We found it hard to wake up this morning. We went straight to bed when we returned from dinner as we were tired. We stumbled across a bar called Cafe JJ’s. It was a European Style restaurant, so after all the rice I’ve been eating I was looking forward so a little bit of Western Food. But I was left disappointed. My American style Hamburger wasn’t traditional American style at all….it had apple in it! Yes you heard me, apple. Rather strange but their fruit juices were lovely, the place is very modern and clean and they had WiFi yey! Anyway, this morning we left for Mandalay’s Ancient Cities tour.
Two German guys who were staying in our hotel also wanted to taxi share so we all went off together. We all burst out laughing when we saw how small the taxi was. It was going to be a squeeze and in this heat it wasn’t going to be comfortable but we decided to just go with it.
Gold Leaf Factory
First stop was a gold leaf factory. It wasn’t on our list of things to see but I guess they take all tourists here as it has a sales gallery full of things covered in gold leaf although it was refreshing to not have people hovering over you trying to make a sale. Its interesting to see how the gold leaf is made and I felt sorry for the poor guys who are hammering it down all day. Looks like hard work but they were laughing away!
Next on our Mandalay’s Ancient Cities tour was the famous Shweinbin Monastery, a traditional Burmese teak building from 1895. Pretty impressive that its detail has remained despite being over one hundred years old. Unfortunately we didn’t have very long here. Our driver had set a 20 minute limit to have a quick look around as we wanted to catch the monks having breakfast at 10:15 and by this time it was already 9:30!
While we were wondering around we noticed a monk reading on the balcony. We tried to be as inconspicuous as possible as not to disturb him but he looked up and saw us and approached us. He was very kind and asked the same questions I have now become accustom to answering. He gave us a brief story about the monastery, explaining how old it was and what it was used for in the past. I felt bad as we had to cut the conversation short because we had already been exploring for 20 minutes and we didn’t want to miss the monks. So we said goodbye and hopped back in our tiny taxi.
Our driver suggested visiting the famous Mahamuni Pagoda (1895), home to the 6-ton, 3.8 meter tall Buddha. Originally made from cast of metal, it is now entirely coated with a two-inch thick layer of gold leaf. So much gold leaf has been applied by so many different hands that the figure has developed an irregular outline. Many thousands of pilgrims visit the shrine each day but only men can enter the shrine of the Buddha, so the women gather outside to pray. Its the only temple we have been to where there were TV screens outside showing the Buddha so the women could see what was going on.
I hated that we were on a time limit here as I could see there was much more to explore but we were running short on time. On our way out we were stopped by a group of locals asking to have our picture taken with them. This wasn’t the first time we have been asked either. I’m sure we will be in loads of family vacation albums by the end of our trip. I guess now I know how the Burmese people must feel with tourists taking their picture all the time.
NOTE: We had to pay a 1000Kyats Camera Fee Per Person at Mahamuni Pagoda and they do come and check so make sure you keep your slip of paper with you or you have to pay twice!
So we finally arrived just in time to catch the monks lining up for their breakfast. I can’t say I felt very comfortable here. I can see why its such a tourists attraction with so many monks in one place and its a great photo opportunity but I just didn’t feel right watching it. I felt like I was intruding. There were over one hundred tourists pointing their cameras in the faces of these poor monks (including my partner although he took a couple of shots and then stopped). I’m not sure how they felt about it, as I can imagine this is a daily occurrence and it felt a bit like a zoo. I was glad once it had finished. We left quite quickly but tourists lined the fence so they could get a shot of the monks actually eating. Had they never seen a human eat before???
Thirty Caves Pagoda
Our next stop was U Min Thonze Caves otherwise known as the 45 Buddha Images or thirty caves pagoda. This was part of our Sagaing Hill tour. Sagaing was the ancient capital of an independent Shan kingdom around 1315. Our guide told us that Sagaing is now known as a meditation centre. Burmese from all over the country would visit Sagaing for the purpose of religious retreat.
More stairs here! One things for sure is Myanmar is a great country to work out and tone your calve muscles! However the view from the top is pretty amazing. It was a bit hazy but you can see across to the Buddhism Centre and the Innwa Bridge.
Read More at Mandalay’s Ancient Cities Part 2