Easy 1-2 Day Itineraries in Mandalay, Myanmar: Mingun and Inn Wa

Mandalay boasts unique, stupendous sights with fewer tourists than more popular cities like Bagan and Yangon. It’s definitely worth staying a few days even if you’re as weary of temples and pagodas as I was. Here’s what I did for a quick two day itinerary, though there’s much more that I missed thanks to unseasonable rain and late morning starts.

Note: I was told downtown is centered around the southwest of the large, square moat housing the Mandalay Palace, directions are described from that area.

Day 1: Inn Wa and U-Bein Bridge: We arranged through our hotel for a tuktuk to take us to Inn Wa and U-Bein Bridge for sunset in Amarapura, cost 35,000 kyat including driving around Inn Wa so we didn’t have to hire a horse cart. We also didn’t go to Sagaing so it started at noon. I don’t know all the names of places we went in Inn Wa, but it included Lay Htat GyiMyint Mo Taung and Bagaya Monastery near it, and many others. Wonderful experience poking around ruins different than what you see in Bagan with few to no other tourists at each spot. U-Bein Bridge is a major tourist attraction and takes no effort to figure out on your own, just follow the crowds and don’t fall in the mud.

Technically you need a Mandalay Archaeological Zone Pass to visit (10,000 kyat), but only some places checked. If you don’t have one you can buy it at the ticket booths where they check. Hold onto the ticket, you’ll need it for attractions in the city as well.

Day 2: Mingun: This place is one of my favorites – the epic base of what was going to be the largest pagoda in the world, the world’s second-largest ringing bell (largest until 2000), and a uniquely bright-white pagoda covered in waves. Leave from Mingun Jetty. I’d get there 8:30am for the 9am ferry – it’s a fun walk as streets and markets in the morning have a completely different energy. Buy your ticket at the jetty, they need a passport or picture of a passport. Keep the paper ticket, it’s the same ticket for the ride back. 

~1 hour boat ride there, you can ignore the oxen-taxis and walk to the main things: Mingun Pahtodawgyi and the stone lions in front of it near the water, Mingun Bell (don’t be afraid to ring it), and Mya Thein Tan Pagoda. Make sure you’re back by the departure time because they won’t wait. It’s usually around 12:30 or 1pm.

Once back, you’ll have half the day to see some more things before sunset from Mandalay Hill. You can use Grab for tuktuks, select Grab Thonebane instead of car. We Grabbed to Shwenandaw Monastery (same ticket as Inn Wa) and Kuthodaw Pagoda, then climbed steps to Su Taung Pyae Pagoda for sunset from Mandalay Hill. You can get a tuktuk most of the way up if you are low on time or just don’t feel like stairs, it took me 20 minutes moving quickly, though I’d heard 40. They’ll charge some kyat at the bottom to hold your shoes, and there’s a 1000 kyat entry at the very top. There are landings on the way up with nice, free views to rest on. There are also countless snack and drink stands on the way up.

Good places we ate: Golden Shan Buffet (5,000 per person). Pan Cherry Noodle House & Cafe: (not Pan Cherry Indian, there are two with the same name.) Order the number 1 with Shan noodles. It’s a noodle soup with lots of veggies and it is delicious. The wings are awesome too. They have wings with passion fruit sauce as a special. It’s cute there and the food is great. 

Getting to & Hiking Pha Ngern / Pha Ngeun Viewpoint Near Vang Vieng, Laos

View from Pha Ngern Viewpoint 3, Vang Vieng, Laos

Summary

  • There are 3 viewpoints along this trail. It takes 20-30 minutes to reach the first one, then 45 more minutes to reach the next two which are 5 minutes apart from each other
  • 50 minute walk from Vang Vieng town to the start of the hike
  • ~2 hours total hike time up and down to the third viewpoint, moving quickly. With walk to and from Vang Vieng, 4 hours total. It will take longer if it’s rained recently.
  • The hike is very shaded. The walk from town has almost no shade.
  • Entry: 10,000 kip. More to cross the toll bridge from Vang Vieng: 4,000 kip on foot, 6,000 on a push bike, probably more for a scooter.
  • Bring:
    • Water. Sometimes someone is selling water at the first viewpoint, but not always. I drank 3 liters.
    • A headlamp if you are coming for sunset.

Please note there are 3 “Pha Ngern” viewpoints on most maps, all in the same area. On Google Maps:

  1. Pha Ngern Viewpoint” and “Pha Ngern Cliff View Point 2” are the points I’m describing, as they are along the same trail. “Pha Ngern Cliff View Point 2” is actually two separate lookouts about 5 minutes apart.
  2. Silver Cliff (Start point / Parking)” is a different hike sometimes called “Pha Ngern Silver Cliff”.On Maps.Me, the hike I’m describing is to “Pha Ngeun” and “Big Pha Ngeun Higher Viewpoint”. The other hike looks like it’s called “Silver Cliff Lower Viewpoint”.

    Hiking to Pha Ngern / Pha Ngeun View Point

  1. Getting to the Trailhead / Starting Point
  2. Hiking to Viewpoint 1
  3. Hiking to Viewpoints 2 and 3
  4. Hiking down and back to Vang Vieng

Getting to the Trailhead / Starting Point

I walked from Vang Vieng Rock Backpackers Hostel at the far end of town. I walk fairly quickly and it took ~50 minutes to reach the start of the hike. There is not much shade on the walk; bring lots of water especially if you’re heading to the higher “Pha Ngern Cliff View Point 2” (highly recommended). I went at sunset when it was cooler and drank 3 liters.

Leaving town, you pass a toll bridge (4,000 kip on foot, 6,000 kip on bike, ticket valid to go and return though nobody checked mine on returning). The bridge view over the river is nice, but you should focus on getting out of the way of the cars, tuktuks, and motorbikes – you’ll get better views elsewhere. Once you cross the bridge, you’ll be walking along the one main road heading west – Google Maps directions to “Pha Ngern View Point” will get you to this main road.

Walking along this path you’ll pass fields backed by towering karst cliffs in the distance like below, and likely be accompanied by cows, chickens, goats, and dogs – watch for poop. It will look like this:

Road to Pha Ngern View Point, Vang Vieng, Laos

Walk to Pha Ngern Hike, Vang Vieng, Laos

Once you’ve walked most of the way there, passing some houses and buggy rental shops, you’ll see signs advertising a dirt road towards the right for Viewpoint Phadeng Mountain, Khan Kham Cave, and Pha Ngern Village – this is NOT the turnoff for the viewpoint, but you’re close. Photo below:

Incorrect turn for Pha Ngern Viewpoint, Vang Vieng, Laos

A little further along, you’ll see a gravel road turning off to the right alongside a wall/fence. There is a sign here to turn off for the hike, this is the correct place to turn. On the other side of the fence is a sprawling lot with a small shop – when I went there were a lot of machines/vehicles on the lot. I unfortunately did not take a picture. The turnoff is at 18°55’07.8″N 102°25’25.8″E (shoutout to Chelsea Affleck for verifying the GPS coordinates!). After the turnoff it’s a short walk to a booth selling tickets for 10,000 kip. A few hundred meters further theres a booth where they check your ticket, there’s also an outdoor toilet here. Then start the vigorous uphill!

Hiking to Viewpoint 1

Listen for birdsong and watch for bugs, I saw millipedes, giant roly-polys, and heard bugs that sounded like beeping mechanical alarms or screeching metal -I wondered if I’d emerge into tour groups getting off cable cars until the calls slowed and sounded more natural. After 20-30 minutes, you’ll see these signs for the first viewpoint to the left, as well as others pointing towards the right. Go left and it’s a 7 minute rope-aided scramble up to the first viewpoint.

Signs for first Pha Ngern viewpoint, Vang vieng, Laos

Views from the first viewpoint are already fantastic – there were two monks here just before sunset, and I didn’t see anyone else after this.

View from Pha Ngern Viewpoint 1, Vang Vieng, Laos

View from first Pha Ngern Viewpoint, Vang Vieng, Laos

Hiking to Viewpoints 2 and 3

You’ll go back down to the signs and continue right for the trek to the final two viewpoints. This section seems a little less traveled. There are a few signs near the end to encourage you along, as well as red spraypainted arrows and bamboo ladders and handrails to guide you when it gets confusing. At several points the path goes over fallen gray rocks and you can look for the brown trail of trekked mud from past hikers. Leaves start getting bigger, you pass stands of bamboo thicker than your leg shedding husks like Hulk-sized Wonder Woman cuffs, and bug and bird song fill the air. A couple photos below of the trail.

The views are well worth it! I wondered why nobody was at either of the final viewpoints for sunset… until I started down in the dark.

View from Viewpoint 2:

Views from Pha Ngern Second Viewpoint, Vang Vieng, Laos

360 View of Pha Ngern Second Viewpoint, Vang Vieng, Laos

Views from Viewpoint 3:

Pha Ngern Viewpoint 3, Vang Vieng, Laos

View from Pha Ngern Viewpoint 3, Vang Vieng, Laos

View from Pha Ngern Viewpoint 3, Vang Vieng, Laos

Hiking down and back to Vang Vieng

I left viewpoint 3 shortly before complete darkness. Luckily I brought a headlamp, hiking down with a phone light would be much harder and require a lot of battery. I instantly noticed bright, beautiful opalescent lights reflecting off the ground all around me. I thought they were flecks of mineral in the rocks, until I looked closely and realized they were all spider eyes… there were what looked like small huntsman spiders all over the path. Despite knowing they’re not dangerous, this made my pace downhill more “panicked elephant” than “careful hiker”. It was an exciting though quick way down – some of the lights further along were eyes from large moths and other unknown insects. I expected bugs to flock to my headlamp but only a few large moths bobbed around my head – more exciting was the occasional bat swooping from behind me, presumably nabbing tasty bugs but flying so close it felt like they emerged from my headlamp. As I got closer to the first viewpoint and the base the amount of bugs declined drastically, if you leave earlier than I did you could easily miss them.

Spiders, Pha Ngern Viewpoint, Vang Vieng, Laos

Moth, Pha Ngern Viewpoint, Vang Vieng, Laos

When I got to the bottom the people at the booth were surprised at my emergence from the path; I think most people leave much earlier than I did. There aren’t lights on the road back, I was thankful for the headlamp and my phone to make sure scooters and cars along the road could see me trudging back to town, though it was wonderful to look at the stars in the near-complete darkness when you’re still far from town. Can’t recommend this hike enough, just make sure you’re prepared with light, water, and know you’ll see some bugs along the way!