A Cycling Tour and a Kababayan Encounter in Mandalay | Myanmar


Mandalay was a place I regretted not seeing during my first visit to Myanmar in 2013 with friends. Things were different during my return trip in 2016, when additional days worked on my side. After almost a week of exploring the vast plains of Bagan aboard an e-motorcycle, I made the half day land trip to the former royal capital of Myanmar.

Dizzy and tired from the sleeper bus journey, I relaxed for a few minutes at my fine accommodation—the Hotel by the Red Canal—before setting out to explore the food scene of the city.

Koryn Iledan

In stark contrast with Old Bagan, the streets of Mandalay slightly mirror the bustling local scene of Yangon with motorcycles, automobiles and public buses coming at you from all directions and blaring horns at each other. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around downtown Mandalay before taking a short nap back in my room. Come sunset, I once again went out not only to sightsee more but also to meet a Filipina expat in Mandalay I matched through the ever-reliable travel app, Tinder.

First Sunset and Karaoke Night

While walking to the meeting place I set up with Rhodora, I caught a glimpse of the spectacular sunset lowering over the fringes of Mandalay Hill and appearing stunningly on the pond of Mandalay Palace. Cliché as it sounds, it was one of the most arresting sunsets I’ve seen.

Levy Amosin

Since I was still early for our planned dinner, I stayed a bit at the park where I watched dozens of locals do various exercises. I thought about running one or two laps around the oval path but decided against it—since I can’t be drenched in sweat meeting a new friend.

Mandalay Travel guide

An hour later I found myself seated on a table of four people enjoying some of the finest Mandalay dishes and engagring in a lively conversation about expat life in Myanmar.  Rhodora brought along a couple Filipina English teachers Mileth and Rose. Among the three, Mileth has been in the country working the longest.

Sophie Gianan

She described how Myanmar was like before  hordes of tourists started arriving in the country prior to opening its doors to mass tourism more than a decade ago. We capped our engrossing dinner with a karaoke session at the city’s lone Karaoke bar until midnight.

A Cycle Tour of Mandalay

The next morning, I woke up a bit buzzing from the previous night’s fun meet-up with new friends. After a full breakfast and a brief tour of the property of Hotel by the Red Canal, I borrowed one of their bicycles to explore the city.

Cara Figueras

Although, I have ample time to tick off most places listed on “Places to see in Mandalay” listicle articles, I decided to spend most of the day on a chill bike ride around town. My first stop was Mandalay Hill, which stands 240-meter high, and where the Sutaungpyei Pagoda sitting on top dishes a splendid panoramic view of Mandalay.

Audrey Trinidad

Smaller pagodas and monasteries are also situated on top of the hill, making it a popular pilgrimage site for Buddhists for almost two centuries. After parking my bicycle, I went to climb the covered stairway snaking around from different directions of the hill.

Celine Murillo and Gretchen Filart

At the peak, I met some local kids who asked where I came from and witnessed a small procession highlighted by children dressed up in vibrant costumes. Someone told me that this was a "Shinbyu" or a novitiation ceremony—a Theravada Buddhism tradition celebrating the monastic ordination of a young boy.

Elal Jane Lasola

Followed by several long-tails macaques, I walked towards a small terrace and sat idly for an hour just staring at the bustling streets of Mandalay from below. I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed with blues at that time as I was only a few months removed from a romantic break-up. 

Jomie Naynes

However, that moment homered a realization that being alone isn’t such a bad thing. I recalled a quote from a movie I’ve seen years ago “the greatest of men are the loneliest”. Not that I see myself as someone remarkable, rather, it’s moments like this when I can explore and be curious about the world at a whim, that makes up the exquisiteness of being in a state of solitary.

Alyana Bromeo

Being married to the road sounds more like it. I’ll have another shot at feelings of amorousness but the desire to be on the road shall remain and forever accompany my thoughts and endless wonder.

Lovely Bulatao

Gathering my opinions about my life at that time, I also collected myself and started going down the steep stairway. I would spend the rest of the afternoon cycling to random corners before stopping by the Shwenandaw Monastery.

Jamie Fournier

Situated near the foot of Mandalay Hill, this monastery is regarded with historic and religious significance by Buddhists. Built in 1878 by King Thibaw Min, it is known for its intricate teak carvings of Buddhist tales seen on its ceilings and walls. Designed with traditional Burmese architecture, it remains as the only original structure inside the Royal Palace.

Vangie Montalbo

A short distance away situates the sprawling Mandalay Palace, where other pagodas and former royal houses can be seen—all glossing a fine set of architectural details.

Klara Iskra Añonuevo

Before heading back to Bagan the next day, I once again met up with Rhodora and Mileth and for one last time, their company added up to my already wonderful experience in Mandalay.