30+ photos from five days in Upper Myanmar: Bicycle tour in Mandalay, scenic train to Hsipaw, and adventures at the ancient cities of Mingun, Amarapura, Innwa, and Sagaing.

Yet another long night bus brought me to Mandalay, 3rd stop on my 14 day backpacking trip around Myanmar (Burma). P, a Thai traveler I met in Bagan was also headed the same way, perfect! because that meant we wouldn’t have to travel alone again for, at least, a few more days.

Mandalay: last royal capital of Burma

I and P rented bicycles and explored a few sights within Mandalay city center, including the former Royal Palace, Mandalay Hill, and the Central Railway Station, where I bought my train ticket to Hsipaw. The weather was perfect especially the beautiful sunset looking over the whole city from Mandalay Hill.

Mandalay Royal Palace Fort and Moat

Mandalay Royal Palace surrounded by tall brick walls, ornate watchtowers, a big moat, and peaceful tree-lined boulevards.

Mandalay Royal Palace

A compact view of the Royal Palace Watchtowers with Mandalay Hill in the background.

Mandalay Royal Palace

The Bee Throne one of the grand thrones displayed inside the Mandalay Royal Palace

Mandalay Royal Palace

Burmese ladies, probably from Pa-O tribes of Shan state,  in matching colorful headdress.


Glittering reflection of the golden sunset  bouncing off the mirror mosaic column of Sutaungpyei Pagoda, located at the summit of Mandalay Hill


Overlooking view of Mandalay from the 240-meter high summit of Mandalay Hill


Soft dusk sky at Mandalay Hill


Delicious and affordable Burmese food at Smile All 81 (81st). Highly entertaining Engrish menu!

Hsipaw: Train Ride through Rural Burma

I traveled solo during my overnight trip to Hsipaw, while P decided to explore sights nearer to Mandalay and wait for me to come back.

Experiencing the train ride from Mandalay to Hsipaw was actually the main reason why I ventured north of Bagan. There were a lot of interesting places to visit in and around Mandalay but after reading about the Mandalay-Hsipaw train ride as one of the best railway journeys in the world and seeing jaw dropping photos of it online, I got obsessively excited.

I loved that the places and people seemed to be stuck in a bygone era.  The whole experience was like being in a movie. The locals were very friendly, especially the group of old monks that never failed to smile whenever I walked past or chatty conductor that broke the lull moments of the 11-hour train ride.

The best part was definitely when we reached the long-span bridge over the massively beautiful gorge in Gok Teik.

Mandalay to Hsipaw train

Locals sleeping on the Train from Mandalay to Hsipaw.

Mandalay to Hsipaw train

A glimpse of life in the Burmese countrysides. Burmese women selling local food during the train stopover.

Mandalay to Hsipaw train

Framed view of the thick forest and steep cliffs at the picturesque gorge along the Mandalay-Hsipaw train route

Mandalay to Hsipaw train

Quick selfy while the train slowly crossed the 102-meter high Gokteik Viaduct

Mandalay to Hsipaw train

Wide angle view while crossing the Gok Teik Viaduct along the Mandalay to Hsipaw train ride

Mandalay to Hsipaw train

Happy locals on the happy train. Very lucky shot :)

Trek to Sunset Hill

Rushing to the summit of Sunset Hill after arriving in Hsipaw

Morning Market

Chili Seller at the Hsipaw Central Market. Woke up early morning for a photowalk at the morning market.

Morning Market

Young monk apprentices on a break from their morning alms-giving ritual

Young Monk

Adorable apprentice walking barefoot along a dirt road in Hsipaw

Ancient cities of Upper Myanmar

P and I met again in Mandalay on the last day of his trip. He shared a lot of useful tips about going about the rest of my trip in Mandalay.

I only had two days left to visit as much as I can of Greater Mandalay also called the ancient cities of Upper Myanmar. The ancient cities include Mandalay and surrounding settlements of Mingun, Amarapura, Innwa (Ava), and Sagaing.

I started with a half-day trip to Mingun, which involved a scenic wooden boat ride along the mighty Ayeryarwady River. Then, rented a bicycle again to explore more sights within Mandalay City Center.

Touring around major sites of Amarapura, Innwa (Ava), and Sagaing was doable in just one day. Instead of hiring a motorcycle from Mandalay, I decided to break away from the usual routine by taking local pick-up commute.

Mandalay to Mingun Ferry

Village life along the Ayeryarwady River. Views aboard the ferry from Mandalay to Mingun.

Mandalay to Mingun Ferry

Burmese fisherman on a wooden boat at the Ayeryarwady River

Ferry landing

Wooden slow boats docked at the ferry landing in Mingun

Giant elephant

Giant elephant statue in front of massive and unfinished Mingun Pagoda

Hsinbyume Pagoda

Beautiful structural patterns of the white washed Hsinbyume Pagoda

Hsinbyume Pagoda

Monk apprentice eager to pose for a photo at the Hsinbyume Pagoda

Mingun Bell

Mingun Bell, one of the world’s largest and heaviest working bell

Shwe In Bin (wooden teak) monastery

Shwe In Bin wooden teak monastery in Mandalay. A monk be-friended me while I got lost around the area and wandered into a monk university. He led me to the Shwe In Bin monastery, which was actually just around the corner.

Maha Myat Muni Paya

Giant gold leaf covered buddha at Maha Myat Muni Pagoda, holiest Buddhist site in Mandalay

U Min Thonze Pagoda

View of Sagaing Hills from U Min Thonze Pagoda

Kaung Mu Taw Pagoda

Breast-shaped golden mound of Kaung Mu Taw Pagoda in Sagaing

Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery

Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery in Innwa (Ava)

Inna moat

Moat surrounding the ruined royal palace of Ava

Ubein Bridge

Amarapura’s Ubein Bridge, the longest wooden teak bridge in the world

Ubein Bridge

Burmese school children crossing the Ubein Bridge

Sandamuni Pagoda

Sunset at Mandalay with the maze of stupas at the Sandamuni Pagoda

Mandalay Moat

Twilight outside the fort walls of the Mandalay Royal Palace 

You can view more details of this particular trip on my Mandalay Itinerary Notes or discover more Myanmar Travel Notes @DiyDetour.