Ah, Mandalay. That mystical place in Myanmar that is talked about in archaic literature that is supposed to arouse the senses and give you a glimpse into the past of this amazing country. For my sins, my first trip to Myanmar was just to Yangon and Bagan; I relinquished the opportunity to go to Mandalay that time. On my second proper trip to Myanmar, though, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. After all, that literature couldn’t be wrong, could it?!
Nowadays, there is an international airport in Mandalay that has direct flights to major ASEAN cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Singapore. This means that there is no need to fly to dusty Yangon to begin your Burmese adventures. After touching down at the impressive airport in Mandalay, I made my way via taxi to my hotel. The airport is a long way outside of downtown Mandalay, and there is no dedicated public transport – apart from taxis. I timed that the journey took at least 1 hour (would probably take longer during rush hour), and my taxi fare was 13,000 Kyat. When I arrived at my hotel, it was late-afternoon already, so I vowed that I wouldn’t do any tourism today. In fact, I was more concerned with reacquainting myself with some delicious Burmese food – and I didn’t have to go far to enjoy a Mandalay street feast!
The Road to Mandalay is, of course, just an expression from a bygone age, but what is interesting is what you will find when you get here. I thought Yangon to be hectic and fast-paced, whereas I thought Bagan was sleepy and quiet. How was Mandalay? Well, my overall impression was that it was somewhere in between; not too busy, but then again, judging from how much traffic I saw on the roads, it wasn’t exactly “sleepy” either!
Admittedly, I don’t know too much about food in Myanmar, but I can remember a few dishes that I experienced last time round, such as Mama Dosa, Mohinga, and even the sweet and sickly dessert of Shwe Yin Aye (a kind of coconut sorbet served with white bread). I found myself another dosa here in Mandalay, but didn’t need to unearth the other two, as I discovered a few new things that didn’t seem too bad for the digestion (you do have to be careful in this part of the world): Shan Tomato Rice and Ohn Htamin (neither are pictured).
The first of these dishes I had been meaning to try for a while, and while the description of the dish speaks for itself, I didn’t know if I would find it outside of Shan State. The second, is a sumptuous chicken and rice meal that is coated in some kind of Burmese oil that makes for a weird-yet-delicious taste – and makes me love Burmese cuisine all the more! I had seconds!
However, just to prove that I don’t like everything I try, I did also buy some egg pancakes known locally as Jet Oo Mon, as I wanted a street snack on my walk back to the hotel – but I thought they were disgusting, and I won’t be in a hurry to eat them again!
Over my 3 nights in Mandalay (which, by the way, is really pushing it for time), I learned that you need to eat as much food as possible to last you through the day when walking around the streets and temple sites! Fortunately, I had good enough stamina to see most of the highlights over the 3 nights. Some of Mandalay’s biggest and best attractions are Buddhist monasteries and stupas, and I would really recommend seeing the Mingun Temple Ruins, which was once destroyed by an earthquake, as well as the famous Kuthodaw Pagoda, and marvel at its resplendent white architecture. I had never seen anything quite like it before!