Tag Archives: Palace

Mandalay, Myanmar

After a crazy mini-bus ride from Inle Lake, I arrived in Mandalay to discover the glass of my laptop screen cover was again cracked. It’s only the cover so no lasting damage but still annoying. Instead of taking the new wide smooth highway, the mini-bus used the old, bumpy and rocky roads. We spent half of the time bouncing out of our seats and my laptop must have jolted in my bag, coming down hard on one end. Ah well, I can live with it.

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Central Mandalay
Mandalay has a more western and modern feel than Yangon, with less street markets and more shops selling things other than mobile phones. Unfortunately, with my foot still recovering from major blistering after the Kalaw Inle Lake trek, I found it difficult to wander more than a block from the hostel. On top of that, for the first time during this Myanmar trip it rained incessantly. I guess I’ve been lucky, others have complained of constant rain in both Yangon and Bagan. So on a day with less rain and to go easy on my foot, I hired a bike and rode around the city.

Mandalay Royal Palace
The first stop for the day was the massive walled area of the royal palace, with nine separate gates and a moat wider than the Brisbane River. After going inside and paying the US$ 10 archaeological fee, I rode through the grounds of the palace, which are largely out-of-bounds to foreigners, to the central reconstructed palace area.

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Named, ‘The Famed Royal Emerald Palace’ and the ‘Great Golden Royal Palace’, the location no longer houses the original palace. Bombed to all buggery by the allies in the second world war a replica was built in its place using more modern materials — mainly corrugated iron for the rooftops. Most buildings are bare and empty although one that survived the bombing was the five-story watch tower. I got lovely views over the palace grounds although I got the impression many of the local visitors were more interested in getting photos of me than the palace.

Mandalay Hill
At one corner of the royal palace area stands the hill that gave the city its name. Covered in pagodas and temples the hill is a popular pilgrimage destination for monks with four sets of steps climbing to the summit. The steps stop at various temples along the 240 m climb although those who leave their flip-flops at the bottom are rewarded by having to dodge piles of bird and dog poop all the way up. The views from the top, however, are worth the annoyance of the climb, which is not difficult, only long.

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National Kandawgyi Gardens
A two-hour group taxi ride to the East finds us in Pyin Oo Lwin, a small town locals from Mandalay come to for holidays away from the city. One of the hotspots here is the National Kandawgyi Gardens, a spot of beauty that took myself and a kiwi girl from the hostel several hours to walk around. It was certainly a change of pace from the city. The gardens are massive with a lake and plentiful kinds of flora growing around it. A great day!

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The best way to see some of the sites of Mandalay is to book a day trip but be warned of extra charges along the way. The fee for the tour only covers the group taxi ride.

King Galan Gold Leaf Workshop
With so much gold leaf around this nation it was interesting to see how it is made. Workers pound by hand small squares of gold into sheets of gold leaf. They use 3 kg sledge hammers and belt the gold continuously for 30 minutes straight.

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Maha Mauni Pagoda
We were delivered to one of Mandalay’s major pagodas and wandered around barefoot, again careful not to stand in the poop of birds that build nests under the ceilings. In the centre of the pagoda is a great seated buddha which locals climb to plaster gold leaf across its surface.

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Mahagandhayon Monastery
Probably the most unusual part of the tour, we head to the monastery to watch lines of monks carry their bowls to be filled for the morning meal. It is unusual as at 10am every morning tourists swarm here to watch these monks (1000 of them) get rice. It must be bizarre from the monks side of things also.

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Sagaing Hill
These are in fact two hills with pagodas atop each that providing great vistas of the surrounding landscapes in addition to sprawling chambers of buddhas.

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Inwa Ava
After lunch we head to a river crossing and the more rural Inwa Ava area for two hours being driven along muddy roads in a horse-drawn carriage. At times I felt sorry for the struggling horse as it dragged two of us and the driver through difficult mud.

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Bagaya Kyaung – The Teak Monastery
One of the attractions of the horse ride was the Teak Monastery built with many thick teak planks. It is a magnificent buildings except that it has suffered from fire damage and the wood has a thick black layer of soot across it. It is part of the Mandalay Archaeological zone so the card I purchased a couple of days earlier covers it. Otherwise it is a US$ 10 fee.

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Me Nu Ok Kyaung – The Brick Monastery
Our final crazy carriage visit took us to another monastery, this one the most different in Myanmar as it is not built from wood but brick. With several levels, criss-crossing passages and small rooms with connecting windows this would have made a great play castle. I could imagine playing hide and seek all day in this place.

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U Bein Bridge
Back in our group taxi and we head to the oldest and longest wooden bridge in the world. The teak wood bridge in the shape of a V is 1.2 km long and crosses the Taungthaman Lake. It is a haven of tourists, locals and monks crossing from one side to the other. But instead of walking back across, tourists can hire a boat and be rowed back, stopping midway for sunset, something that was unlikely to happen during our cloudy day.

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Overall, I enjoyed Mandalay better than Yangon as there was more to do in and around the city. There was a feeling of being a sprawling warm city than the dirty mess of cramped streets of Yangon.

Next, I head back to Yangon for my last couple of days in Myanmar before I head back to Malaysia.

The World Wanderer

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Bangkok, Thailand – Impressions

Bangkok is known in Thai as Krung Thep Mahanakhon, which means “City of the Deity”.

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After my brother headed home I travelled to Bangkok to continue my adventures. But never alone long, I met a British girl at the hostel and we spent 3 days exploring the city.

Day 1 – Getting Around In Bangkok

Cruising Chao Phraya River
The rapid growth of the city has caused major troubles with traffic congestion and pollution. While four metro train lines have been built to combat this, they do little to cover the city. Only one train stop goes near the Chao Phraya River, where commuters can transfer to express boats to move along its length. As these boats are the easiest ways to see the city, we booked tickets and headed out to see what Bangkok had to offer.

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Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha
Named after a temple in India where the Buddha was believed to have lived, Wat Pho is a massive complex with many traditional Thai designed temples and buildings. It is also known as the home of traditional Thai Massage.

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A major building in the complex contains a massive golden buddha in a reclining position. It’s the most popular building on the site where tourists filter in one side, around the feet and out past the back of the head.

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Khao San Road
Originally a rice market, the road is now considered a backpacker ghetto and party zone. As I prefer quieter hostels, I didn’t to stay in the area. During the day there are plentiful backpackers, markets and food stalls. In the evenings, bars appear and backpackers party away the night.

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Democracy Monument
At the end of Khao San Road is the grand monument commemorating the Siamese Revolution of 1932 which led to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. Unfortunately, the widening of the road to accommodate the monument and ceremonial boulevard meant mass evictions of local residents and the cutting down of hundreds of shade trees.

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Wat Saket
Known as the Golden Mountain, this Buddhist temple sits atop an artificial mountain. The temple has a rounded golden feature atop it giving it the sense of being a mountain. The roof of the temple allows great views across Bangkok.

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Wat Suthat
One of the ten first-grade temples in Bangkok. King Rama I began the construction himself in 1807. King Rama II helped to carve the doors during his reign and the temple was finally completed by King Rama III in 1847. There are 28 Chinese pagodas at the base of the temple to commemorate the 28 buddhas born on this earth.

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Day 2 – Wat? More Temples?
Bangkok is the city of temples and while we’d visited several on day one there were a couple more we wanted to see.

The Victory Monument
Our hostel was right near the monument commemorating the 59 Thais killed during the 2 month Franco-Thai war in 1941. The outcome of the war was decided by the Japanese, who didn’t want a prolonged war between two of its allies just prior to its own war of conquest in SE Asia.

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Jim Thompson House
One of the most popular tourist locations in Thailand, the house was created by a US soldier during the 1950’s and 60’s. He put together 6 Thai houses made from Teak and brought from all over Thailand. After Jim went missing in Malaysia, his nephew created the Jim Thompson Foundation and turned the site into a museum.

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The Grand Palace and The Emerald Buddha Temple
Another of the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand, the Grand Palace was the home to the Kings of Siam between 1782 and 1925. The Palace compound is huge with many Temples, Halls and of course, the Palace.

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The compound is also the site of the Emerald Buddha Temple, home of a famous buddha statue. Labelled ‘emerald’ because of its green colour, it’s actually carved from Jasper. The statue has a long history, being carved in India, taken to Sri Lanka, lost on its way to Burma and ending up in Angkor Wat in Cambodia before the Siamese invaded and claimed it. Unfortunately, photos aren’t permitted within the temple.

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What Arun – Temple of Dawn
Once home to Emerald Buddha and named after a Hindu God, the Temple of Dawn is said to catch the first rays of the sun each morning, glowing with pearly iridescence.

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The main temple has very steep stairs that climb two tiers and give great views of the city.

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Day 3 – Market Day

All templed out by day 3, my British companion and I decided to explore a couple of weekend markets around the city.

Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market
Bangkok has several floating markets, although the largest and most popular take over 90 minutes outside the city. We aimed for a smaller, less touristy floating market closer to central Bangkok. A floating market is a river market navigable by boat, with other boats and vendors along the sides of the river selling goods. Khlong Lat Mayom only has a small floating aspect…

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The market is mainly a food market which stretches across the river but with only the occasional boat floating by. As it was raining we were happy not to be on the water. Instead we enjoyed the local food, a spicy chicken side and some fried squid eggs in a batter. Interesting.

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Chatuchak Weekend Markets
Known as Jatujak in the Thai language, the markets are not only the largest markets in the city, but the largest markets I’ve ever been to. As the name suggests, it’s only open on the weekends, and is vastly busy during this time.

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The markets have 27 sections and 8000 stalls! Beyond seeing the markets, my major reason for going was to find and consume a fried scorpion on a stick. Unfortunately, after spending hours searching, I wasn’t able to find one so settled for a frozen banana dipped in chocolate and chopped almonds instead. While not entirely the dish I was looking for, it would have to do but my search will continue.

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Overall, Bangkok is a busy capital city with plenty to do assuming you aren’t already over temples.

Next, I catch my first sleeper train to Vientiane, capital of Laos.

The Lone Trail Wanderer