An exotic ring but not so exotic feel

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Apr 08, 2006

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Flag of Myanmar  , Mandalay,
Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mandalay. The name itself conjured images of an exotic city covered in gold in my mind. However, the reality that is Burma's second largest city couldn't have been further from this image. I learnt this almost as soon as I arrived in the city, at around 3:40am! An even more ridiculous hour than that which I arrived in Kalaw. And Mandalay seemed just as deserted. To make matters worse, we (Guy, an Israeli, and Susan, an American, who I met as I was leaving Nyaungshwe) had a hell of a time finding a taxi who wouldn't rip us off then, and then finding a hotel that had rooms available! It wasn't until some time around 5:30am that I finally made it to bed. My mind was made up. I didn't like these overnight bus rides!

Some time mid morning after a bite for breakfast Susan joined me for a walk down to the Mahamuni Paya, Mandalay's most famous pagoda. The pagoda itself was quite attractive, however seeing it after the Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon did it no justice. However one similarity was that the monks wanted to talk and practice their English with us. We couldn't help but laugh when one told us how old the pagoda was - 449345633859. Ok then! Pretty old huh! The pagoda grounds apparently housed some Khmer statues that I was hoping to have a look at, but I couldn't find them.

We met Guy buck at our hotel, The AD1, and got a taxi to check out the sunset from Mandalay hill. Unfortunately the decades old blue bomb we were getting a ride in broke down four times before we even made it to the base of the hill! Giving up, we left our taxi driver who thought the whole thing was just hilarious and started walking back to our hotel. After the breakdowns we'd lost quite some time, so we figured we'd see the hill another time. To make up for it we saw an attractive sunset behind the walls of the Palace. It was also nice to walk alongside the huge moat surrounding the palace and watch the Burmese go about things seemingly oblivious to us. This part of the city was quite striking, whereas the rest of it was very dirty and had little character.

Unable to book a ticket for Hsipaw, Susan, Guy and myself found ourselves stranded in Mandalay for another day. Rather than spend it in the city, where we felt there was very little to do, we decided to get a local pickup out to Sagaing, 20km away. It was a really interesting way to travel and I spoke a little with a monk who wanted to know my thoughts on Burmese politics. Given the pickup was overcrowded with people I thought it best if I kept my mouth shut!

Sagaing is a small town on the western bank of the Ayeryawaddy River, however we had come to see Sagaing hill, which was dotted with many white stupas. Upon arrival we walked the 3km to the base of the hill and then found an entrance where we could avoid the $3 government fee. We spent about two hours on the hill, taking in the beautiful views over the Ayeryawaddy River and the many stupas. Unfortanately the haze was quite thick, which didn't make for good photos. However it was stell a very unique site, quite unlike any I'd seen before.

Guy and I rode on the roof of a pickup back to Mandalay, which was a fun, if not so safe way to travel! For dinner we hunted down the chapati stand recommended by the author of the Lonely Planet guide. He'd definitely got this one right, they were FANTASTIC! And 1200 kyat (approx $1US) managed to completely fill up four of us! I think that rates as the cheapest meal I've ever had, and it wasn't just chapatis, as a veggie curry were thrown into the mix as well!

Our next stop was to be Hsipaw, north east of Mandalay on the Shan plateau. Knowing we had to come back through Mandalay we postponed our trip up the hill until we came back. And we didn't want to give the junta $10US for the privilege of seeing sites that were refurbished using forced labour.
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