Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Road to Mandalay

Mandalay, famed by the poem of Rudyard Kipling, which for those who haven't read it, see below. It definitely has a catchy rhythm and it holds a little of that Mandalay charm.

BY THE old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! "
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay ?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat - jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen,
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
Bloomin' idol made o' mud
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay...

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,
She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "Kulla-lo-lo!
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an' the hathis pilin' teak.
Elephints a-pilin' teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay...

But that's all shove be'ind me - long ago an' fur away
An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;
An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else."
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay...

I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an' grubby 'and -
Law! wot do they understand?
I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay...
Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,

Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
O the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay !

Most people who come here aren't really charmed by Mandalay, a bit like Yangon it's a hit or miss place. But with the right group and a little sightseeing in the old ancient cities further afield than the new city boundaries, it really holds a charm. There are ton's of dazzling Pagoda's in Sagaing, a monastery where you can watch the morning alms giving, Inwa where the old temple ruins are seen by traditional horse and cart accross a short river trip, and the famous U-Bein bridge in Amarapura, the longest teak bridge in the world. There are also some charming city sights too and just walking around the city markets can be a highlight, while trying all the different foods and fruit on offer.

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I caught a 5.30am bus from Hsipaw to Mandalay, down some serious mountain edge roads and got to Mandalay around 1pm. I got a shared taxi (normally like a big tuk tuk/pickup truck which is what the locals use) and headed straight to my hostel to check in and then went off on a half day around the city.

It was Christmas eve so I thought I'd do a few sights, then head up to Mandalay hill for sunset and then the hostel was putting on a buffet feast for Christmas.

I went on a walk to the palace, which was nice but mostly reconstructed as it was bombed in WW2 and its a very long walk for not much. Plus, since the military rule of Myanmar its basically been used as an army compound ever since - its weird as there are restricted areas, you are only allowed to walk down one street, see the palace and then walk back up, there's also only certain areas/places you can photograph; they make sure they take your passport/ID before entering the 'compound' just in case you disobey the rules!

I then started my walk towards and up Mandalay hill to be ready for sunset. There was some kind of celebration going on there too, I was unsure what but there was a dressed up elephant, some dressed up cows and also some dressed up people and loud music!

The way up was lots of steps, through little shrines and took around 30mins, also past the dog sanctuary where there were teeny tiny puppies! Once up I was kinda early, so I took a walk around the huge temple and then awaited in my spot for sunset. Because it was Christmas Eve, it was super busy up there so you had to fight for some space.

I then, begrudgingly got a motorcycle taxi back to the hostel as it was too far to walk. But the guy listened to me when I said, slowly and carefully, and it was actually a pleasant ride, watching the colours change in the sky over the palace walls. Then it was Christmas Party time!

I met an awesome group of people that night and we actually stayed together over the next couple of days and Cat became my week-long buddy! I re-met Anish, who I met on the circle line in Yangon and we all had an awesome night along with some others. There was an all-you-can eat buffet plus 3 alcoholic drinks for $15, a little pricey but we made sure we got our money's worth. Then there was Burmese Bingo where all the staff got little Christmas presents and the winner won $150, which is alot of money for them. Then there was normal bingo for the rest of us which became quiet competive. We stayed up until around 1am, and the hostel gave us all a little Christmas present to open at midnight, which was a lovely 'Friend' Bracelet which I've been wearing ever since.

The next day we all wanted to hire a car to go and visit the old cities of Mandalay and U-Bein bridge at sunset, however a half day would never have covered it, so we decided to postpone until tomorrow and instead walk around the city and find some charming markets. We visited the famous Gold-leaf making 'factory', it was more a house. Where they taught us how they made it and what they turned the gold-leaf into - such as tea sets and the likes. On the way we sampled some of the famous Mynamar fried street delights; little deep-fried donuts and deep-fried Corn, which are dipped in some kind of melted cane sugar sauce.

Then we made our way to a famous market near the hostel. We spent the whole afternoon just walking around, sampling different fruits (my favourite is pieces of Guava, mixed up with a chilli salt - the sweet of the fruit mixed with the salty chilli is delicious!). We also sampled some of the Myanmar sweets - basically pure sugar, some mixed with tamarind, some mixed with coconut, and some jelly-like. It's great as they all let you sample without buying which is a great way to test the water! Then we sat and had a drink - the famous Myanmar Avocado drink - which is a whole avocado, chopped up and mixed with coconut, condensed, evaporated and normal milk. It's delicious but super filling. It was definitely a different but awesome Christmas day - and spent eating which is what it's about right?

Then we all came back to the hostel and freshened up - I watched an awesome sunset on the hostel rooftop - before heading out for our Christmas Day Meal! We decided to go to one of the more 'upmarket' restaurants (still only cost us $4-5!) and pig out. They had a 'traditional' turkey meal but I opted for the Noodle hot-pot, which was delicious. There was a few mix-ups with our meal due to the lack of English-speaking staff, but we got through it and eventually got what we ordered, it's all a part of the fun! It was also super festive as they were playing Christmas songs and the trees behind us had been decorated with lights. It had been a great Christmas day spent with some awesome people and I looked forward to our boxing day day-trip tomorrow!

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So we ordered our taxi for 9am, but instead of bringing the small car they brought the more expensive bigger car - there was only 4 of us so we didn't need this so instead we hired the guy with his car accross the road, who turned out to be an amazing guy!

It was 40,000 kyat (around $30) for the whole day. He first took us to a wood carving place, and a place where they make silk Longhi's - which were great because you could go around and watch them work, look at all the designs etc - without being pestered to buy anything which is unlike any other asian countries! In fact, at the wood carving place, me and Cat spent most of our time petting a cute resident kitten.

It was then onto the Monastery, near Amarapura, where we watched hundreds of Monks taking part in their alms giving ceremony - where they collect their daily food in their alms pots, from community donations. We also got the opportunity to walk around the monastery which was great as we got to see where they lived.

Then it was onto the ancient temple city of Sagaing - which is where we realised our car was typical Myanmar and the wheels weren't lined up, so we were swinging all over the place, and his driving was crazy - but it's Myanmar right, it's all part of the experience! We went over one of the famous bridges constructed by the Japanese during the war, Ava Bridge, which provides a fantastic view over Sagaing; with all the hundreds of dazzling, glittering golden pagodas and temples over the hilltops. He took us to a couple of big temples before going up to Sagaing hill where there's a view out over the hills towards Mandalay - a little hazy in the dust, but you get to see all the golden tops of pagodas below. Myanmar really is a place where golden pagoda's or old temples are like what vending machines are to Japan! There are soooo many of them.

After this it was time for lunch, which was fried noodles in a restaurant down by the river, where after we crossed by boat to the even more ancient city of Inwa. Here it was mandatory to tradition that after the short boat trip, you hire a horse and cart to take in the temple ruins. It was a slow and very bumpy ride around, and Cat and Alex's poor horse was super tired (I usually hate taking horse and cart, because I hate seeing overworked horses, but it was the only way to get around the tiny narrow bumpy roads of Inwa) but there were some stunning places to see, the temples were like smaller Ankor Wat temples. It was almost 4.30pm by the time we had finished our tour of Inwa, so we headed back accross the river and accross another Japanese bridge, Inwa Bridge, towards Amarapura, home to U-Bein bridge. This bridge is famous to do at sunset, and built in 1850, it's the oldest and longest Teak-wood bridge in the world.

Our driver dropped us off and due to the amount of crowds at this time, and the limited time before sunset, we tried to walk accross to see it from the 'famous spot' but it was just impossible so instead we went down and picked our own glorious spot for sunset, just by the water on the east side. I understood why it was so famous, the colours of the sun as it slid down behind the bridge, silhouetting it against the horizon was just spectacular - Mandalay does the BEST sunsets!

Then we stopped by a local place overlooking the bridge for some well-deserved boxing day beers! Mine was a Mandalay beer - when in Mandalay - and it claimed to also be anti-aging, so here's to that! Then it was back to the hostel and a quick bite to eat down the road in a local Myanmar cuisine restaurant. Where you can order curry, with unlimited amounts of rice, side dishes, broth, salads. I just had a Pickled Tea-Leaf salad - that and a tomato salad are fast becoming a favourite of mine, they are just so full of flavour, light and mixed with lots of crunchy beans and nuts - delicious!

The next day I took as an admin day, applied for my Visa for Sri Lanka, and went in search of a laundry place (with no success), plus went to change up some more dollar at the bank (success, I even got a better exchange rate than the internet rate!) and went for a very local meal at a very local restaurant down the road where I tried Mohinga (a sour fish noodle soup), plus some prawn spring rolls - all for 1800 kyat ($1.20). The rest of the group came back just after lunch from their morning in Minguin and they needed lunch too so we went back to the same place and I had a typical Myanmar coffee (as sweet as a Vietnamese coffee yum!) - all the men there seemed to be doing it, it seemed it was a 'thing' to come at lunch have a coffee and some fried snacks, have a Burmese cigar or cigarette and chat for hours.

We then chilled on the rooftop, had a happy hour cocktail and played a few games of 'Around the world' Monopoly - sometimes, all you need is a game and a cocktail! Before saying goodbye to Alex and Franc heading off to Kalaw on their night buses, and an early night for our early morning bus to Bagan the next day with Cat. We were both wanting to do the slow boat down to Bagan, but it was super expensive ($42 minimum for 10hours), whereas the bus was 5hrs and $8! Plus it meant we could save our money to do more in Bagan, we planned to do a sunset cruise once we got there, so same same but different!

Mandalay had been a memorable experience with some wonderful people and I couldn't wait to continue down to Bagan, which would be even better!

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