From Mandalay Hill, we continued on our “US$10 Combo Ticket Free” route in Mandalay. The US$10 Combo Ticket is a government fee that can give access to several tourist sites in Mandalay. I wasn’t keen on spending on it as I’ll use it to pay for my driver instead. There are alternative sites in Mandalay that are equally good but doesn’t need that combo ticket. Like the Sandamuni Paya which is an alternative to the nearby Kuthodaw Paya. Mandalay Hill sometimes has ticket inspectors but an alternative hill is Yankin Paya. Now we’re off to two more impressive sites – a beautiful ‘teak monastery’ and the most important religious site in Mandalay.
Going west from the palace, we entered on what seems to be a monk’s district. The place was teeming with monks who were going through their day-to-day lives on the monastery grounds – from sweeping their grounds clean to doing laundry. Olsen stopped by a small gate, just enough for a couple of people to pass through. I couldn’t see beyond the yellow wall fence but Olsen instructed me to just go in and see a one of a kind “teak monastery”.
It was very quiet inside as I pass by small housing quarters where some monks were on their afternoon snooze. I wasn’t expecting much but when I saw the Shwe In Bin Kyaung monastery, I was surprised by its elegance and rich detail. The monastery, made entirely of Teak Wood is elevated by stilts. It has a beautifully designed concrete stairs at the back which seemed new but the monastery dates back to 1895 and was commissioned by a pair of wealthy Chinese Merchants.
Even carefully walking on the wooden platform or opening the gates, I can’t help but make some creaking sounds. I was walking carefully as I saw on one window another monk studying. I also noticed how intricate the details of the wood carvings on the walls, windows and the doors were. The details were just mind-blowing from the fence to up the roof.
I met a couple of monks inside checking on their donation box. I learned that the government wasn’t really helping out to keep this Monastery so the monks here were relying on visitor’s donations for maintenance. I put in a small share and took pictures of the two monks there before I left. I was glad to have visited that Monastery. I appreciated it so much since it wasn’t crowded. I only met 3 other visitors when I was there. The atmosphere was also solemn.
Heading south, to the direction of the next township, Amarapura, we made our last stop in Mandalay for Mahamuni Paya just off the road. The paya is famous for its much venerated Buddha image that is believed to be very old, probably dating back to 1st AD. The 13-feet high Buddha was originally cast in bronze but after many years of people applying gold leaf, the layers have accumulated to 6-inch thick gold.
I entered through the west gate where there was a smaller version of the giant nats guarding the entrance. Passed through several vendors and a number of fortune-teller stalls, I reached the central stupa where the Buddha is found. I saw here the segregation of men and women. Unfortunately for the later, only men were allowed to get close and place gold leaves on the Buddha, to the ire of many women. The women’s worship grounds were also farther than the men’s and heavy security made sure this is implemented.
On my way out, I asked someone the reason for this segregation, one simple reason for this was women’s “menstruation”. I haven’t heard from the woman’s side for the reason but I do know a lot would want to get close to the Buddha and place their gold leaf donations themselves. When that will happen we just have to wait and see.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.