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Mandalay questions

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I leave for Myanmar in 2 weeks with a group of four friends. We have our itinerary pretty well worked out, but Mandalay is presenting challenges. I understand that the main appeal here is the ancient cities outside the center, and so I'd like to have a game plan rather than improvise our days.

None of us are interested in sitting in a car from morning to evening driving from site to site - so those "three ancient cities in a day" itineraries have zero appeal.

Here's our current game plan:

Day 1. Arrive 1 pm from Bangkok. Hopefully we are over our jet lag. Check into hotel, then taxi to Shwenanddaw Kyaung Pagoda area - about 20" ride from hotel. Sunset in Mandalay Hill area.

Day 2. Morning boat to Mingun. From there catch a ride to Sagaing, spend afternoon there.

Day 3. "A Glimpse of Mandalay" eco-tour. Has anyone done this? It looks excellent, but I don't always trust TripAdvisor reviews. It's a full day, so I want to make sure it's legit before we commit.

Day 4-14. Onwards to Bagan, Kalaw, Inle, and Yangon.


I read that Sagaing is one of the highlights of the Mandalay region, and that the best thing to do is to walk the paths and explore the pagodas. Every book and website says this. Sounds great! But then the same review will always recommend hiring a private driver for the day to drive you to the pagodas - which is the exact opposite of walking and exploring on your own.

If we just take a taxi to Sagaing, where would we start? I saw a recommendation from a few years ago to start at "Chin Thay Da Kaung / One Lion Gate" - but I can't figure out where this is, and there's no references to this in any of the books I have.

Follow up question: Is it easy to find taxis back to Mandalay, especially in the late afternoon early evening?

And finally: I see mixed reviews about U-Bein Bridge - and lots of photos of large bus loads of tourists crowding the entry. It doesn't quite match the iconic photos we all see of monks silhouetted against the setting sun. Should we really push to be there at sunset (5:22 pm), or is this site misable relative to the other sites?

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