A challenging drive to the Royal Cities around Mandalay

Today was a fantastic day. However, initially, it started wrong. I hired a blue taxi to take me to the three Royal Cities in the vicinity of Mandalay. So I end up in an old, rickety vehicle whose suspension has long since been abandoned. Sitting on a wooden bench of a kind of open load box is a real challenge for your back. That speaks for itself.

Wrong impression of a tourist trap

Moreover, our first stop is at a tapestry shop. Albeit wonderfully produced, I got the impression I fell into a tourist trap. But all in all, the visit is not so bad, the shop owner leads me around and is not too intrusive. They also sell handmade puppets, my mother likes those a lot, so I buy one.

Food distribution at a Buddhist monk school

Then we head for Amarapura to visit a famous monastery. In itself, it is worth the effort to set eyes on the daily food distribution to the Buddhist students. But the tourists come here by busloads. I do not feel completely comfortable with this circus, and even before the show is halfway, I flee the scenery of flashy cameras.

Driver turning out to be a seasoned travel guide

After that, it only gets more interesting. My driver takes me to a temple with rows of identical Buddhas, and not a single tourist around. I have never seen a temple like this. He turns out to be a seasoned travel guide; instead of just bringing me from point A to B, I always get a thorough explanation, in understandable English.

Enjoying the first of the Royal Cities around Mandalay

Our next stop is Sagaing, also known as the second Bagan. Sagaing is one of the Royal Cities around Mandalay, where you can enjoy watching one temple after the other located on the surrounding hills. Of course, the climb to the top – on foot – requires some effort and a lot of sweat, but the reward is more than worthwhile.

Breathtaking views driving in a horse cart

And the fascination does not come to an end yet. After lunch, we hop into a ferry to Inwa, also named Ava, where we switch to a horse cart. It takes us past some ancient pagodas and abbeys. Truly breathtaking, there are no other words to describe my experience. Some remnants of temples resemble the Khmer architecture, in that typical red stone, while some old Buddhas, remind me of Sukhothai in Thailand.

Sunset in a rowboat at U Bein Bridge

At the end of the day, we stop at the U Bein Bridge, a 1200 meter long wooden span over Taungthaman Lake, which seems to be the longest teakwood bridge in the world. Naturally, I walk across the bridge to the other side, where a rower picks me up to take me back to the other shore. A highlight here, apart from crossing the bridge itself, of course, is catching the sunset from within a rowboat. The whole experience successfully concludes a great day of visiting the Royal Cities around Mandalay.

Friendliness of the Burmese

A trip like this makes me realize why I enjoy traveling through South-East Asia so much. Today during my grand tour, it also stroke me several times that the people who passed us along the way are always smiling. The Burmese seem to be praised for their friendliness.