Friends told me not to bother with Mandalay, but I’m happy that I did. This was a nice place to start my journey to understand the life and ways of the Burmese people.
When I first arrived, I got the hotel sorted and then had a wander about the southeast end of the city. Most of the hotels are the same and cost around 35-50 USD a night.
I found Zone Express Tours (corner of 68th street between 26th and 27th, contact email@example.com) which were very helpful and spoke good English; I procured seats on a mini bus to Bagan (13USD each) and a driver for the next day to visit Amarapura and Sagaing Hill. I continued on foot to explore Mandalay palace and had tea at City Cafe. Then at the jewelry shop, Rocky on 27th & 62nd, street I bought some jade earrings.
I finished the day at the Green Elephant restaurant, just further down 27th street. I thought I had expressed myself clearly about the “no sauces – soy or fish” but forgot to mention oyster sauce. So when the steamed fish and vegetables arrived, I was unsure about the dish since there was oyster sauce in it. The waiter brought the bottle to the table for me to inspect, unfortunately it was written in Thai and neither of us could read it.
However, they did bring me some steamed vegetables and I was able to eat the strangely sour roselle leaf and eggplant curry, the herbal leaves salad and some steamed rice. The herbal leaf salad soon became one of my favourite dishes!
Breakfast at the hotel was a bit disappointing as I couldn’t have anything on the buffet since it all contained soy sauce. Luckily they had fresh fruit and yogurt and I was able to order some steamed rice and a vegetable omelet from the kitchen to set me up for the day – which was going to be busy as I’d hired a car to take me to the outskirts of Mandalay.
I visited some places outside of Mandalay like the U-Bein bridge, a bunch of stupas and finished with Sagaing Hill which overlooks the Irrawaddy river.
After returning to Mandalay, I then set out on an hour long hike looking for vegetarian Indian restaurants between 81st and 82nd street. The placed called Ruby was nowhere to be found (boo Lonely Planet) and the other LP suggestion of Nepali food was shut for the week. I returned to the Thai place we found on 27th Street between 74-75th streets) called Rainforest. Directly across the lane is Marie-Min, an Indian vegetarian place which was closed as well! So it was Thai food for me!
On my final day, I rented a bicycle for the day and did the bike tour as recommended by Lonely Planet. After a little siesta, I walked up Mandalay Hill and relaxed until sunset took over the city. It was a nice way to say goodbye to the city before sitting on a bus to Bagan.
Tips for visiting Mandalay
- When you see ‘steamed fish’ or ‘steamed vegetables’ be sure to clarify that there is no sauce with it.
- Try the salads!
- Be careful where you step as there’s red betel juice everywhere!
- There are no streetlights and so it gets very dark at night. If walking around, take a flashlight with you or get a taxi.