Visiting Mahagandayon Monastery, Bagaya Monastery, the former Royal capital of Inwa and the U-Bein bridge
After haggling the price with a taxi driver, our day trip around the Mandalay surrounding starts early in the morning. Only 30 minutes drive, the first stop is Amarapura, once Myanmar’s capital city and built by King Bodawpaya in 1783. Here is located the famous Mahagandayon Buddhist monastery, the largest of Myanmar, where more than a thousand young monks live and study. It is an ideal place to witness the disciplined way of life of Buddhist monks. Every day, a crowd of tourists come to the monastery to see the endless line of monks queuing and holding a bowl for their last meal of the day. After strolling around the Monastery seeing how life is and talking with some monks, we take our place close to the dining hall waiting the long procession. Surrounded by many tourists, at 10 am, the monks start lining up waiting to sit all together inside the dining hall to have their meal.
Going back to our taxi we proceed to Inwa stopping by at Bagaya Kyaung monastery, a 1996 concrete-pillared reconstruction of an early-19th-century monastery. The monastery boasts 267 teak posts, the largest is 18 metres high and 2,5 metres in circumference, creating a cool and dark prayer hall for the faithful. Even though we are not that impressed, it is worth to see the superb collection of 19th century Buddha statues and flying wooden filigree roof work.
Leaving the monastery, we head to the Myitnge jetty from where, by a short boat trip, we get to Inwa (also called Ava), the former Royal Capital. Founded in 1365, Inwa is located at the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Myitnge Rivers on an artificial island formed by a canal connecting the two rivers upstream from their natural point of the meeting. Inwa was for more than 5 centuries the capital of Burmese kingdoms, but in 1839 a series of devastating earthquakes hit particularly hard the royal capital that was subsequently abandoned. We explore the island by horse-drawn carriage, the only way to get around because the site is vast. We visit the Nanmyint Watch Tower, then the Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery, built of brick and stucco and the Bargayar Monastery, famous for its impressive ornate woodcarvings and teak posts.
After spending more than 2 and a half hours here, our last stop is the fantastic U bein bridge for the sunset. It’s the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world and is mostly made from the remains of the Royal Palace of Inwa. The bridge was built at a slight curve and is supported by over a thousand wooden pillars that were hammered into the bottom of the shallow lake. Hundreds of tourists are fighting to find a wooden boat to cruise the lake and wait for the sunset with the background of the bridge. With no doubt, this 1.2 km long bridge is more charming during the evening when the sun rays the scene with its warm and orange colour. The bridge is also a slice of local life: people chatting while watching the sunset, monks walking with their bicycles, youths playing and fishers going about their daily work. The sun is gone and with him also our day trip, a day that was worth living!
Need to Know
The best and easiest way to have a full day out is to haggle with a motorcycle taxi or sedan taxi driver (we paid 30.000K for the whole day). You can also book a guided tour with a local tour operator (ask at your hotel to help you) or rent a motorbike (around 20$ x day). Just be careful because driving during the night is not so safe.
If you want to visit just Inwa, you can take a taxi (or motorcycle taxi) until the jetty before riding the ferry, taking a pick up (close to Zegyo market) or renting a motorbike (you can explore the Island on it – ferry ticket 800k person plus 400k motorcycle). Same if you want to visit Mahagandayon Monastery or U Bein Bridge.
Mandalay ticket: it’s required to visit the main sites of Mandalay and surroundings (Inwa, Amarapura and Saigang). Buy it at one of the entrances of the sites, ( price 10.000k).