9th of July, 2012
In the late afternoon, after some haggling over the price for our trishaw ride to Kuthodaw Paya and Mandalay Hill (we finally settled on 7,000 Kyat) we were on our way. Going by trishaw is a great way to see the moat and the exterior walls of the Royal Palace. It’s also a great way to interact with locals as almost everyone is curious and will give you a stare. Just smile and/or wave and they almost certainly return with a very large smile and a wave. Especially children, make sure to wave to them and they will commonly be the ones who wave and say hello first!
Kuthodaw Paya is supposed to be part of the $10 combo ticket, but no one asked us to pay when we entered. As soon as you enter you will see the giant stupa in the center and on both your left and right sides are little stupas that each contain one text inscribe marble slab. According to the Lonely Planet there are 729 of these that together represent the 15 books of the Tripitaka, making it the largest book in the world. While the text is in Burmese you can imagine that if it was in your native language it would take quite some time to read just one slab! The little stupas containing the the slabs are in a grid like structure surrounding the Kuthodaw Paya in the middle.
Kuthodaw Paya is conveniently located very near Mandalay Hill, our final destination of the day. At the south entrance are two magnificent giant lion-dog like statues guarding the entrance. At the steps you must leave your shoes and socks or carry them in order to enter. The steps at the entrance are not covered but they were not hot like in other places. After the first section the rest of the climb is under a covered walkway with benches practically along the entire way to the top, which is a brilliant idea as most will want to take some breaks along the way. Also there are plenty of vendors selling souvenirs and drinks that you will most definitely need if you don’t bring your own. You do need a little bit of fitness level to climb this hill, especially because of the heat and humidity. If you feel you cannot make the climb you can hire a taxi to take you about 2/3 of the way to the top and walk the rest, which is easier after this point.
There are several Buddha images and other images along the way to the top that could keep you occupied for a long time, but we did not linger too long at any of these nor did we stop at any of the souvenir vendors. Right after passing the point of where vehicles can travel no further we thought we had reached the top since there was a great view of the valley from here and places to sit but we were wrong! You need to walk around to the back and you will see that the path continues. At some places there are arrows pointing in different directions but not in English so you might need to ask a local up there, which aren’t hard to find. You won’t even need to say a word and they will know that you are looking for the way to the top.
After about 30 minutes we finally reached the top and to our surprise there was hardly anyone up there! But as the sun began to set more and more people began to show up, both westerners and locals alike including a few monks who were eager to speak with us and practice their English. The view from the top is amazing as it gives you a 360 degree view of the Mandalay, the Ayeyarwaddy River and surrounding areas. It’s a great place visit to give you a sense of direction and assist you in plotting your next adventure, whether it be Sagaing Hill, Mingun, Hsipaw or else where. What we enjoyed most about our visit to Mandalay Hill was the conversations we had with the monks as they were very curious to learn about us as well as tell us about Mandalay and how Myanmar is changing. So if you see a monk up here just say hello and there is a good chance that you will have a great conversation with him.
1 Visit Mandalay Hill on your first evening in Mandalay to get a sense of where sights are located and strategize.
2 Remember it takes just as long to go down as it does to climb so start heading down the hill before it gets dark as the pathway is very dimly lit and one of the monks told us that he often sees people slipping on the steps! You may also want to bring a flash light.
3 Hire a trishaw driver for a more authentic tour of the city and spare the air while you are at it ;).
4 Smile and wave to all curious locals.