The buttons below link to details of our visit to Myanmar. The gallery link takes you to photos of our trip and 'About' includes travel practicalities as well as a reading list.

Introduction Yangon to Mandalay Places - Bagan and InlePeople Crafts about Gallery

Vicky's blog has a lot more detail and colour. You can read the first episode here

We travelled with Panoramic Journeys.

 

Yangon, Hsipaw and Mandalay

Shwedagon spireMost people still think of Yangon as the capital of Myanmar. It is the largest city (6m) and the economic centre of the country but actually the capital was moved North to Naypyidaw in 2005. We arrive on a Sunday and find the city centre busy with street vendors, couples sitting in parks, and crowded markets. The city feels safe and relatively clean. Cars are much more abundant than a couple of years ago and there is a surprising absence of motorbikes and bicycles (apparently banned).

The old colonial district around Sule Pagoda has marvellous but delapidated old buildings dating back to the 1900s. Some now abandoned and some being renovated. By the river is the smart (and expensive) Strand Hotel where you can stop for a coffee. A bit further north through the bustling sidestreets (right) is Bogyoke Aung Seng Market, previously called Scott's Market and a fantastic place to wander round for a couple of hours.

Two unmissable sights are the huge Shwedagon Pagoda and the extraordinary Karawik restaurant in the Aung Seng Park. Unfortunately after the rainy season many of the pagodas undergo maintenance to regild their stupas so when we visit the amazing gold Shwedagon is partially hidden by bamboo scaffolding.

Shwedagon monks

For a complete contrast we then fly to Lashio in Northern Shan and then drive to Hsipaw. From here we walk up into the hills climbing from 500m to 1200m in 5 hours of walking. Here we stay in Pankam, a Palaung village, in the house of a local family. Our lunch is cooked on a wood fire on a hearth in the centre of the room together with local tea (below). Over the next day we explore this friendly and charming village before another fine walk back down to Hsipaw.

Palaung House

One of the reasons for trekking from Hsipaw was to be in the right place for the next stage of our trip - a train ride along the line to Mandalay crossing the Goktiek Viaduct. We board our 'upper class' carriage which rocks quite wildly as we ride through valleys of rice fields and villages surrounded by rolling hills. After 3 hours we reach the gorge and the train slows and then carefully crosses a stunning 300m high viaduct. After crossing we keep seeing the viaduct again first on one side and then the other as the line winds up through the hills again. We transfer back to our bus 20 minutes later and make the rest of the trip to Mandalay by road (much quicker) stopping for a late lunch in Pyin U-Lwin, a colonial hill station, before descending the steep escarpment with a great sunset over the Ayeyarwady and Mandalay.

Goktiek viaduct

Mandalay is famous from the Kipling poem and exotic tales of pagodas and rubies. We had been told that it was rather boring and run down so were surprised to find an interesting city. Our hotel is by the 2km long walled enclosure that formerly housed the royal palace but which burnt down when bombed in WWII. These walls dominated the centre of the city and help you to get your bearings. The Kuthodaw Pagoda, which comprises 729 small pagodas around a large gilded pagoda and temple complex is an interesting first stop. Each small pagoda contains a marble tablet inscribed with Buddhist scripts. Together them make the 'world's largest book'. From here we visit the Shwe Nandaw Kyaung, formerly part of the royal palace and latterly a monastery. This stunning teak building (below) is all that remains of the original buildings of the palace having been moved outside the walls and thereby avoided the bombing.

Shwe Nandaw Kyaung

Mandalay is full of monks with hundreds of monasteries. You see monks and nuns, young and old, everywhere as you go around the city. We visit the large Mahagandhayon monastery in Amarapura to see the daily procession of the hundreds of monks going for their morning meal. Unfortunately hundreds of other tourists have the same idea and it turns into a rather ugly scrum. Much more interesting is a boat trip that afternoon to visit Mingun, 10km up river, where the ruin of King Bodawpaya's massive, unfinished pagoda, towers over the river. Not far from this is a rather fine white stupa, the Myatheindan Pagoda, built to represent the pagoda that sits on top of Mt Meru, the centre of the Buddhist world. Here we see monk tourists photographing themselves with their smartphones!

We leave Mandalay the next morning by boat for a full day cruising down the Ayeyarwady river to Bagan. We soon pass the stunning stupas, spires and temples of Sagaing on the west bank of the river (below) and then the old capital of Inwa on the other bank before the river flows into more open countryside.

Sagaing

The Ayeyarwady is one of the great rivers of Asia, rising in the Himalayas and flowing into the Andaman Sea. In November the water level is falling after the wet season and our captain steers us from one side of the river to the other to avoid sand banks. We must cover about 3 times the distance by the time we reach Bagan just after sunset. After the new bridge below Sagaing the country is largely pastoral with small villages and farms all the way. Click the Bagan sunset below for part 2:

Arriving in Bagan by boat