We arrived in Mandalay on the bus from Bagan (we entertained the idea of taking the ferry for a while but eventually decided that 4 hours > 12 hours) at the Royal Pearl Hotel. It was late afternoon so the first day we mostly ordered too much food at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant and then fell asleep. The next day however we decided to conquer Mandalay Hill.
Despite the number of people offering motorbike rides on the streets of Mandalay, we decided to walk to the hill to get a feel for the city. Mandalay has a huge gated palace with a moat in its centre, which actually makes walking easy due to the wide, tree-lined sidewalk surrounding it. The palace is deceptively large though, and it takes about an hour to walk around half of it. We opted not to go inside since we had heard that it was actually part non-faithful reproduction of the original palace and part military barracks these days.
About halfway around we accidentally picked up a dog friend. She kind of just started following us and then I gave her some water because she looked hot and then she wouldn’t go away. She actually came with us all the way to the first pagoda halfway up the hill (including following us up some little trails in the woods to avoid cars), but then got scared off by someone/other dogs I think. Or found a squirrel maybe.
Mandalay Hill has a pedestrian path that goes up a bunch of stairs, passing through several of pagodas and shrines before you get to the top. Honestly I don’t remember the significance or names of any except the one at the very top, Two Great Snakes Pagoda. This pagoda was super busy compared to all the other mostly empty ones we passed on the way up, as it seems most visitors just take a jeep to the top. The big attraction is a statue of two snakes. Everyone was putting money in their mouths and then petting them on the head for good luck and health.
After we had taken a bunch of pictures with the view we headed back down. At the bottom of hill is Kuthodaw Pagoda, famous because it houses the world’s largest book. It’s the largest because it’s not so much a book as it is the entire Buddhist Canon engraved on huge marble slabs, which obviously take up quite a lot of space.
The were also a couple of monasteries nearby, including the famous Golden Palace (Shwenandaw) Monastery, which is not actually gold anymore but intricately carved teak. Turns out that it used to be a part of the royal palace and then was later dismantled and transported to Mandalay and converted into a monastery. This is supposed to be a more authentic picture of what the royal palace used to be like than the reproduction one inside the walls.
By this point we were pretty tired and in desperate need of fluid, so we grabbed a cab to Diamond Plaza Mall. We wandered around until we randomly found some sort of faux Canadian pizza place (that I have never heard of) where we got pizza, milkshakes, and “poutine” (I have yet to order a poutine in Asia and actually get something resembling poutine). It was more fries in a kind of gravy soup. Interestingly our food came with plastic gloves to eat the pizza with, which was awkward and hilarious, but as everyone else seemed to be using them, we did too.