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Four Old Capitals in Mandalay, Myanmar For the Price of One

I should probably do more research before I reach a destination. I had no idea what there was to see in Mandalay until a motorcycle taxi driver said something about 4 old capital cities, and that he would take me to them for $12, not bad on a backpacker budget! All up it would take about 8 hours, so I quickly jumped on that deal and proceeded to get excited. I got picked up early in the morning for a crawl through Mandalay peak hour traffic, and eventually on to some of Myanmar’s ancient capitals.

Sagaing

The first thing I noticed when crossing the bridge into Sagaing was all the gold pagodas. I know everywhere in Burma has a lot of them, but they are in overdrive here. It made for an interesting drive through town to the foot of Sagaing Hill. It was quite a long climb to the top but it was an interesting journey. Lots of pagodas dot the hill and there are also plenty of places to take a rest and watch the monks/pilgrims doing their thing. There are some great views at the top of Sagaing Hill, overlooking the river and the town, which was the royal capital for just 3 years during the 18th Century.

The road to Sagaing, one of the old capitals in Mandalay, MyanmarThe view from Sagaing Hill, one of the old capitals in Mandalay, Myanmar

Innwa (Ava)

If you are only going to visit one of the old capitals in Mandalay, this would have to be the one. It’s accessed by boat across a small river and the scene greeting you at the other end is pretty unique in Southeast Asia. About 30 horse drawn carts are lined up, waiting to ferry tourists around the various sites of the old city. I don’t think I’d ever had a ride on one of them before, so it was pretty exciting. Unfortunately the roads aren’t in the best shape so it was bumpy, but still good.  Innwa was the capital for around 400 years and some really nice temples and monasteries have been left behind. It’s also a very peaceful, rural place and rolling through the countryside in a horse and cart is great way to spend an hour or two.

Horses lined up in Innwa, one of the old capitals in Mandalay, MyanmarOn a horse ride in Innwa, one of the old capitals in Mandalay, MyanmarA teak temple in Innwa, one of the old capitals in Mandalay, Myanmar

Amarapura

There is only one reason to go to Amarapura, but that reason is impressive. Yu Bein’s Bridge is the longest teak bridge in the world and in my opinion one of the top sights in all of Myanmar. It is 1.2 km long and over 200 years old, and is a popular spot for local lovers, monks, day tripping families and tourists. There isn’t a whole lot at the other end, just a few unimpressive temples, but the bridge is somewhere I could (and did) spend hours just looking at the views, talking to the locals and taking lots of photos. The best time to visit the bridge is at sunset – the best sunset I witnessed in Myanmar.

The longest teak bridge in the world at sunset in Amarapura, one of the old capitals in Mandalay, MyanmarBoats at sunset in Amarapura, one of the old capitals in Mandalay, MyanmarMonks on the teak bridge in Amarapura, one of the old capitals in Mandalay, Myanmar

Mandalay

The most famous of  the four old capitals in Mandalay is Mandalay itself. The others are classed as their own towns, although they are more like suburbs of an ever growing city. I actually decided to have a bit of a sleep in (the driver wanted to pick me up at 7am!!) and didn’t have time to include this in my $12 tour, so I just explored it myself the next day. It’s easy to get around and there are plenty of sights quite close together.  There is a nice teak monastery and a huge compound of over 700 white temple things, containing a sacred Buddhist text. Obviously I didn’t read the text but it was still an interesting place to look around. Mandalay Hill is also a must see, although it was so hazy that the sunset there fell a bit flat. Mandalay itself is a fairly hectic, dusty place but there are so many things to see that it becomes one of the more enjoyable towns in Myanmar.

Mandalay hill, in one of the old capitals in Mandalay, MyanmarA hill in Mandalay, one of the old capitals in Mandalay region of MyanmarWhite temples, part of the old capitals in Mandalay tour in Myanmar

Visiting the four old capitals in Mandalay: The details

If you are travelling in Myanmar chances are you will end up in Mandalay. A day trip to the four old capitals in Mandalay is a busy, sight-filled adventure through Burmese history, and for $12 (it might be more now, but bargain!!) a motorbike tour is the best way to do it. You also need to purchase a $10 ticket to enter some of the sights, but it’s a small price to pay!

Further reading: Interested in Myanmar’s history? Check out this timeline

Have you been to the old capitals in Mandalay? Leave a comment!

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Jon Algie

Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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2 Comments

  1. July 25, 2014 at 11:46 am — Reply

    I did that same day trip around the same time! January 13, 2014 to be exact! http://bigtravelnut.com/bagan-to-mandalay/

    • Jon Algie
      September 8, 2014 at 7:48 pm — Reply

      I actually did mine a couple of years ago, hopefully it hasn’t changed too much!

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