Mandalay, Myanmar

Where the catfish play…

Mandalay

Getting off the boat in Mandalay was a mad rush of taxis and Tuk Tuks vying for our business. Of course you have to bargain and I managed to get the price down from 10000 kyats to 8000. I established that this was the normal price through a series of hand signals with a fellow passenger as he was whisked away into the crowd. At this time that is worth about $8 cad. This scrum of who will carry who and for how much is always invigorating and riding in a Tuk Tuk is a much more in the now experience that being shut up in an air conditioned taxi.

My hotel, The Royal Pearl, in Mandalay was very close to the palace grounds but based on the hallways I had a bit of a gulp when I first arrived, but it turned out my room itself was quite lovely. It was well located and walking distance to the main sights. Not the prettiest city, Mandalay for a couple of days might be sufficient unless you are able to get out into the countryside. Glad though, to have some time to walk and stretch my legs after the boat trip, I left Royal Pearl after breakfast and headed to the palace, the grounds of which are huge and surrounded by a moat. Foreigners can only enter from the east gate for 10000 kyats so it was a long lovely stroll along the broad sidewalk that skirted the moat around the palace.

But as chance would dictate my direct beeline took an interesting turn when a young guide talked me into a full day tour outside of Mandalay, across the Ayeyarwady to visit Sagaing (temples)and then return via a country market which he assured me far surpassed the beauty and grandeur of the palace and the pagodas in Mandalay. Turns out the tour was on the back of his motorbike. A little wobbly getting on the first time he said to me “Mother you are very strong”to which I replied “yes and you may call me grandmother” trying to muster all the esteemed treatment possible given my undignified lunge on to the bike. 

He was right and the tour was great and took me up into the hills that we had passed on the boat, great vistas and amazing pagodas (yes more pagodas) we spent the day whizzing up and down the hills in the fresher country air. Turns out my guide knew just enough English to talk me into the tour and not much more. At the top of Sagain Hill, which is dotted with white and gold pagodas, is the Soon U Ponya Shin Paya and the Unmin Thounzeh temples.

My guide offered me the opportunity to have an authentic Myanmar meal at a road cafe. They served a meat dish of your choice along with rice and then lifted a bug screen from an array of a dozen or more small dishes, condiments, vegetables, pickles, sauces etc. Myanmar excels in fresh veg dishes; green beans, cauliflower, squashes of all kinds, etc. There is a subtle spicing not as hot as Thailand but slightly above Cambodia. I paid “our” bill and out of the corner of my eye I saw the owner give my guide a kickback, can’t complain as the total for both of us was less than 5.00 Cad.

After tootling around the Mandalay hills for five or so hours we crossed back over the Ayeyarwady River to visit a pier/market (think Granville Island) for a short stop. By now I was mounting and dismounting like a pro and wasn’t nearly pulling my little guide over to the pavement each time.

How motorcyclists weave in and out among the traffic, traveling together like a school of fish, always close but never touching, is beyond me. The only rule seems to be if there’s a space…fill it. All in all it was an interesting and exhilarating day and my butt was glad to see the east gate foreigner entrance to the royal palace of Mandalay. 

It is a very long walk from the gate to the actual palace grounds and along the way there are army barracks for soldiers and their families. Other than that the grounds are pretty and a nice place to walk. The palace itself is rather minimalist when compared to others, like the one in Bangkok, but it’s simplicity leaves a lot to the imagination. There are a few structures that would have been reserved for the royal family and clustered around them were panabodes that would have been reserved for the retinue that served them.

Too late to climb Mandalay hill for the sunset, which apparently is the Mandalay thing to do, I returned to my hotel and caught the last of it from the rooftop restaurant of the Royal Pearl. Tomorrow an early flight to Heho, gateway to Inle Lake.