We were On the Road to Mandalay for about six hours, but we had some sightseeing stops along the way. The first destination was Sagaing, a town across the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay. Sagaing Hill is crowded with pagodas and monasteries, and we visited two of them: Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda and U Min Thonze Pagoda. The pagodas are nice, but not as nice as the view of the Irrawaddy River with Mandalay in the distance.
Next we traveled to Taungthaman Lake and the famous U-Bein Bridge. Extending 1300 yards across the lake, U-Bein Bridge is the world’s longest bridge made from teak wood. A boat was waiting for us, and we were on the lake in time to watch the sunset from a good vantage point. According my Lonely Planet guidebook, the bridge is one of Myanmar’s most photographed sites. Sadly, all of my photos were on my phone, but I’ll never forget the beautiful scene of the sun setting behind the U-Bein Bridge.
My sightseeing resumed the next morning with a boat trip down the Irrawaddy River to Mingun. During the boat ride I participated in the most in-depth discussion of the Rohingya refugee crisis of my trip. Most of the Myanmar people that I discussed the issue with share a similar viewpoint, which I’ll attempt to summarize here.
* The Rohingya are not an ethnic group; they are Bengalis that illegally immigrated to Myanmar. This is why Aung San Suu Kyi and others will not refer to them as the Rohingya.
* Myanmar has different citizenship laws than the USA. Being born in Myanmar does not make a person a Myanmar citizen, which is why some of the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations but are not citizens.
* Rohingya Muslims, with the support of ISIS, attacked border posts and killed border officers.
* The Myanmar military forces have not violated the human rights of the Rohingya. What about the extrajudicial killings, gang rapes, arsons, and other brutalities being reported by the Western media? This is fake news.
* The Rohingya villages were burned by Rohingya militants, resulting in the Rohingya leaving Myanmar for neighboring Bangladesh.
* The peaceful co-existence of Buddhists and Muslims in Yangon and other parts of the country is evidence that the Muslim Rohingya are not being religiously persecuted by the Buddhist majority.
While I don’t agree with this viewpoint, I’m glad that I could openly discuss the Rohingya issue with the Myanmar people.
Upon arriving in Mingun I made my way to Mingun Paya, which would have been the world’s biggest stupa had it been finished. Next I checked out the Mingun Bell. Weighing 90 tons, this bronze bell used to be the world’s biggest ringable bell. Both the stupa and bell were commissioned a couple centuries ago by King Bodawpaya, who obviously liked to build big. My last stop in Mingun was Hsinbyume Paya, a white pagoda constructed with seven terraces representing the seven mountain ranges around Mount Meru. From Hsinbyume Paya I returned back to the boat, which returned me to Mandalay for more sightseeing.
After lunch I visited Mandalay Palace. Mandalay Palace was the last royal palace of the Burmese monarchy. While the palace was originally constructed in the 1850s, most of the buildings were destroyed during World War II. The palace was reconstructed to resemble the original in the 1990s. I climbed the spiral watchtower for a good view of the more than 40 reconstructed buildings on the palace grounds.
Next up was the Shwenandaw Teak Monastery. Constructed entirely from teak wood, both the exterior and interior are covered with intricate wood carvings. The monastery originally stood within the Mandalay Palace complex. It was moved outside of the fortress walls in 1880, saving it from destruction during World War II.
Next I visited Kuthodaw Paya. Kuthodaw Paya is known as the world’s biggest book, because around the main pagoda are 729 small stupas with text-inscribed marble slabs presenting the entire 15 books of Tripitaka, the entire Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism.
I ended my sightseeing for the day at the Shwe Kyin Min Kin Monastery. I was there in time to watch a monk rink a bell to summon the monks. A line of monks walked to a room and recited Buddha’s teachings in front of a Buddha image.
Early the next morning I made a quick trip to Mandalay Hill. I rode in the back of a truck most of the way, and then rode an escalator to Sutaungpyei Pagoda on top of Mandalay Hill. From the top of the hill I had great views of Mandalay, including the Royal Palace.
Mandalay isn’t what I expected. While there are interesting historical and religious sites in Mandalay, the city center is full of concrete buildings, traffic, and smog. It’s missing the attractive city center and cosmopolitan vibe that make Yangon appealing. After only one full day in Mandalay, I was ready for the long drive to Kalaw.