Our second day in Mandalay consisted of a “short” trip south to the ancient cities of Ava & Amarapura. This trip was to be our highlight of the Mandalay stay. Ava (changed to Inwa during British Colonial rule) was the capitol between 1364 and 1555. The era followed the collapse of Sagaing and Pinya kingdoms due to the Shan raids from the north. Amarapura or “City of Immortality” served as the capitol city several times during the 18th and 19th centuries under the Konbaung Dynasty. It is now just a city within the Mandalay province.
Ava (Inwa) – Ratanapura “City of Gems”
Our plan was to visit Ava first (15km south of Mandalay), then back north to Amarapura (11km south). We walked amidst the grunge of Mandalay to 84th and 29th streets. There, we would catch our ride. Like hollywood celebrities and the paparazzi, mobbed by taxi and bus drivers immediately. It was impossible to tell which bus was the local gov’t bus vs. private drivers for hire. It was pandemonium. We let a young guy talk us into his truck taxi for 1500 kyat ($2.00) to Ava. We waited for about 1/2 an hour before leaving the city. The total trip with many stops was 1 1/2 hours. Alternative private taxis for tourists cost 30000 kyat ($40) from Mandalay city centre.
The Ava drop off point requires a 15 minute walk or bike taxi (1000 kyat, $1.30) to the boat ferry point. There you pay the village chief 1000 kyat ($1.30, per person) for the ride to the village via the Ayeyarwady River. We were immediately swarmed at dock to buy souvenirs and a horse cart ride. The tour is 2-3 miles around, so horse cart for $7 made sense. And, they LOVE US Dollars. (Speaking of currency, the exchange rate in Ava was 700 kyat per $1 USD. In Mandalay, you can get close to 800:1.) The beginning of the journey takes you through everyday village life with people tending to their bamboo huts, cattle and children.
There is the remodeled Maha Aungmye Bonzan, Buddhist monastery built in 1818. The monastery requires the $20 government (archaeological maintenance fee) tour pass. Christie was yelled at taking pictures, so we had to quickly leave. We then spent time viewing the Nanmyin Watch Tower, a 27 meter high masonry tower, all that is left of the Ava Palace. You are unfortunately not allowed to climb for safety reasons. Our horse cart driver slash tour guide spoke no english. So, our site seeing turned to the imagination while gazing through acres of rice paddies. You really get a good feel for ancient times in Burma.
We waited for 20 minutes outside the Ava village for a ride to Amarapura (500 kyat each ($.60).
The pickup truck dropped us off at the highway and the Amarapura village. We had no idea where to go and found ourselves again as mystic creatures in a foreign land. We just wanted to find the famous U Bein Teak Bridge (1.2 km longest active in world). We walked around town until a nice young man showed us the route to the bridge. The path was not the tourist route. It was about 20 minutes through slum villages with trash everywhere. We saw a local soccer match and old pagodas buried behind heaps of trash. This is the side tourists aren’t normally shown. We arrived at the Teak Bridge surrounded by sand dunes and local fisherman.
Lunch had us sitting next to Myanmar military boys and Chinese tourists overlooking the Irrawaddy River. Our meal cost 4500 kyat ($6.00). The walk back to the highway wasn’t as gnarly and the taxi to Mandalay was only 200 kyat each ($.25).
Our journeys to Ava & Amarapura were both mentally and physically draining. The tours were unorganized because we didn’t have a proper guidebook english speaking tour guide. The trip was still the highlight of our stay in Mandalay. The government could do a better job preserving and presenting the ancient ruins from each town. A truly magical place and experience.
See our Photo Album:
Ava & Amarapura, Burma