Research shows checklists are a tool people can use in daily life to effectively improve organization and reduce mistakes. Every time I enter a new country, I like to make sure I do not miss information I need to know. To help me prevent hassles and problems, I made a border crossing checklist. This is the checklist of activities I complete 1-2 days prior to transitioning to a new country:
- Check currency conversion rate
- Find and note basic phrases including hello, thank you, and toilet
- Identify and record the nearest U.S. Consulate location and contact details
- Determine the address of the place I will arrive and the approximate local transit costs to reach this destination
- Download an offline map for the country using Maps.Me
- Save contact information for one person I know in the country, when possible
I save the information I learn from completing the arrival checklist in a spreadsheet. Information from the checklist that is relevant to reaching my final destination, including language and address information, is pasted onto a Note on my computer. The notes synch with my iPhone so the information is visible on my phone and easily accessible. In countries where I feel less comfortable showing my iPhone, I copy the address of my final destination into a small notebook I carry in my front pack. Then, I show the notebook to local people as I determine transportation from the arrival point to the hostel.
Using my checklist, I arrived with ease in Myanmar and quickly began my touristing experiences.
Departing the Mandalay airport I took a shared taxi into the city. The other two people sharing the taxi with me were Linette and Nick, also from the U.S. We became fast friends and met up two more times as we traveled different routes in Myanmar.
After dropping my bags in the hostel and meeting a few others, we decided to begin sightseeing that afternoon. Our first visit was to a town outside of Mandalay called Amarapura and to this pagoda, Mahamuni. This Buddhist pagoda is an active place of study for monks and a central gathering point for community events. Inside the pagoda is the most revered image of Buddha in the country. The image is almost 4 meters high and weighs more than 6 tons. Men are permitted to apply gold leaf to the statue.
The UBein Bridge may be one of the most well known sights in Myanmar. This bridge is the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world and was first constructed in 1850. Now, concrete pillars replace some of the original teak supports.
Visiting the bridge at sunrise or sunset is a popular photography excursion. There are no entrance fees for the area. Around the entrances to the bridge, many Burmese people operate small shops selling souvenirs.
On both sides of the bridge there are structures and sitting areas for optimal viewing at either morning or evening hours. It is also possible to rent a boat and sit on the water to watch the sunrise or sunset. We were not the only visitors at this well known attraction.
At our hostel we were told local Mandalay law bans foreigners from driving scooters. Mandalay also has limited public transit. There are no rickshaws or cyclos and only a small number of taxi cabs, which are more expensive. When I tried to board a shared bus operated in a pick-up truck, it seemed I was not permitted although our language barrier was also a part of the interaction. Other than walking, my main method of transport in this city was on the back of a scooter.
Temples are all over Mandalay and many regions of the country. The temples in Myanmar share design elements with temples in Thailand, including central stupas. Unlike temples I saw in other countries, in Myanmar the temples were enclosed in compounds with gateways positioned at the four cardinal directions. At the Sandamuni Pagoda surrounding the central pagoda are 1774 shrines each housing a marble slab.
The sight lines from the 1774 shrines were impressive.
Mandalay is relatively flat so the landscape offers great opportunities for sunrise and sunset viewing. I stopped at a park on the edge of the Ayarwaddy River called sunset point and then walked a few blocks to a fancier hotel, The Ayarwaddy Riverview Hotel, to enjoy a drink and watch the sunset from their rooftop on the 6th floor.
The Shwe In Bin Kyaung monastery surrounds a main building made completely of teak. The architectural style has Chinese influence showcasing intricate and ornate wood carvings. It was possible to sense the serenity inside this compound which remains an active monastery.
Near the Shwe In Bin Monestary is the main jade market in Mandalay. Most of the trade in this market is for wholesale purposes. Passing through the market on the back of a scooter en route to the monastery, I saw massive pieces of jade, jade polishing, and jade cutting. It is estimated that 70% of jade in the world is supplied from Myanmar.
I purchased a bus ticket at my hostel for the 5 hour ride from Mandalay to Hsipaw. A taxi drove me from the hostel to the bus company’s office. At the office I met a few other travelers and locals. Together we boarded a shared pick-up for a 20 minute ride through the city to the central bus station.