The tour around the souther parts of Mandalay was full of contrasts. I did write about the amazing Amarapura on my previous post already, but other parts of the tour, Sagging hill and Inwa, did not leave us cold either.
Sagaing, also a former capital of Myanmar is located on a hill that rises over 200m up on the western banks of Irrawaddy, just some 15km south from Mandalay. The first glimpse you get of the hill tells you a lot about the place already. Although ruling the country only for two short periods, first time during the 14th century and then for three short years during the 19th century, the place still plays an important role spiritually in Myanmar – and that is not hard to believe. There are countless of different shaped and sized stupas located on the hill. When stopping to get a proper look at the hill next to the riverbanks, the view really leaves you speechless. The sight is simply like nowhere else, one of its kind, the shiny stupas are everywhere and create a sight full of contrasts with the little shacks around them.
At the top of the hill you will get some nice views over Irrawaddy towards Mandalay, but there are also two beautiful pagodas, the Soon Oo Ponya Shin Pagoda that was built already in the 14th century and the U Min Thonze Pagoda, home of the 45 buddha statues lined up side by side.
Unlike in Amarapura and Inwa, there are surprisingly few tourists around. Instead, there are plenty of locals visiting the pagodas, creating an interesting and more authentic feeling of the place. Sagaing really has no shortage of gold and glitter and again, I find myself at awe several times, the contrasts of the county make me surprised time after time and after one beautiful place, across comes the next one. However, I’m pretty sure that if Mandalay had not been our first destination in Myanmar, many places most likely would’ve felt less extraordinary – you really get your share of stupas and pagodas while traveling around the country but of course, that is something I did not know at that time and everything I saw felt so new and exciting. Of course, even if Mandalay had been the last destination on our trip to Myanmar, I’m pretty sure I would’ve been impressed by the sight of the hill and the countless stupas anyways.
After Sagging, we continued our way towards Inwa, or Ava as it is formerly known as. This would be the fourth former capital of Myanmar we’d visit in one day – I doubt that is something that can’t be done in that many places in the world!
Ava has a pretty interesting history as a former capital as it has been the capital on five different occasions in total, the first period being during the 14th century and the last time during the 19th. It was heavily damaged by a massive earthquake in the early 19th century, after which the capital was moved away from Ava for the last time. Ava can be regarded as the Angkor Wat of Myanmar in many ways. The sleepy little village holds several pagodas, temples and ancient ruins inside its walls. There are countless of interesting ruins to see and only a handful of people living in the town. Here you will not see that many cars nor any other modern things. There are only some modest local houses and if you see something moving on the roads it is mainly bicycles or horse carts. It is so quiet and peaceful – it feels like the time is standing still.
Ava is best visited visited with a horse-carriage. The most common way to enter the town is by crossing the river with a small long tail boat and then on the other side of the river, hiring a guide with a horse cart to take you around. The most interesting places are along a 5km route. You can also walk, or ask your taxi driver to take a little detour and drive to Ava, but honestly, taking the short, 5minute boat ride and then hopping on a horse-carriages is a big part of the beauty of the place – you really cannot get the same feeling by looking out of a window of an air-conditioned car.
The boat ride costs 1000 kyats return, and a standard fee for the horsecars is 5000kyats per person, but after some heavy haggling, we managed to get the price down to 7000kyats for two. Being taken around by a slowly cantering horse really is a great(but honestly, sometimes really uncomfortable) way of seeing the ancient capital. The route takes us through rice fields and beautiful roads lined up with palm trees. Ruins are peeping out of the woods here and there. There are gold coated pagodas, ancient ruins, heavily damaged watchtower on the verge of collapsing, some remains of heavy walls that used to surround the whole city and so much more. Occasionally our driver, who speaks no english what so ever, pulls over, stops the horse and signals us to hop off and have a look around. After two hours, we find ourselves back at the riverbanks. We have made the full circle without noticing. The last boats of the day are soon departing and there are no more tourists coming today. Most of the horse carriages are gone, so are the eager guides. We find our selves in the middle of a small village where the time seems to stand still. Kids are playing on the street, adults are doing their daily tasks, not seeming to notice a few random tourists still around. There is no noise form cars, no music. The whole place seems so peaceful and quiet. Suddenly I feel like I’m in a whole different world than where I’m used to being and feel extremely happy again, grateful for being able to visit this kind of places.