Leaving the stunning views from U Min Thonze behind our next stop was the Soon U Ponnya Shin Pagoda, apparently according to my guide-book, the most significant pagoda in Sagaing, This pagoda sits on top of the Sagaing Hill overlooking the Ayeyarwaddy River. I was surprised that there was a lack of tourists and no souvenir stalls to be seen. Maybe tourists don’t normally venture in this far? However the only sign that a small amount of tourists must visit was the compulsory camera fee (300Kyats). Since Leo had a camera and I had my video camera (video cameras are 500Kyats) we didn’t want to pay the fee twice especially since I wouldn’t be using my camera inside but they insisted on me paying regardless of whether you used the camera or not so I stayed outside while Leo explored inside.
It was 1pm by the time we reached the crossing for Innwa and we were all in need of food! Our driver pointed to a restaurant he recommended to eat in and showed us where we needed to go to get the boat across to Innwa afterwards. When we had finished our tour of Innwa he would be waiting in the same spot to take us to our final stop, U Bein Bridge for sunset!
The restaurant was right opposite the shack where they sell tickets and where you board the small boat to take you across the water to Innwa. Can’t say it was the most amazing food we have had so far during our stay in Myanmar. Chicken Curry was in fact parts of a chicken, bones and all sat in some sort of watery curry, although apparently the fish curry was much nicer and looked far better than my dish did! Needless to say I didn’t eat much in the end!
After we had finished (and the wandering dog got a fair helping of fish scraps and chicken meat!) we walked across the road to buy our tickets (800Kyats per person for a return journey) to cross over to Innwa. The boat is small and will run when enough people are on it. Luckily we didn’t have to wait very long and the crossing takes less than two minutes.
Innwa (was also known as Ava in the ancient times) is an ancient imperial capital city of successive Myanmar Kingdoms from the 14th to 19th centuries and was the capital of Burma for nearly 360 years. However following the move of the capital city to Amarapura in 1841 and a devastating earthquake not much is left of Innwa, with the royal buildings in complete ruins.
However some of the cities buildings are intact, and when you arrive on the other side of the river a whole bunch of horse and carts await you to take you on a tour (6000Kyats).
Apparently it’s not walkable as the attractions are too far apart but I would imagine if you had plenty of time you could as it didn’t seem like we went miles, it’s all in a loop anyway and you can’t get lost as you can just follow the horse and carts around; there are plenty of them!
So we jumped in the back of our cart and went off to explore. The first stop was at the ruins of the Yadana Hsimi Pagodas. I think having been to Bagan before we have begun to feel a bit of Pagoda fever, there are just so many of them and after a while they all begin to look the same and can get a bit boring.
Bagaya Monastery was next and it took us awhile to reach it as we got stuck behind some massive JCB looking machinery. I don’t know what it was doing but it took ages to move out the way as we couldn’t pass it with the horses in case they got spooked by the noise. The Bagaya Monastery is the most famous place to visit in Innwa as the entire building is made from teak wood and dates back to 1834. There were two women sitting at the entrance asking for to see our tickets. I’m not sure what ticket we were meant to have but we didn’t have one and the didn’t understand when we asked where we could get one. Maybe your meant to purchase it somewhere and we by accident haven’t, but it meant we couldn’t go in and see the monastery so we walked back towards our cart and took some pictures from the outside instead.
A ride around the corner took us to the old watch tower. It took awhile since our friend’s cart in-front broke its wheel and their driver somehow had to kick it back into place!
Anyway, this watch tower is 90ft (30m) high and it is the only masonry building left on the King Bagyidaw’s Palace built-in 1822. It leans scarily to the left and has warning signs saying please do not climb. Anyone that would attempt it would be an idiot. There are more touts here selling jewellery and paintings selling at cheap cheap prices, but again its only cheap cheap if you buy more than two or three items.
Finally, after passing through some small villages and a rather bumpy ride we ended up in our last stop, Maha Aung Myae Bone Zan Monastery. A bit of a mouthful! This long named monastery also known as Me Nu Oak Kyaung or the Brick Monastery was built-in 1818. It’s quite different from all the other monasteries we have seen, and it makes a nice contrast to the teak monasteries we had seen earlier in the day. Although its made from brick it has a similar design to the teak monasteries with a multi tiered roof and some of the stone work is quite intricate. The young woman who followed us around showed us all the different rooms inside and where in the past the monks slept on a hard stone floor. We were the only tourists here which surprised me, especially as we had seen so many horse and carts going around earlier. There are also a few white stupas surrounding the monastery and a few of them have good views across the river to Sagaing Hill.
Since this was our last stop we headed back to where we begun our tour so we could take the boat back across to pick up our taxi. However when we came to pay they demanded we (and our friends) paid more money because the tour was only 1 half hour-long and we had been gone an additional 45 minutes. Since neither of us had checked the time when we started the tour we couldn’t be sure if this was true. We also pointed out that the information desk and the man selling the tours didn’t tell us it was time limited tour nor did the poster say anything about having a set time. So in the end we didn’t pay the additional 4000 they were asking for, but told them that they really should tell tourists this in the beginning. We also felt it was unfair since the 45 minutes extra was probably due to the fact we got stuck behind a giant JCB and the wheel of the cart fell off which took some time to put it back in place.
I don’t know if this is a scam they try or if this is genuinely a 1 half hour tour, either way they need to better communicate it to tourists. Unfortunately there wasn’t any other tourists around to ask if they had the same experience either. It kind of ruined the tour for me because although I didn’t pay the extra amount I felt bad about it and felt slightly guilty. We took the boat back and met our driver and climbed back in our taxi. I sat pondering the whole situation for the entire ride to the U Bein Bridge. 🙁
Our last stop on our Ancient Cities Tour and the one we had all been looking forward to all day! U Bein Bridge! Woo!
By far one of Burma’s most photographed sights, U Bein is a teak bridge stretching close to 1200 meters across Taungthaman Lake. Most tourists come here at dusk to get the famous sunset silhouette pictures that make this bridge so famous!
We arrived a little early so we sat in the nearby bars and had a cold drink and watched the coach loads of people begin to arrive for the big show. It’s a great atmosphere with local fisherman out on the still waters, monks wondering around in their crimson robes, Burmese riding their bikes from one end of the bridge to the other and kids playing on the shores of the lake. Its a great spot to watch the world go by and a great spot to watch one of the most famous sunsets in Burma.
As the sun began to set the colors in the sky grew in oranges, yellows and reds. It was stunningly beautiful and exactly how I had imagined it to be.
The colors just kept on getting deeper…
When it had finally set it was like a mass exit. The boats on the lake returned to the shore line and the bus load of people climbed back on their coaches. With so many vehicles leaving at once the air was incredibly dusty so we left as soon as we got back to our car and said goodbye to the bridge and headed back to our hotel.
We picked up our motorcycle this evening rented from a kind American guy called Zack. We paid 10,000 to hire it for 24 hours which meant we could use it to drive to the boat jetty tomorrow morning for our half day trip to Mingun and use it to drive up Mandalay Hill for sunset.
Details for motorcycle hire can be found on his website: www.mandalaymotorbike.com
We got lost on our way back to our hotel (or as Leo says a small detour) but we managed to find the main 35th Street in the end which lead us all the way back. We stopped for dinner with our friends at a restaurant called Win Win 35, and they have a very good BBQ Menu. They were sat with another gentleman who was staying at our hotel and travelling alone who turned out to be someone I had read about online two months ago. Bill Passman a retired lawyer from Louisiana has been travelling the world and is famous for his world map tattoo on his back. When he explained who he was I was shocked as I was sitting next to someone who was famous in the UK for his crazy tattoo. A quick glimpse confirmed it was definitely him and we sat and talked about where he had been and his favorite places, including his love for Guatemala. You can read about his travels and his tattoo on his blog here. After a few drinks we all retired back to our hotel. Its been a long day and tomorrow we have to be at the jetty by 9am to catch the boat across to Mingun.
NOTE: When we returned to our hotel I asked about the ticket we were meant to have to visit the Monastery in Innwa. Apparently every tourist is required to buy a Mandalay’s ‘Archaeological Zone’ $10 combo ticket, much like the ticket we bought in Bagan. A separate $3 ticket for Mingun and Sagaing is patchily enforced. We didn’t have any tickets and had no idea where to buy them. Our hotel manager said the Mingun ticket can be purchased in Mingun but they never check it and the Mandalay Ticket should of been purchased when we entered but it wasn’t a big deal if we didn’t have it either!