Morning of Day 9 finds me a little sad realizing my journey in Myanmar is nearing its end in a couple more days. I moved in from my stuffy hotel to my roomarama-sponsored accommodation at Mandalay View Inn. It also gave me time to do a little backpack-keeping and chores. I also realized that I’m up to my last few kyats and needed to use my emergency funds at this time. I didn’t expect the low exchange rate when I came and I was surprised how low it got just from last week (US$1 = 740 from 780 when I arrived) when I changed money. After lunch my motorbike service came. My driver this time was Tubo since Olsen had to accompany a friend who had an accident to a hospital. I hopped on the bike, put on my helmet and we rode on to Sagaing.
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.
The soles of my feet already felt very thick it would probably take a few foot scrub sessions to take out the dead skin and callouses from too much walking. By this time, after entering many temples and sacred grounds for almost a week, I’m already used to removing my footwear before entering temples. For Mandalay Hill, my next place to visit, I had to remove my slippers before climbing the 760-feet high hill. I really don’t mind the climb since after the two gigantic Bobyoki Nat guardian statues is a shaded stair pathway leading to the summit. What amused me was the footwear storage at the foot of the hill with a sign “Footwear not Allowed. Don’t carry shoes” clearly directed at foreigners where they’ll have to pay to store them. I saw a lot of locals carrying their shoes inside plastics so I just decided to clip my slippers to my bag and started the climb.
I arrived at the familiarly busy, Highway Bus Station in Mandalay by 6am. I was wide awake, having been able to sleep during the bus ride due to exhaustion. I waded through the crowd of touts by the bus entrance and immediately tried to look for motorbike ride to town. A guy with cleanly pressed white long-sleeved shirt wearing a red longyi hailed if I needed a ride. He seemed decent enough and his English quite good so I hired him to take me to downtown. I’m glad I’m back in Mandalay.
There is one temple in Bagan which is highly recommended by guides and people there, it is Ananda Pahto, and there are good reasons why – it’s one of the largest, finest and most importantly, the most-preserved temple in Bagan. Coming from the road on the north plain this was the main temple on the east, outside the walls of Old Bagan. It’s very popular so the presence of the vendor stands leading to the Pahto’s main entrance is expected. Beyond them I marvelled at the beautiful white-washed temple with a golden corn-like stupa glimmering at the mid-day sun.
There are more than 4400 temples in Bagan. Even staying here for more than a week, there’s a slim chance to see all of them. While there are must-see temples and charming unpopular ones, for me the memorable ones are those where I encountered interesting people that adds character to the payas. And early on my first day in Nyaung U, Shwezigon Paya was one of those memorable payas I visited in Bagan.
Surprisingly, the endless stream of people didn’t bother me at all. My sight was fixated at the cone-shaped stupa piercing the sky. The afternoon light strikes its slab of gold layers making it shimmer magnificently under the sun. I am humbled by the towering presence of the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred, the most ancient and the 2nd oldest Buddhist pagoda not only in Burma but all over the world. Surrounding the main stupa are numerous mini stupas, shrines, pavilions and prayer halls that it’s easy to get lost on the platform on a hill and be overwhelmed by the many details.