Silk weaving, hundreds of monks waiting in line to be fed, probably the most beautiful sunset spot I’ve seen… There really is a lot to see in Amarapura, in the southern parts of Mandalay.
Amarapura, freely translated to ”The city of immortality”, is located only 10 kilometers from Mandalay. This former capital of Myanmar, ruling only for some 70 years during 18th and 19th century never reached its glory due to serving only for such a short time as the country’s capital. Still, for most of the tourists reaching Mandalay, Amarapura is still one of the most popular destination for two reasons: Mahagandayo monastery and the U Bein bridge. Also, when visiting these two, it is also recommended to visit one of the several silk weaving factories that the area is famous of.
One of the largest monasteries in Myanmar, the Mahagandayo monastery is home to up to thousands of monks. The reason this monastery is so popular among tourists is the daily lunch hour, from 1015 am onwards, to be exact. This is when all the monks in the monastery, from the youngest novices to the eldest ones, queue up and wait to be called for lunch in their dining area.
Just minutes before being called in, the line of monks is endless. Simultaneously, there are tens, if not even hundreds of tourists lined up along the street, watching this scene, desperately trying to capture this magical moment with their cameras. It is clear that some of the monks are not really happy with this show, while some are keen curious. The youngest ones clearly are confused, they are taught not to take their eyes off the ground, but at the same time they are just as interested of the photographing tourists as they are of the monks.
As the time comes, all the monks continue their way to the dining area, some stay and eat, some just grab their food and go back to their rooms to eat in peace. Despite some monks clearly are not happy with the attention they are getting, some are more curious, some monks even stay behind and chat with the tourists, being just as interested to ask questions as the tourists are and eager to tell the curious travelers more about their beautiful country. When looking around, it is rather surprising how good most of the monks are in english.
As the lunchtime comes close to its end, there are increasing numbers of local people waiting on the streets with bowls and bags in their hands. Traditionally, monks do not wish to throw food away and many choose to donate the leftovers to the locals, who happily receive the food. You can see all kinds of people here from old to young, from families to single adults. Most of them are cleanly dressed and healthy looking, so it is not as much about begging as it is about tradition – it is about caring others and paying it forward.
U Bein teak bridge
One of the most famous attractions in Mandalay is without a doubt the U bein bridge in Amarapura. The longest teak bridge, with a length of 1,2 kilometers was built already in the 1850s as the capital was moved to Mandalay. During that time, the local teak palace was taken down, but the city Maior decided to save most of the material form the palace and built the bridge using the teak. Even today, the bridge is heavily used by the locals crossing the lake area, but also increasing numbers of tourists are finding their way here. The bridge itself is pretty marvellous, but it is best experienced during sunset. As the sun slowly sets behind the bridge, painting the sky red, the sight is simply beautiful. Red sky, beautiful bridge and the monks walking on it – absolutely stunning sight that is a must for anyone visiting Mandalay!
Last but not least – some behind the scenes material: sometimes you are ready to do pretty much anything for the perfect shot. Well, at U Bein, that would mean getting your feet wet and cramming on the tiniest sandbank together with tens of others… yes, I was there, together with tens of asians and their tripods and thousands of dollars worth of camera gear, trying not to feel small and pathetic with my phone that was used as a camera here…