Fantastic Facts About Bagan & Mandalay
Mandalay and Bagan are the two most visited cities in Myanmar. What’s so special about these two cities to warrant such a title?
Bagan – The temple town of Myanmar has more than 2,000 temples. The Bagan Archaeological Zone stands as the main attraction where one can see a historic variety of temples, both big and small that were built between the 9th to 13th century. At one point, Bagan had as many as 10,000 temples, each archaeological wonders in their own right. With time and weather taking its toll, only rougly 2,000 remain today. However, these temples are now being well-looked after to preserve and conserve the rich history of the Bagan civilisation.
A temple tour of Bagan
This is why everyone visits Bagan – a sense of peace surrounds the temples and gives a great view of the entire complex. It is not possible to see all the temples in a day or two, so you have to prioritise the temples you want to visit. The most important ones that should warrant your interest are the Ananda Temple, Shwezigon Pagoda, Dhamayangyi Temple, Sulamani Temple and Thatbinnyu Temple.
An array of adventure up for grabs
Have you already been out on temple tours but in comfortable, air-conditioned cars when you visited other parts of the world? Get ready to experience something else in Bagan. There are plenty of things to do in aside from temple-hopping. It is a premier site to enjoy a hot air balloon ride right when dawn breaks and a surreal experience to see the first rays of sunrise break through the darkness of the night. Temples become visible, jutting out of the thick canopy of trees. Misty skies turn orange as the sun wakes and the trees stir with life. The combination of clouds and the great Ayeyarwady river lining the coast is an unforgettable way to start off your morning.
Another great way to explore the temples are riding the e-bikes. These are battery operated bikes, which will take you on a physical expedition as you navigate the bumpy tracks and circle around hidden nooks of buildings more than a hundred years old. Stop anywhere and everywhere as you refresh yourself with a cup of tea at a roadside tea stall before riding off to visit another temple at your own pace. Exploring the temples on e-bikes is a much more adventurous route and offers you flexibility in your itinerary.
Exposure to local life
Bagan is more than just being an archaeological town. A new portion has emerged to the town’s west known as New Bagan, and towards the north lies the town of Nyaung U. Both towns are bustling with markets of fresh-farm produce and local handmade products. Bagan is also the centre of the cotton weaving industry. Its centre, Pwa Saw lies towards the east of downtown Bagan and in Minnnanthu Village, which is located nearby. You can visit these places to get a first-hand understanding of the makings and progress of the entire cotton weaving industry. Witness how cotton threads are made from raw cotton using machines, and catch expert artisans in action using wooden looms to create their own clothes, all designed by hand. Let’s not forget Bagan’s lacquerware – presented in workshops where you see the process of coating, drying and creation using the framework of woven bamboo.
Next we have the third largest city and the iconic culture capital of the country – Mandalay. Be prepared to walk through a historic journey as you tour this traditional, yet modern city.
Pleasurable sights to explore
Mandalay has so much to explore that it deserves a few days stay. Climb up Mandalay Hill during sunset to explore the beautiful pagodas around the hill and enjoy a panoramic view. Mandalay has some of the most beautiful pagodas in the country. There is the World’s Largest Book of 729 pages that is proudly housed in Kuthodaw Pagoda. Sandamuni Pagoda presents the largest iron statue of Buddha made with more than 41,000 pounds of iron, covered with a layer of gold. Another massive marble statue of Buddha is housed at Kyauktawgyi Pagoda, which was entirely sculpted from a block of pale green marble. The top attraction, Mandalay Palace, stands proudly at the heart of the city and has opened its royal grounds to visitors. Visit it to learn about the history of royal families and marvel at the sight of the glorious throne, where king after king has sat. The palace itself takes about half a day to explore.
Several small towns that are located close to Mandalay have attractions worthy of your itinerary as well. Head to Amarapura to understand the culture of the locals and have a slightly woozy walk on what is known as the oldest and longest teakwood bridge, U Bein bridge. Those who want to escape the tropical weather can visit Pyin Oo Lwin, a quaint British-styled hill town that offers a break from the heat with waterfalls to get drenched in. Its altitude of 1,070m is ideal for botanical gardens to flourish and a refreshing pitstop for you to take pictures of 19th century country houses, which remain a colonial legacy to this day. As an extra option you can drop by Sagaing, a centre for Buddhist studies and meditation.
Art at its best
As Mandalay as the cultural capital, it is home to some of the best artists in the world. Visit the stone carving workshops near Mahamuni Pagoda to see stone carving artists hard at work with their tools, sculpting some of the most sophisticated artwork engraved in slabs of stone. There are also wood carving workshops and bronze casting workshops in the city. You can go to Yandabo village located beside the Ayeyarwady river to see skilled artisans making 30 to 50 pots a day – it’s amazing how their hands work deftly to craft such superior pottery!
There’s no doubt that Mandalay and Bagan cannot be missed if you are drawing out an itinerary of Myanmar. While most visitors travel between these two cities by road, there’s an interesting way to travel between Bagan and Mandalay if you have some time in hand: Take the daily ferry service that runs between Mandalay and Bagan, which takes about 8 hours. The journey is a great opportunity to travel through the heart of Myanmar – on the Ayeyarwady river itself. The ferry passes through small villages located on both banks of the river, so you’ll catch a glimpse of locals – fishermen reeling in the catch of the day, farmers engrossed in farming and women sunning their laundry on the riverside. If you want to understand Myanmar, this path is the best way to see the effect of this mighty river on thousands of lives.