Mandalay has grown on us. We have found charming scenes in what started off as a dirty, noisy, unfamiliar city.
Kids waving and shouting mingalaba (hello) as they tear past on motorbikes, the women giving you a shy smile when you smile at them, and locals going about their daily business – purchasing rice or tomatoes at the market, fixing their motorbikes in one of the many mechanic shops, rickshaw drivers straining to pull the far too big load on their bikes. Mandalay has surely given us a rapid introduction to this country, but it has been a good one!
On our last two days in Mandalay we stayed inside the city. There aren’t many official ‘sites’ if you don’t want to pay the $10US fee (that goes to the government) to get you into the Palace, numerous monasteries, and lots of temples. We didn’t want to pay it so we found other things to do.
Lonely Planet had a cycling tour that we adapted into a walking tour, and promptly got lost. It was fun but exhausting and hot work wandering the streets trying to find our way back to the route on the map. Especially because there are hardly any street signs – they’re either at major intersections only, or they are in Burmese. Not entirely helpful! We eventually found our way back on track (after we had walked through the manky slum-like part of town) and chilled out with a beer at a hotel by the Ayeyarwady River.
We negotiated for a rickshaw driver to take us to Mandalay Hill to watch the sunset for 2500 kyat (about $2.50 US). Shaun and I both sat on his side cart and the poor guy sweated it out pedalling us there! It was quite a bit further than we thought, and the driver needed a rest so Shaun took over pedalling! It was quite hilarious – lots of Burmese people going past were cracking up when they saw Shaun pedalling and me and the rickshaw driver sitting on the cart. The view from Mandalay Hill (after a 30 minute walk up) was stunning, if a bit hazy, and we watched the sun go down along with a few hundred other tourists. The rickshaw driver then pedalled us another 5 km or so (at least it was dark and a bit cooler by then) to dinner – the same Indian place (Nay Café) that we had been to the night before. Yum!
The next morning we decided to hire bicycles to go to the few sights we hadn’t seen yet. We cycled through the busy and often terrifying (for me!) streets of Mandalay and saw gold being pounded into leaf for applying to Buddhas, marble being carved into Buddhas, and then finally we saw the Buddha at Mahamuni Pagoda. Over the centuries, this Buddha has been covered with gold leaf by the faithful (but only men are allowed to touch the Buddha), so much that it now has a six-inch-thick knobbly layer of pure gold covering it (except for its face which is gleaming and smooth).
We caught the bus to Bagan at 10 pm, which cost us 8500 kyat each. It was a horribly bumpy ride and impossible to sleep. We arrived at Nyaung U (the main town in the Bagan area) at 4 am. We had booked at New Park Hotel but they didn’t honour our reservation for a $30 room (they only had a $55 room available) – but fortunately we also had a booking at Inn Wa Guesthouse, so we arrived there after having walked a couple of km’s at 4 am, and crashed into bed. Welcome to Bagan!