It is possible to visit the Gokteik viaduct and return back to Mandalay on the same day.
To pass the viaduct, you have to go to Nawngpeng Station, the first station after it.
If you don't have time to buy the ticket back to Mandalay, don't worry. You may buy it on board.
Unfortunately I didn't make this trip as the train was delayed three hours and I had no guarantee to return back to Mandalay on the same day
Mandalay - Nawngpeng
04:00 - 11:58
Nawngpeng - Mandalay
12:30 - 22:40
Sein Myanmar run a shared taxi service to and from Mandalay Airport
Cost is 4000 Kyat.
They have a desk at the airport and your hotel can ring and book they for you for the return journey.
A good service as the apparent taxi fare is round 15000 Kyat normally
If you want to make it to Amarapura, Inwa and further on to Sagaing, then private transoprtation is your best bet. In fact we hired the wagon car we used the previous day to tour around Mandalay and the cost was 20$ for a half day tour to Inwa and Amarapura.
Inwa though is a bit more complicated case. Your car drops you off at a place where you have to take a river boat and cross the river after a short ride. Then you hire a horse cart to tour around Inwa's attractions (3-4 hours)-impossible on foot. If you have only half day, like we did then skip Sagaing and visit first Inwa and then Amarapura for the lovely sunset on U Bein bridge.
It's easy to find your way around in Mandalay. All the main streets are numbered. 1st street up to 45th street run east-west and streets 46 to 90 run north-south.
Bear in mind that the enormous Mandalay Palace is in the center of town. This means you can't travel uninterrupted along 13th through 25th streets (east-west) and 67th through 89th streets (north-south). If you wanted to, say, get from one end of 20th street to the other, it's take about 45 minutes because you'd have to go around the council.
There are numerous little side streets too but the numbering system makes it quite easy.
One of the best things about riding in open vehicle like this is seeing the countryside. It didn't work so well here.
A lot of the taxis and taxi buses in Mandalay are quite small. If you're tall, you might find it awkward to see outside. I had to hunch over all the time so I wouldn't miss anything.
It sounds minor but it's a bit of a pain if you're in the vehicle for hours on end and there is so much to see!
Foreign independent travel (FIT) has been legitimate in Myanmar for some years now. I visited there in May-June this year. It's no trouble to visit the main tourist areas, Yangon, Inle Lake, Mandalay, and Bagan, but to travel to border areas, especially around the golden triangle, is still problematic as I understand it. I only went as far north as Lashio.
The $300 exchange for FITs was reduced to $200 in August. Package tourists (non-FIT visas) don't have to exchange any dollars to FECs in Yangon. It has long been rumored that there was no FEC exchange booth in Mandalay, but with the new international airport this may be changing.
At 9 pm departs a train to Bagan arriving in the early morning, upperclass US $ 10, comfortable seats, ordinary class wooden seats, but very bumpy tracks.
The easiest way to get about is to take the local bus, aka pickup. Twenty people fit into the vehicle.
Great hotel, arguably our favorite in Myanmar. You can tell the owners put a lot of thought into...more
No. (A-15), Corner of 53rd & 30th Street, Chan Aye Thar Zan Township, Mandalay, Myanmar
Good for: Business
No.(10/182), Wingabar Street, (10) Quarter, Westen Bogone, Kalaw, Mandalay, Myanmar
Good for: Solo