Our last day in Mandalay was Independence Day and we had wanted to go to the museums but being a holiday they were closed. We really didn’t have much of a plan as we had done most of the main attractions here already. We grabbed a cab to the Imperial Palace which was a walled city within Mandalay. It served as a home to two Burmese Kings, one of which built the palace in 1857. The British forces seized the city in 1885 and sent the King to a house prison in India and then used the palace for their British Club. It is now controlled by the Burmese military (government). There is a 230 foot wide moat around the huge brick walls that are 2 miles each way protecting the palace.
We were dropped off at the entrance and directed by military men which way to go. When they were out of sight I quickly took this picture of a sign on the moat wall. I turned around to see a man with a large machine gun was standing beside me. I felt sick. How stupid was I. I know Doug will not be happy that I did that. But what a sign! We saw a small sign right after that stating where and what we could take pictures of. This wasn’t on the list.
Lana said he didn’t notice and we kept walking. There was a two mile walk to the palace and residences (barracks) were lining both sides of the street. There was such a military presence and feeling of oppression somehow. I think I was just really rattled.
Men with motor bikes and tri shaws ( bicycles with seats on the side) asked us if we wanted a ride to the palace, it was too far to walk. “no thank you, we like to walk”. It was only 10AM and quite cool so a pleasure to do some walking.
It was almost deserted. A lot of people don’t come here because it is military, we originally were not going to come either but did in the end. The buildings were huge and sparse.
There were some young monks there, around 20 years old, with a group of women. They came and asked us if they could have their picture with us. This happened three times at this site and a couple of times yesterday. The shoe on the other foot, we are usually taking pictures of the monks. You wonder what they tell their friends when they show the pictures. Best not to know.
Trying to hail a cab here is not that easy. Two men with tri shaws asked if we wanted a ride somewhere and so we said yes as it would be a great adventure. I was on one and Lana and Jane on the other. They must have had incredibly strong legs and thank god Mandalay is mostly flat. They took us down some of the back streets which was great, a lot quieter and we saw some different areas of the city. They took us to an old wooden Monastery that had beautiful intricate wooden carvings all through it. It was very ornate and beautiful.
This little girl was selling flower leis as an offering at one of the Payas and I bought one and wanted to have her picture as she had these great decorations on her face with the sunblock paste. Apparently a lot of people use it more of a decoration (makeup) than sun protection.
Our two drivers took us to a few more sites and then we asked about a gold leaf factory to see how they make the gold leaf that goes on the Buddha’s and the shrines. They said it was close, but we ended up going all the way across town in heavy traffic at times. Going through the intersections here , especially in a trishaw, was an adventure. There are very few traffic lights and even if you do see them they don’t seem to matter much anyhow. It’s a dance. You just go and everyone just seems to weave in and out until you get to the other side.
By the time we got to the gold leaf factory we were done with the trishaw. My lungs were full of exhaust and our bodies felt covered in dust and dirt. We paid them and went into watch these young men swing heavy sledgehammers to flatten small pieces of gold onto bamboo paper. The first round is ½ hour of hammering. Then 3 hours more to get it to the thin film that is known as gold leaf. Back breaking work. Mandalay does all the gold leaf for all the temples in Myanmar and there are over 70 factories like this here in the city.
We were starving. I have had a really tough time here finding something to eat. Being a vegetarian is always a challenge for me, but Myanmar is by far the worst place for me so far. Everything is with meat or seafood and if you are able to find a vegetable dish it is made with fish sauce. All the food is deep fried. You are hard pressed to find any dish that is not fried . Myanmar is not known for it’s food. I have been eating a lot of almonds fruit and protein bars since arriving.
I found a vegetarian Indian restaurant in Lonley Planet and we headed there. We all agreed it was fantastic food and the woman who ran it spoke perfect English and had a great sense of humor. Finally, I was so Happy!! We got some samosas to go for our boat trip tomorrow.
Hailing a cab was impossible. We walked a few blocks and were approached by some young men on motorcycles to see if we wanted a ride. We hesitated but then realized we didn’t have many options. These are another form of taxis here. We each hop on the back of a motorbike, no helmets, and take off to our hotel. They were great drivers and drove a reasonable speed. Actually I find that all the drivers are good and don’t use excessive speed which is quite different from other Asian countries I have been in. It was wonderful, we loved it. You could see so much more and way better than the tri shaw. Until we got to the main street for a few blocks and then we were very uncomfortable without helmets. But we arrived safe and sound.
In the evening we headed to the night market to get some things for our boat trip to Bagan. It was a local market, not catering to tourists at all and really not much of anything of interest for us. I love the t shirts with English sayings that really don’t make any sense. We did end up finding a Tupperware like container for our papaya which the hotel kitchen cut up for us. I also found some reading glasses which you can never have to many of at this age.
On to Bagan!
The boat was a large wooden vessel with lawn chairs on two levels, half of which were covered with a roof and the other half in the sun. We arrived fairly early and were able to eek out our spot where we wanted to be for the next 10 hours. Upon arrival in our taxi three small, 50 something women came up and asked if they could carry our bags to the boat. Seeing as how the boat was down around 40 stairs and then a mud bank we said sure. This is probably their only means of income too so we are happy to pay them. They put our 50 lb bags on their heads with ease and meet us on the boat.
There were only tourists on this boat and it had an area inside downstairs with airline type seats that were in dire need of repair, and a little resteraunt. But we had assembled a great selection of things for our lunch. Aw crap! We left the bag in the taxi.
The boat finally left at 8AM, we arrived far too early, and it was quickly apparent that where we were sitting was going to have a diesel smell the entire way. It appeared that most of the seats were in the diesel smell area. The front of the boat had the freshest air so we moved there, put our feet up played cards and read our books and listened to our music for most of the day. It was great to have such a relaxing day with no dust or dirt and not much noise. The scenery was very serene, small villages at the edge of the river, many boats carrying goods, some with massive trucks and excavators. We saw a few dredging machines as the water is very shallow in places and continuously shifts. A few times one of the crew would go to the front of the boat with a long bamboo pole with markings and put it in the water and call out numbers in Burmese to the captain to tell him how deep the water was. We must have had a flat bottom boat because the water was only about a meter deep in some places. The river snaked all the way to Bagan . We stopped at one place a few meters from shore and these women waded into the water with bunches of bananas on their heads wanting to sell them. Jane ran down to the first floor and the women very skillfully threw the bananas to Jane and she in turn threw some money to her. Yeah we can eat!!
The boat has passengers from all over the world and many of them are so well travelled. It was interesting to talk to a lot of them and get ideas of excursions and places to visit. Two hours out of Bagan we notice that the boat is heading for shore. Right to shore. We are sitting at the front of the boat reading and the boat is not slowing down. We think it is going to be a BC Ferry crash docking! It bangs into the dirt bank and it was softer than most ferry landings. We had a crew change here of the captain and one other member. Interesting way to dock.
We arrived in Bagan on time at 6PM. We already see so many ancient temples that are close to the shore. One of them is so close to the edge it looks as though it will end up in the river before long. The sides of the banks are eroding into the river.
Once again our bags on carried on the heads of young men this time up the hill to the waiting taxis. We negotiate a fare and start our drive to the hotel. Our young taxi driver is very brave and talks politics with us. He tells us how he hates the government, and that they do trade with China of al l natural resources but instead of helping their poor country men they line their own pockets. He was also saying that the teachers are very lazy and the education system is terrible and that they don’t have any hospitals. He feels that the new government, elected last spring, is just the same thing with a different face. The cost of taking taxis here is very expensive and it is partly because the cost of fuel is pretty much the same as we pay in Canada and their wages here are minimal. He was saying that they make their own gas though and even sell it to the Chinese. Not sure how they make their own gas but they do.
We are reading in the paper of all the changes that are happening here and it is amazing how fast things are happening. We were surprised that our hotel turned on the BBC World news which is new, and apparently you can change money at a few different banks now. The internet is not censored it seems as I can get on Yahoo, Google, Facebook and everything. Times are a changing in Myanmar.
Pictures are too hard to upload here so will add more when I get a better computer.