room is close to router) but also wifi in reception area. Central location, across the road from the train station, and about a kilometre from the start of the Grand Palace (not the entrance, that’s further).
Liked this accommodation so much, we booked one night for our return to Mandalay. However, on the second stay, we arrived by bus at around 20:00 and told by the 79 staff that our room was flooded and they were arranging another hotel for us. Very apologetic and as you can imagine, we didn’t know what substitute would be found. To our delight, a room in the A1 Hotel was found, which was closer to the jetty and great news as the boat left at 05:30 am next morning. The A1 seemed more upmarket than the 79, and also excellent standard and service!
- 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) and 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 from the Unique Myanmar Restaurant (Corner 27 X 65 street) is a cheap restaurant (sadly, I don’t remember the name) with empty bottles hanging everywhere as decor and a thatched roof. 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 sheltered from the scorching heat – all adds to the ambiance!
- V Café (25th St at 80th St)
As we arrived early, read the “Bible” to see what would be open for breakfast, which recommended the “V Café” for food and drinks. Typically, I steer clear of the restaurant and hotel recommendations as usually, they’re over-priced for the country and not great quality. It seems that once an establishment is printed in a travel guide or Tripadvisor, prices go up, and the quality/service decreases. 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.
Decided on the 6-hour bus journey (K4,500), which left from Mandalay at 06:00 bound for Hsipaw, as read that this town was less frequented by tourists and offered spectacular scenery and great trekking! Other ways of travel between Mandalay and Hsipaw are by the laborious train, private or shared taxi, and pickup.