Our 3rd and 4th days of sightseeing Mandalay were spent with Pho Se from Sagacious Myanmar (check out their FB page here). We were in for a treat!
Pho Se is a young, energetic, knowledgeable and all around great guy! I can’t sing his praises enough.
We had a set itinerary with him before meeting. But when the day came that we were going to start sightseeing he asked if there was something else we wanted to do. There were a few stops we wanted to hit up that we hadn’t had a chance to see. Pho Se was really flexible and accommodated them into our schedule.
We started off our day with a quick stop at Irrawaddy or Yadanabon Bridge named after the river it crosses. The Irrawaddy river is the country’s largest river and most important commercial waterway. We got a chance to take in the views of Mandalay and Amarapoura.
Our next halt was at the nunnery That Kya Hti Thar. We had visited monasteries but never witnessed where Buddhist nuns live.
On the ride, Pho Se explained to us Burmese beliefs on respect. First and foremost is respect for Buddha, respect for monks and nuns, respect for parents and for teachers.
He also explained how in Buddhism, nuns have it harder. They have more rules to live by than their male counterparts.
We went into the temple and Pho Se asked if we knew how to meditate. Personally, I have tried to mediate before, using some apps on my mobile phone that tell you how to breathe and talk you through the motions. I was never successful at it and no matter how much I tried to focus, I found my mind quickly wandering and then for no apparent reason my muscles start to cramp or I feel something tickling me. But this time with Pho Se it was different. I don’t know if it was the setting, the sensation of calmness that takes over you while in Myanmar or the far-off sound of a nun chanting her prayers. I was able to meditate and focus, without having to fidget or scratch.
After our brief meditating session, we walked into a prayer room where nuns were offering curry and rice to Buddha. There is much beauty and peace in hearing these ladies sing. After the offering ritual we walked over to the eating hall to watch the nuns file in to pray some more before eating.
We left the monastery and headed out to Mingun, an area of historical importance with many monasteries and monuments.
Before visiting the monuments we walked around a bit and I came across a lady who offered to put thanaka paste on me. She put the paste, made out of bark and water that is ground on stone, all over my cheeks and the top of my nose. Throughout Myanmar you see most women and children, as well as some men, wearing the paste on their faces. They believe it makes you more beautiful. The paste has a cooling effect and is a natural sun blocker. I ended up buying some and wearing it quite a bit during my stay in Myanmar.
Our first stop there was at Pahtodawgyi a stupa that looks like an unfinished carved stone. The shrine was commissioned by the superstitious King Bodawpaya. When the monument was being constructed, some prophecies were created that scared the King. The prophecy was when the stupa would be completed, the country would be over. Therefore the king stopped and the monument was never finished.
Outside of the stupa, there was a vendor selling betel nut tobacco. Pho Se asked if we had tried, which we hadn’t. Jose was game and chewed the green leaf with the red nut and tobacco. It tasted herb like and makes your mouth water, making you want to spit. Chewing betel nut is very common throughout Myanmar. Everywhere you go, there are many men and some women with bright red mouths, discarding the juices.
We continued to the Mingun Bell, located near the pagoda. At 90,718 kilograms, its been the heaviest functioning bell in the world at several times throughout history. Around the bell there were many locals with kids hanging out and eating grasshoppers.
We moved on to the Taj Mahal of Burma, Hsinbyume also known as Myatheindan. This beautiful white pagoda was built by King Bagyidaw for his wife, the White Elephant Princess, Hsinbyume, who passed away during childbirth.
The pagoda is very different than the traditional Burmese structures. It is absolutely gorgeous and great for taking pictures.
Pho Se recommended we stop for lunch at Minn Wun Valley Cafe. This fantastic restaurant has amazing food and service. We had 2 large beers, 2 orders of spring rolls, 2 Kaffir Lime soups, pork curry, Singaporean flat noodles and Malaysian noodles for just 27,900 Kyat approximately $21 USD.
After lunch we went up to Mandalay Hill, the landmark of the former capital, which overlooks the city. At the top of the hill is the temple Su Taung Pyi, meaning wish-granting. The pagoda offers gorgeous panoramic views of Mandalay, Sagaing Hills, Irrawaddy River and Mingun. It really is a stunning place and I could have spent much more time taking it in.
Our last sightseeing stop for the day was Kyauktawgyi Pagoda. This temple is home to The Great Marble Image of Buddha, a huge single block sculpture of pale green marble. It took about 13 days and approximately 11,000 men to move this marble statue up to the temple.
After our wonderful day with Pho Se, he invited us to his house to meet his family for dinner. This was the highlight of the day for us! The welcoming nature and hospitality of the Myanmar people amazes us. We were delighted and had a wonderful time talking to him, his father, mother and siblings. We laughed quite a bit and had another authentic meal prepared by Pho Se’s mother.
The following day, Pho Se picked us up and took us to a local tea house for a traditional Burmese breakfast. And what a breakfast it was! We tried Mohinga, the national breakfast dish made of fish broth with rice noodles and fried fritters as well as other delicious breakfast plates. OMG was that good and what an experience! There were no foreigners, just locals, and while we were feasting on these delicious plates, some of Pho Se’s friends came over to say hi and chat for a while.
After breakfast, we headed out to Mandalay Palace, the last royal palace of the Burmese monarchy. Located in the center of the city, the palace is walled and surrounded by a moat. Once the British came in and took over, they turned the palace into a fort.
Our final visit was at a gold leaf workshop. It’s amazing how they pound gold to flatten it out. Each worker pounds the gold for about 5 hours! We were able to see the complete process from when the gold comes in till when the gold leaves are finished.
Gold leaf is used to adorn Buddha statues and to decorate different products like home wears and souvenirs. You can also do what I did and wear it on your face 🙂
We had a brilliant time with Pho Se. It was like spending time with a good friend or family member who taught us about the city, culture and religion. The other thing about Pho Se is that he knows good locations for great pictures and loves to take selfies.