Teahouses, Biker bars and the Moustache Brothers

Trip Start Jan 11, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2011

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Where I stayed
Silver Swan

Flag of Myanmar  ,
Friday, January 21, 2011

The following morning we had breakfast in the hotel -- most hotels in Myanmar seem to include some level of breakfast -- and then began walking towards the local zoo.  Sonia had in interest in the zoo because they'd allow you to feed the bears and some of the other animals.   That's actually true (you can feed black bears, elephants and some other animals) but the conditions in the zoo are fairly poor.   Sonia kept buying animal food packs out of sympathy for them.   The only animals we saw that seemed happy were the gibbons; they were on an island in the middle of the zoo with plenty of space to move around in.

After the zoo we wanted to enter what was called the Mandalay Palace.    In the center of Mandalay is a walled moat nearly one mile square.   In the center is a recreation of the Royal Palace -- much of which was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt during the 1990s.   There are entrances on each side including right in front of the Zoo but we discovered that only the east side is open for tourists to enter.    Only a small part of the interior area is accessible to tourists, the rest is an actual working military base; and we suspect possibly an low-security internment area as we saw a military truck go by with many dispirited people in the back.   A grim reminder of where you are.   Even worse, we read in the guidebook the the rebuilding of the complex in the 1990s was done with prison slave labor.   We recommend passing on visiting.

Mandalay is located on a very flat plain and one of the primary ways to get around are trishaws which are pedal bikes with a sidecar that can hold two people.   We'd taken one from the Zoo to the Palace entrance and took another to get to a teahouse.   For Myanmar we had a second guidebook called To Myanmar with Love which strongly recommended Mandalay's teahouses.

And we concur!    Great food, tea and wonderful atmosphere.  

After the teahouse our trishaw driver asked if we would consider using him for the day.   He'd take us to the various temples, Mandalay Hill, a good sunset viewing point and then back to our hotel.   Apparently business had not been that great and he could use the money.   We were somewhat nervous he'd work too hard pedaling us all around but he insisted it would not be a problem so we agreed.

We began by heading towards Mandalay Hill.    As we said earlier, Mandalay is located on a plain excepting for this one hill which overlooks the city.    There is a temple on top of the hill and several sets of stairs leading to the top.    On the way there are several other Buddhist temples which we visited -- the teak monastery was our favorite.

When we arrived at Mandalay Hill our trishaw driver advised us to take a truck to the top if we wanted to make the sunset.    This seemed reasonable so we joined a group of people on a truck heading up the hill.   The truck was nearly full so Sonia and I took the last seats in the back which was already stuffed to overflowing with people.

We then had to hang on for our lives.  That truck took off and was barreling around hairpin curves as fast as it could.   I put my foot up so Sonia wouldn't fall out but several times people grabbed me helping me hang on!    A short lifetime later we pulled up to the final stairs leading up to the temple.

Sadly, the temple was disappointing.   Lots of people trying to sell you things and the views were sub-par.   This was partially because there was a haze over the city.   Probably due to pollution and part due to dust from the heat and traffic.   We descended quickly but via the wrong staircase and had to hunt down the trishaw driver.   All of us reunited, we headed out to what was known as "sunset point".  It was a decent location by the river with a bar where you could order beers and watch the day come to an end.    The sunset wasn't the best and the most interesting thing we saw was all the people washing clothes or taking baths in the river.

We were looking for another teahouse to eat dinner at, but it was
closed.  We learned later that most teahouses only open for breakfast and
lunch.   Walking around town, we found a place that looked like a biker bar with tons of motorbikes
parked out front but it had a large crowd which we viewed as a sign the
food was good.  

There was a small table of people behind us who seemed interested in how
we were doing.   We ordered some soups -- which turned out to be these
huge bowls and fairly spicy.  Sonia doesn't normally eat food that spicy
so she broke the ice with the table next to us given her reaction to
the food.  We had some minor chats in broken English and they ended up
paying for our dinner which was very kind.  It was so much fun interacting with this group of Burmese bikers! 

After dinner, the evening entertainment was to be watching the Moustache Brothers.    This is a brave comedic troupe of brothers who satirize the government.    The eldest of them (Par Par Lay) was imprisoned for seven years in response.   After a campaign by Amnesty International and several individuals he was released but they are no longer allowed to give public performances.   All performances are done at their house and *only* to foreigners.

The show wasn't quite what we expected.  There was
some political commentary at the beginning, but then there was quite a
lot of folk dancing as well.    The whole family was involved.    One of the
more disturbing parts was Par Par Lay putting on chains to symbolize his
imprisonment -- we felt that was rather demeaning.  We wondered if that type of humiliation was part of the deal for him to get out of jail. 

After the show, Sonia got a Moustache Brothers T-shirt (which is important for tomorrow's entry) and we headed back to the hotel.

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