Mandalay

We leave Yangon and surroundings behind us and travel by train, bus or plane to Mandalay, the former royal capital of Myanmar and home to the palace of the last king of Myanmar (that time called Burma), king Thibaw. Moving the capital city from one location to another has been a common practice in Myanmar for centuries and still is today. The city Nay Pyi Taw (about 4 hours drive south of Mandalay) was declared the new capital of Myanmar in 2005. While Mandalay city feels a bit modern and lost most of its charm the former capital cities surrounding Mandalay (and currently just small villages) are very interesting to visit. Amarapura is our favourite and is reached after a leisurely bicycle ride of an hour or two. Walk over the wooden U-bein Bridge to the other site of the lake, chat with the locals and stroll around the big monastery complex. Sagaing hill is dotted with little small stupas and is famous for its silver workshops while a bit further in Ava it's worth taking a horse cart to show you around the ruins of the former Ava kingdom. The Paleik ruins are hardly visited by foreigners but certainly worth a visit. You feel like being the first western person discovering these ancient temple ruins and don't forget to have a look at the snakes in the snake temple at this same complex.

Mandalay surroundings

If you have a bit of time during your holiday to Myanmar it's worth travelling beyond Mandalay and visit the most northern part of Myanmar: Bhamo, Myitkyina and Putao. The most famous of these towns is Putao, which is the gateway to the Myanmar Himalayas. Putao offers great trekking and rafting possibilities in an untouched area where foreign visitors are still an event! Although Putao valley is not very high, you will be able to see on a clear day a spectacular range of snow-capped mountains (from November – April). Accommodation is either very luxurious or very simple in a teahouse or in tents. Bhamo is a starting point for long and easygoing river cruises down the Ayeyarwaddy River passing traditional villages and towns like Katha where George Orwell and all characters from ``Burmese Days`` were stationed in the colonial period. Myitkyina is the capital of Kachin state and home of the yearly Kachin New Year festival.

Another interesting part of Myanmar that is easily visited from Mandalay is the Northern Shan state. We take you by car to Hsipaw, a quaint little town which is easy to explore on foot. Visit the market, some home industry factories (weaving, noodles and cigars), visit ``little Bagan`` or make day or overnight trekking through a beautiful surrounding landscape with tea plantations and hill tribe villages including some traditional hill tribe villages in Kyaukme area – a hidden treasure of the region.

Take the train down into the direction of the Gokteik viaduct which is over hundred years old and once was the second highest viaduct in the world. Enjoy spectacular views from the train and hop off in Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin), which used to be a British hill station for officers to escape the summer heat. We take an antique horse carriage to bring us to the hotel and walk around the Botanical gardens or visit the caves or the waterfall in the surroundings of this city that still has a very colonial atmosphere.

From Mandalay a luxury (or simple) cruise down the Ayeyarwaddy River brings us to Bagan. If you don't like going on the river, alternative routing is going by car (via Moniwa caves and the city of Pakkoku) or via Mount Popa – an extinct volcano which is a National Park and houses the 37 nats (spirits) of Myanmar. For the active people a 2 or 3 day bike ride through the country side from Mandalay to Bagan is certainly rewarding and the best way to see local villages in the dry zone.