An unlikely venue

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

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Flag of Myanmar  , Mandalay,
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

The big 26! Closer to 30 than 20 now. A year earlier I'd never have guessed I'd be celebrating my birthday in Mandalay. Luckily I had some friends to celebrate with, Susan and Guy, who were my co-travellers in Hsipaw and Namhsan. When we arrived at the AD1 guesthouse the previous day Susan and Guy both realised they didn't have time to see Bagan, and I couldn't get a ticket for the boat trip there until the following day. This meant we had another full day to fill in Mandalay, possibly the most dull of the places we'd seen in Burma.

The previous afternoon and morning of my birthday were relatively quiet, catching up on email and chowing down on some more of Mandalay's fantastic chapatis. After lunch we began the long walk around the fort to Mandalay Hill, some 5km away. After two previously failed attempts, due to car trouble and fatigue, we finally made it there. We had a brief look at the Sandamani Payi, home to hundreds of white stupas, before we began the arduous barefoot trek up the dirty stairs.

The weather was quite hot, and when we reached what we thought was the top we sat down to take in the view over the city. Susan was cornered by a talkative local here, and just couldn't seem to get away from him. After resting for about half an hour, wondering where on earth everyone was so close to sunset, we met an Irish girl, Olwyn, who informed us that we were in fact only half way up the hill! For ten minutes we continued our climb, however Susan's new found friend had moved onto me. He felt it his duty to inform me of all of the hardships faced by the Burmese people under the military junta, which not only did I know already but was made even more difficult to take in due to his monotonous tone. Even after informing him of my views and telling him what I'd done during my time in his country he wouldn't leave me alone. I couldn't help but think about how safe it was for him to be giving a pro democratic spiel at a site frequented by so many locals and tourists. He told me that he spoke to people there every night, so he somehow must have evaded the authorities. I dread to think what would happen to him if he was caught.

After managing to shake him off I was able to enjoy a nice sunset behind the mountains overlooking the Ayeryawaddy River, downtown Mandalay and the huge palace complex. Olwyn and an Israeli guy we met agreed to splash out and join us in getting a pizza to celebrate my birthday, which in the end turned out to be a really fantastic night. Later on I bade farewell to Susan and Guy and we exchanged emails. It was great travelling with them for 10 days, and I never would have made it to Namhsan if I hadn't have caught up with them at Nyaungshwe. In fact I don't think I would have even heard of the place! It would be strange travelling without them, but a few days cycling around the more than 2000 ancient temples at Bagan was sure to keep me occupied before heading back to Rangoon.
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