I think it’s fair to say, whilst in Mandalay, I experienced the hottest night of my life! Unfortunately….not in a good way…
We stayed in a room at the top of a retro guest house , actually i wouldn’t call it a room, id call it a sweat box! It was like lying inside an oven! It was in the 40′s during the day and it felt no cooler that night. It was however, cooler in the hallway and even cooler in the shower at 3, 4 and 5am! I moaned…a lot that night! It was so uncomfortable. After this I was air con all the way!
Mandalay is home to The Royal Palace – a not very inspiring place, with plenty of loose nails just waiting to stab into your bare feet, that are otherwise burning on the extremely hot floors across the grounds. Once inside the palace there was a large tower, that looked like an old Helter skelter and some Chinese looking buildings with empty rooms. ( just nails sticking out the floors!) Except for one, that had a big double bed in the centre of this giant room…with bouncing Japanese tourists posing and taking pictures on it…Mmmm?
The Palace did have a rather large moat surrounding it on all sides, each side 2 miles in length! I felt like I’d been in the desert and I was having a mirage, when we finally found this great ice cream place! Phew heaven…
Surrounding Mandalay are three ancient cities. Sagaing, Inwa and Amapura. We decided to tackle all 3 in one day. We met a crazy guy call Maurice who offered to be our guide. He was really nice and helpful actually but I got the feeling he was Mandalys answer to Del Boy…reckon he had his fingers in a few pies!
He introuduced our driver as his ‘brother’ or was it his cousin, Chan Chan. (how come everyone is everyones brother? Mmm) . He was a cheeky chappy, who had a fondness for gambling we soon realised when we spotted him at it and he kept asking us for money along the way. He also seemed to get increasingly intoxicated as the day went on and was constantly chewing the bethal nut parcels. Everywhere you go in Myanmar you see people chewing these parcels. How can you tell? Well because the mix of the red nut with the green leaves , some white paste to keep it all together and chewing tobacco, make a very red liquid. This liquid is spat all over the floor…everywhere…all over Myanmar ( the first time I saw it I was looking for someone who was bleeding all over the place) and a tell tale sign they chew it is the red liquid spurting between their teeth…stains them a nice brown/ black colour. It’s quite a site when they give you a lovely big grin!
We started this day with Maurice visiting a weaving factory and a wood craft place. Let’s face it, he was being paid to take us in there but we didn’t seem to mind as everything was so new to us and they were nothing like the people I first met in India all those months ago! They tried to sell their very nice products but none of us were in the market for a carpet or a statue so we were polite, looked around then left…as did Maurice at this point…looking for the next batch of gullibles no doubt!
We then headed onto Sagaing to visit Sagaing Hill. We approached a big bridge and started to get a glimpse of this ancient city. Lots of white stupas ( its a pointed temple, most of which are not hollow) each one attached to a monastery. There must be a big Monk neighbourhood I thought!
We start our walk up to one of the highest monasteries, the views are incredible…the river, the rolling green hills, monasteries and stupas dotted in between and it’s quiet, it’s so quiet. And it was hot, hot, hot!
I had to get used to walking barefoot. There are so many temples and sacred places and shoes are forbidden. With the weather reaching a scorching 45 degrees some days, it felt like your feet would cook of you stood still.
We didn’t see any other tourists, no sovieniers for sale…it was great. I did meet a guy from Pyin u lwin state though, he was the first person to talk to me about the government and how he feels about his country. His name was Toowa and he was an architect and he had a dream to visit Europe. He told us “one day, one day I’ll be able to go” it really makes you realise how lucky we are to have an entitlement to a passport and if we really want to, we can travel the world. Many people throughout Myanmar do not have that luxury. I felt very humbled by him and very lucky to be me. Also, he was a genuine guy, like most in Myanmar, he didn’t ask us for money or anything for telling us a little about the monasteries and the temple at the top. He just wanted to chat and practice his English.
We also spoke with some of the many monks strolling in and around the main set of very steep stairs. One in particular had a dream to take some of the seeds from the trees there and sell them to plant them in Austrailia…Alan & Dave, two guys from Austrailia we travelled with for a while, had to break the bad news to this monk…Austrailia has many, many trees and they didnt think it would take off. Ahhh he looked so disappointed I remember. Are monks meant to be enterprising…is this allowed?