The morning of January 3rd we set out at 5:00am to catch a boat that would take us down the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay. When we woke up it was once again pouring rain. Therefore getting to the boat required a fifteen minute drive followed by a ten minute treacherous hike to the boat through ankle deep mud, a climb down a very slippery muddy riverbank and a very careful tightrope walk across the thin boards that connected the steep slippery bank to the boat.
Once aboard we settled in for a surprisingly comfortable journey – the ferry could likely accommodate up to 60 people at full capacity but we were two of just six people aboard, giving us plenty of room to relax in the fairly spacious and comfortable seats. About halfway through the journey the sun did actually start to come out, so we climbed up to the top deck to relax on wicker lounge chairs and watch the river traffic go by as we floated down the river beside it.
We approached Mandalay as the sun set, casting pink to orange and purple hues across the lush green hills peaked with pagodas that surrounded the city.
In the morning we took tour around Mandalay, which actually is comprised of three ancient cities. We visited a monastery and a number of pagodas, which were not only beautiful places to observe the spiritual beauty that seems to be prevalent everywhere in Myanmar but also amazing viewpoints of the city and the lush green that surrounds it.
We also visited the ancient city of Ava, which is located on a small island separated from the rest of the city by a small river. After crossing the river in a rustic wood boat we were picked up on the opposite bank by a single horse and carriage, used by the villagers to navigate the muddy dirt roads that would be hard to navigate by any other transportation method after a rainfall.
Around the island were rice patties, farms and rustic wood houses interspersed with ancient cultural treasures such as an old teak monastery, beautiful pagodas and rundown temples that were somehow all the more beautiful for their deterioration and disrepair amidst the lush green surroundings.
That evening we also visited U Bein Bridge. Believed to be the world’s oldest longest teak bridge at 1.2 km long, it was built around 1850 and to this day serves as an important corridor for the local people to cross Taungthaman Lake into Amarapura. In the evenings locals and tourists alike crowd the bridge to watch the spectacular sunset disappear among the planes and pagodas. It was a truly spectacular sunset and setting, and we were able to capture it with our first successful drone flight of the trip.
Two days later (after a day of work and a half day of sightseeing where we visited the world’s largest book and the royal palace) we caught a night bus to Inle Lake.
The second-largest lake in Myanmar and one the most frequented stops on the Burmese tourist trail, the lake draws those who wish to witness the picturesque lifestyles led by the locals in numerous small villages along the lake’s shores and on the lake itself.
The locals make their living by fishing (in a very unique way as seen in the pictures, though we suspect that they only use these methods now to put on a show for the tourists), weaving lotus stems into textiles, jewelry making, handicrafts, and, of course, tourism.
After arriving at 6:00am we hired a long wooden boat to take us around and had a great day exploring the lake (though admittedly we did struggle to stay awake at times) with some Swiss, Kiwi and French friends we met on the journey. We visited a number of villages all set on stilts above the lake, the silversmiths, the lotus weavers, the monastery and a beautiful set of stupas set atop a hill down one through rovers feeding the lake. At the top we walked among the pagodas, all of which had bells that chimed in the gentle wind, creating a sense of serenity that made time stand still.
From Inle Lake we boarded another night bus that will take us on a 19 hour journey to the border of Thailand, where we will pass through on our way into Laos.