We were only supposed to be in Mandalay 4 nights but had to extend it to 6 due to the water festival closing everything down.
We were staying in the ‘downtown’ area which promised a good location near to bars, restaurants and markets etc. It soon became clear, however, that the holidays meant nothing was open and to leave our hotel room meant facing the full force of water cannons, hoses and buckets of water, leaving you drenched in a matter of seconds! The locals found it immensely funny but we just wanted to leave. The only positive aspect for us was, at 40+c, it helped to keep us cool! It went on even after dark!
We were not enjoying Mandalay but appreciated this was probably due to everything being closed. It didn’t help that I wasn’t well throughout our time there, probably due to not eating properly. We got soaked everywhere and everything was shut. We were staying at Hotel 8 which had good reviews but didn’t live up to them. The aircon didn’t work properly and it was 40+c outside. There was no room service or meals available. Breakfast was in the open air rooftop where pigeons were flying around! To top it all, I had a mild case of food poisoning.
We booked a couple of ‘sight-seeing’ trips which made it a little more enjoyable. These had a stated itinerary but no guide. You were literally driven to places of interest but found the information yourself. We loved it and we were out of our hotel!
The first day we visited Amarapura, Mingun and Sagaing, the ancient cities of Mandalay. We then visited monasteries and saw the monks procession. We visited pagodas and pilgrimage sights. We took a little boat trip on the Irrawaddy River and ended the day walking along the famous U Bein Bridge at sunset which was a highlight for us.
We decided to change hotel so the next day we booked another tour with our bags in the boot of the car to take to our next hotel at the end of the day.
This tour was more local but unfortunately most of the things in the itinerary, like the Royal Palace, were closed due to the holidays. I think the driver felt a bit guilty (minimal communication due to language barriers) as he agreed to take us to the new hotel to check in and come back for us at 5pm to visit Mandalay Hill to view the sunset. He didn’t need to do this as we had paid online when we booked so we were happy with that. We checked in to the Grand Park Hotel which was definitely an improvement on Hotel 8. There was even an outdoor pool. Things were looking up! Or so we thought.
It turned out the rooftop pool, on floor 31 was a bit weird. The views were amazing but there were practically no sun loungers and the couple of tables were full of alcohol bottles and pizza boxes, full ashtrays etc, we presumed to be from the night before? It was mid afternoon and there were no staff around, only a handful of local teenagers in the pool, one of whom seemed to be staring at me suspiciously! We decided to give the swim a miss!
We of course had some doubts the driver would come back but at 5pm as promised, he was in the lobby waiting for us!
Mandalay Hill at sunset was worth the wait. The views were incredible. We had planned to walk up the 1,729 steps but when the driver drove us to the top we didn’t complain. At the top you reach Su Taung Pyi Pagoda.
We met some monks who chatted to us. They wanted to practice their English. One young novice told us he was from Shan State, in Northern Myanmar. He told us he was 20 years old and ‘missed his mum so much he sometimes cried.’
The Grand Park Hotel was a bit strange. We learned it only opened a few months ago and was owned by the Chinese. There’s a plaque out the front which says so. The foyer at reception was huge with staff rushing up to us asking questions about us and our travels. We hadn’t paid up front which has been quite normal for Myanmar. On the second night we got a phone call at 10pm saying we needed to go down to reception to pay for the room. We were already in bed as we had an early start the next day so I asked if we could do it in the morning but they insisted it had to be now as they were ‘doing the accounts tonight! In the end they agreed to come up to the room so sleepily I found my credit card but when they arrived they insisted it had to be cash. I tried to protest but one of the staff, ( there was one male, one female), the man, put his foot inside the door and I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. They said they would accept American dollar. We didn’t have enough local money so we paid in U.S dollars! At the doorway! Luckily I recognised the staff otherwise I would have been really scared. We were ready to get out of Mandalay!
Views from the U Bein Bridge