Week 33 – Mandalay, Hsipaw, Pyin Oo Lwin

While we were in Bago, our initial plan was to head up to Inle Lake. The problem was that there were no buses that would go directly there that passed through Bago. So, instead we decided to save Inle Lake because Nate was too sick for a hike and instead bought a ticket to Mandalay. We walked to the bus stop and it was an all day journey up to Mandalay, but the bus was large and the ride was smooth, so it was very enjoyable. Once we reached Mandalay we hopped in a taxi to our hotel. We couldn’t believe the value that we got from this hotel! It was called the Kaung Myint Hotel and it was $18/night. We had a beautiful lobby with doormen, an elevator, a nice room, a buffet breakfast, and even a welcome sign with my name on it. Such a change from what we had previously. We got there pretty late so we just went for a wander for dinner and went to sleep.

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My very own welcome sign!

The following day we woke up, ate breakfast, found a place to buy bus tickets for the following day, and went to another hotel to rent a motorbike for the day. I really liked Mandalay and wish that we had budgeted more time here. Our first stop was Mandalay Palace. This place was a bit creepy because first we had to give our passport to enter the outer walls and then we weren’t even allowed to bring in our motorbike. So, we had to walk about 1/2 mile to the palace from the entrance. On the way in, we begin to see these signs that say where tourists can and cannot go and we see restricted area signs everywhere. We wonder what else is inside these palace walls.

The palace itself was very beautiful. The first spire as we entered was very tall and reminded me a bit more of a Chinese pagoda. The entrance halls were very large and they even made mannequins to represent the old king and queen. We walked around all of the buildings, but for the most part they were empty and the museum was under construction. Regardless, the architecture was well done and it was well preserved. Finally, we climbed up the watch tower and were able to get some great pictures from above of all of the buildings and palace.

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Nate and I on the watch tower at the Imperial Palace

Our second stop was a temple called Atumashi Kyaung. This was a bizarre temple because it was huge! You walked up a large amount of steps and entered a gigantic room almost like a big banquet hall. Yet, there was nothing in there apart from a Buddha image at the very front. Evidently the original temple burned down and they even spent the money to reconstruct it. We couldn’t figure out why you would need a temple so big, especially since we were the only ones in there. Then, we walked downstairs and found a very similar setup, but without a Buddha and there was bird poop all over the floor. To us, this seemed like a waste of money, but it just goes to show how much religion means to the people of Myanmar.

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Atumashi Kyaung Temple

Right next door we went to Shwenandaw Kyaung, which was a temple made entirely from teak wood. This temple was different from anything we had seen before and the wood carving around the outside and on the inside was so impressive! I cannot believe that everything as carved by hand and was still in good condition. They are going to start renovation projects on the temple, but I am scared they are going to ruin the charm of this temple.

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Shwenandaw Kyaung Temple

Some of the woodwork at Shwenandaw Kyaung Temple

Next, we drove a short distance to Kuthodaw Pagoda. I had wanted to go to this pagoda because I had heard that it housed the world’s largest book, but that the book was hard to find. We walked into the pagoda and it looked like most of the other pagodas that we had seen apart from many white little buildings that looked like mausoleums. Yet, when we looked inside we just saw these giant stones that had words carved into them.

White temples with carved stone tablets inside

We proceeded on and could not find the large book, so we decided to ask one of the guards that was working there. Then, he explained that each of those large carved stones was a page of the book which meant that every white building housed a separate page of the book. Only then did we understand why this was the world’s largest book.

As we were leaving the temple, we saw a lot of people gathered around this small table and they were rubbing the wood against the table. Finally, we realized that the yellow paste called Thanaka that they used on their faces came from the wood and this is how the extracted it. I got my face painted by one of the local women and it was fun to try.

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I got my face painted with Thanaka

The next place that we headed was called Shwe In Bin Kyaung and it was a teak wood  monastery. I don’t think that many people go to this monastery, but I had read about it on a blog. It was a bit hard to find, but worth the visit. I will say though that it was a bit creepy because it was run down and some of the wood carvings were rubbing away. Yet, just like Shwenandaw Kyaung the woods carvings were truly unbelievable.

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One of my favorite pictures of the day at Shwe In Bin Kyaung

We had a bit of extra time before sunset so we made out way to Pahtodawgyi Pagoda. A fun fact about this pagoda was the it was as tall as it was wide, 185ft. It was really big and we just went for a little walk around the outside. There was also a gigantic bell out front which was kind of fun.

Our final stop of the day was U Bein Bridge for sunset. This is probably the most famous attraction in Mandalay. It is a wood bridge that goes our over the lake and it makes a great place to take in the sunset. The only problem is that every tourist in the city comes here for sunset and so it is really crowded. At one point, you can go down some steps to a restaurant which gives your great views of the bridge. Some people even pay for a boat to take them out about 5 feet onto the lake, which was hilarious to me because I am not sure why people would pay for that.

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View from the bridge

Another fun thing about Myanmar is that since their is so much smog you can look directly at the sun and it just looks like a little ball of light. This makes for some really fun photos!

Finally, we went to a place called BBB for dinner and finally got some western food which we were really pumped about. I got some spaghetti and a glass of wine and it was glorious. I love local food, but occasionally I do want something different. Then, we walked so SP bakery down the street for some cake! It was a long, action packed day, but I found that I really loved Mandalay.

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U Bein Bridge at sunset

The following day we took a bus to Hsipaw. It took us almost all day to get there. At one point, we were stuck in the mountains and not moving because there were too many trucks on the mountain passes and traffic could only go one way at a time. I’m really happy that we had bread and peanut butter because we were stuck on the bus a long time without moving. Upon arrival in Hsipaw, we looked for a place to stay and then passed out.

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Eating a smoothie at Mrs. Popcorn

The following morning we rented a motor scooter and went out again for an all day adventure. First, we went to the train station to book tickets for the following day to Pyin Oo Lwin. Then, we headed to a place I had seen online called Mrs. Popcorn. We had no idea what it was an we just assumed it was a place that sold popcorn, but it wasn’t that at all. It was a beautiful garden that had really comfortable tables right in the garden. It was a cafe and restaurant and the food was really good! We also finally were able to order some smoothies which I had been dying for ever since we left Thailand.

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Little Bagan in Hsipaw

After Mrs. Popcorn, we went to Little Bagan, which was just a set of small run down temples. It was neat to see because right outside of the monastery there was a temple with a tree through it. We are not sure which came first, but it was a really stunning image.

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Tree in a temple outside of Little Bagan

Next, we went to a noodle factory to see how noodles were made. We had read online that you can show up this barn at a certain time and you can watch them make noodles. It was really interesting because we saw just an old man there at first and he was making the dough. Then, bit by bit others showed up to complete their parts in the noodle process. The whole process was really interesting especially the end when they fed the dough through a tube and then shot it out into water to cool it and then put it in the sun to dry.

Noodle factory in Hsipaw

After the noodle factory, we went to the Shan palace. This was a large European looking home and there is a book written about its history called “Twilight Over Burma.” It’s the story of an Austrian women who met a Shan prince while they were exchange students in Colorado. Then, they move to Burma and its about her life and the local customs in Burma continuing into the military take over of the country. It’s a really good book about the couple who lived in that house. Now, the nephew of the prince takes care of the house and they open it up for 2 hours a day for visitors.

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The Shan Palace

Our final stop was to get a couple of beers and drive across the bridge and up to the lookout point for sunset. On the way out again we saw Helen and Mike for the 3rd time. This was the craziest experience because now we had run into them in 3 different countries, randomly. They had been in Myanmar doing a different route than us, but we all happened to be in Hsipaw on the same day. We decided to meet up for dinner and continued on to sunset. The sunset was very pretty as usual except the sun was now disappearing in the smog instead of lighting up the whole sky like in the south. After sunset, we went and had dinner with Helen and Mike and talked for like 3 hours and then went to bed.

Ready for the train ride to Pyin Oo Lwin

The following morning we woke up early and hopped the train to Pyin Oo Lwin. We decided to take the train instead of then bus because it was supposed to be a really pretty drive and the train goes over a crazy viaduct called Gokteik Viaduct. It was a nice relaxing day on the train because the train moved so slow! We just read and blogged and hung out. The scenery was very pretty and we just waited until the crazy bridge. Finally, we reached it and it was pretty amazing. It was a huge valley and the bridge was so high! The crazy part is that they leave the doors and windows open so everyone is hanging out of them trying to get a good picture.

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Gokteik Viaduct on the way to Pyin Oo Lwin

We arrived in Pyin Oo Lwin and walked to our guesthouse called the Royal Flower Guesthouse. It was really nice, but the only problem was that they did not serve breakfast. They town in general was a really cute town. It is known for its old colonial houses and the place where George Orwell would write books. We walked around looking for a place for dinner and ended up at a really local spot where we saw lots of groups of men hanging out and drinking beer. We got some really good noodles here for so cheap and everyone was so nice!

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Sunset from the roof of the Royal Flower Guesthouse

The following morning we rented a motorbike (as usual) and headed out for the day. Our first stop was to get some breakfast and coffee at a place called Barista-Khine Coffee Shop. This place is known for its handmade coffee and we were not disappointed. It was delicious! Then, we made our way over to the Botanical Gardens. They were absolutely stunning! There was a big lake in the center with a temple and bridges going across and swans swimming and nesting nearby. There were so many different types of trees and flowers, so we took a couple of hours to walk around and take everything in.

Botanical Gardens in Pyin Oo Lwin

There was also a bird enclosure, which housed many very colorful birds. The highlight here for me was the peacock because I had never seen a peacock with its feathers up and I saw two! They had their feathers up and they were wiggling their butts in a kind of dance. I am not sure if they were trying to intimidate or trying to mate, but either way it was really cool. On the way out, we found a pigeon had gotten stuck in the structure between the sets of chains and could not get out. So, we spend about 20 minutes holding chains up and trying to shoo this pigeon to freedom. One other girl finally grabbed the pigeon and helped him to freedom.

Beautiful peacocks in the bird enclosure

Our last stop in the botanical gardens was the butterfly house. I thought this would enclose live butterflies. Instead, it was a mausoleum for butterflies. They were all dead and pinned up in boxes to display the different types of butterflies from around the world. It was a neat exhibit, but I think I would prefer live butterflies.

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Black swan fighting fish for food at the Botanical Gardens

After the butterfly house, we found another amazing cafe for lunch called Pan Taw Win Cafe where the food was a bit pricey, but so good! Then, we returned to the hostel to change into clothes for hiking and drove out to Anisakan waterfall. It was about 25 minutes outside of town and you had to hike down to the waterfall. We started down the path and then Nate looked at maps.me and said that we should be going on a different path that was shorter. So, we got off the trail to more of a hiking trail and started down. It was really steep, but it felt good to be hiking. We first found a small waterfall with a pool at the bottom and I thought we had arrived, but we looked and saw it kept going.

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The second set of waterfalls that we encountered on our way to Anisaken Falls

We hiked down to a second waterfall which was really big and again thought we had arrived, but no one else was there so we looked over the edge and saw the biggest falls were yet to come. So, we hiked down a third time and finally reached the bottom. On the way to the third one we saw this really worn out bridge  that was just basically cables crossing and Nate really wanted to cross the bridge. He went out a bit and I took pictures, but then I panicked and made him come back.

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View from the top of Anisaken Falls
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Crazy bridge that Nate wanted to cross

The actual waterfall was my favorite in Asia aside from Kuang Si falls nears Luang Prabang. It was so high and the water was a gorgeous blue. You could have swam in the pool at the bottom, but it was really cold and we didn’t have much time left until we had to return the motorbike. So, we just hopped out to some of the rocks and took some pictures before hiking back up.

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Anisaken Falls in Pyin Oo Lwin

We hiked back the way we came and I am glad we did because it was much more enjoyable hiking through the woods than hiking up the road in the sun. The weird part of hiking up though was that we passed a lot of little forest fires. They were not there on the way down, so we were unsure who set them. This seems like normal practice in Myanmar to set fires in the woods and I’m not sure why.

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Nate and I at the Falls

We returned back to our guesthouse, showered, and then drove to dinner (Nate had convinced the guesthouse to let us take the motorbike a little longer). I had read about this amazing Indian restaurant called Krishna. We arrived and it looked more like someone’s house. We were the first ones there, so we weren’t sure if we were in the right place. Our server turned out to be a girl around the age of 8 who was bringing us our beer and opener and took our order. It was very cute. Then, the food came out and it was the best Indian food I have ever eaten! I still have dreams about that food and I have no idea what we ordered.

I really enjoyed the past week in Mandalay, Hsipaw, and Pyin Oo Lwin. The north of Myanmar turned out to be a bit easier to navigate than the south.

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