When people think of Asian cuisine, Burmese cuisine would rarely be top-of-mind.
Myanmar (formerly Burma) has been closed off from the rest of the world for decades. And while it has opened its doors in recent years, it’s still not getting as much tourists as its neighboring countries. It’s probably one of the reasons why Burmese cuisine is still not that popular.
When you do decide to visit, you’ll be treated to a variety of dishes influenced by Indian, Chinese, Laotian, and Thai cuisines. Myanmar owes this to its geographical location.
In the first few hours of arriving in the country, my friends and I sat down at a restaurant. We thought the menu was pretty straightforward. You just have to choose a curry set (choice of chicken, pork, beef, fish, mutton, or venison meat), and that’s it.
But when our orders arrived, it came with bowls of soup, a plethora of side dishes, and a huge plate of fresh vegetables with dipping sauce. Needless to say, we were overwhelmed.
And did I mention they served unlimited rice and even free dessert? Now, that’s bang for your buck.
Ever since I got back from my month-long Southeast Asian trip last August 2014, some friends have expressed their interest of doing the same, but don’t know exactly where to start. The thing is, when people ask me for my itinerary, I’m a bit hesitant to just give them what I used because it is customized according to MY traveling style. I found that it has changed over the years. I no longer feel the need to pack as many attractions as I can in day, and would prefer to pay more for convenience rather than sacrifice comfort for the sake of sticking to my budget. I also traveled solo, so my expenses were inevitably bigger than usual. And the only tickets I had pre-booked on sale were my Manila to Bangkok, Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and Bali to Manila flights. The rest of the flights, I booked when I was already on the road.
Our first day in Mandalay began with a brief visit to Mahamuni Paya followed by a trip to Sagaing Hill.
Seven-tiered Pyatthat-style roof housing the Mahamuni Buddha (the most revered Buddha statue in the country)
On our way to Sagaing Hill, the driver pulled over before reaching the bridge so we can take pictures of the numerous white and gold pagodas dotting the hill.
Snapped from the van
Shortly after crossing the bridge, we drove through uphill winding road until we reached the parking lot of U Min Thonze Cave.
Unlike Mt. Popa, it’ll only take about 5 minutes (you can probably make it in just 2 minutes if you’re really fit) to get to the top.
U Min Thonze or ’30 caves pagoda’ has 45 gilded Buddha images housed in a crescent-shaped colonnade on the side of Sagaing Hill
Just before we reached the colonnade, I came eye to eye with a guy sporting a smirk and thought he looked awfully familiar. Why was the guy smirking?
Well, 8 hours earlier, a group of taxi drivers immediately approached us upon our arrival at the bus terminal. One of them asked where we were staying and gave a price. One of us tried to haggle, but maybe he thought we didn’t have enough money and so he offered to take us to an ATM or foreign exchange. You see, when you approach a group of Filipinos and you drop words like ‘ATM’ and ‘ForEx’ when all they want is a taxi, this raises a red flag. Some of us misinterpreted his intention and thought he was trying to scam us. We went ballistic and left the poor guy wondering what he had done wrong.
Of course we just realized we might have overreacted after we managed to compose ourselves. LOL
Just like a miniature Shwedagon Pagoda
Meanwhile, on another hilltop lies Sone Oo Pone Nya Shin Pagoda.
With massive Buddha statues, a golden stupa, mirror-inlaid pillars, beautiful hallways and colorful tiles, shutterbugs will go crazy here. There’s just a small ‘camera fee’ that you have to pay at the entrance, though.
Inwa Ancient Village After lunch, our guide dropped us off near a riverbank where we took a short ferry ride across the Myitnge River to get to Inwa Ancient Village. Upon arrival, visitors can choose from the plethora of horse carts waiting to take them around.
Inwa is my favorite among all the places we visited in Mandalay because of its laid-back vibe.
Big trees line both sides of the road; their branches almost touching each other creating what seemed like a tree tunnel. Naturally, we enjoyed the cooler temperature thanks to the lush vegetation. It was a really pleasant ride.
For centuries, Inwa (also known as Ava) was the most important royal capital in Myanmar but abandoned after it was destroyed by a series of major earthquakes. Today, only a handful of structures remain.
The first one we visited was Bagaya Monastery which is made entirely of teak wood.
It used to be where the royals were educated. Now, some parts are used as classrooms for the village children.
Weathered teak wood with exquisite carvings
On our way to Yadana Hsimi Pagodas
Yadana Hsimi Pagodas – a group of small stupa ruins
With dark clouds looming over our next destination, our horse cart driver hurriedly passed through muddy roads – giving us a roller coaster ride-like experience – to get to the watchtower.
Nan Mint Watchtower – the only remaining part of the Bagyidaw Palace.
Nothing really much to see here, and even if visitors were allowed to go up, I don’t think I’d climb that rickety staircase.
The last attraction we visited in Inwa was the Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery.
Guarded by humongous Chinthes (Burmese mythological lions) at the entrance, the mighty ocher-colored monastery made of bricks and decorated with stucco stand proud.
Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery
It was already late in the afternoon and soon started drizzling, so we left Inwa and went on our way to the last stop for the day: sunset viewing at U Bein Bridge.