The first day we walked through the town along the dusty and uneven roads and soaked up the sights of Burmese life: women carrying goods on their heads, men and women wearing traditional skirts (longyis), people hanging out in tea shops on plastic chairs drinking sweet milky tea, motorbikes and bicycles dodging by and people with carts selling their wares. It was fascinating to people watch as the people in Mandalay are a mix of many ethnicities. Some people commented on how they thought Ty looked Burmese.
Ty and I decided to go to Mandalay Hill to walk up to the top of the pagoda for sunset and needed to get some transport there as time was against us. A man approached us outside the hotel and so we jumped on to his trishaw. What an experience! The man had to navigate us onto the main road where hundreds of motorbikes and vehicles were rushing by and tooting their horns. He was cycling at a snail’s pace, not surprisingly with the weight of both of us, as we were travelling along the never ending road next to the palace walls. We both felt quite guilty! After quite some time on the trishaw we made it to the foot of the hill. In a dash to see the sun set, Ty and I rushed barefoot up the steep steps, past the enormous and intimidating white stone tigers, and made it to a spot to catch a glimpse of the sun just as it was going down.
Our day trip to the villages on the outskirts of Mandalay the next day was led by Mr Rat. He was very enthusiastic and eager to practice his English, and we were happy to have a cheap private tour in an air conditioned bus! The action packed tour started at 8am and finished at 6.30pm. As we drove through the busy streets of Mandalay we passed hundreds of monks dressed in their bergundy robes and nuns in pink, collecting alms. We drove to Sagaing- a place with 500 stupas and monasteries next to the Ayeyarwaddy River. Here we saw silver smiths at work, a woman making pottery jugs to carry water and I had my first experience of Thanaka which comes from the bark of a tree! The Burmese have been using it for 2000 years on their faces as a beauty product to protect them from the sun.
In the afternoon we visited Inwa and saw girls making cigars, a teak monastery and some more stupas and pagodas. Mr Rat sat us down with the locals and we drank sweet tea and Chinese tea whilst watching a very melodramatic Burmese soap on TV and compared the costs of items in England and Burma.
The highlight of the tour was visiting Amarapura- ‘The City of Immortality’ which is famous for U Bein’s Bridge- the world’s longest teak bridge which is 200 years old. As we strolled along the rickety bridge we very much enjoyed watching the locals fish and it was a beautiful spot to watch the boats on the water as the sun set.
Got absolutely chowed by bedbugs in our first hotel. Oof. However – the thanaka works a treat as a sort of calamine lotion-like mudcake to dry the 85 (I counted them) bites out. Nice! Do I care if I’m seen wearing women’s cosmetics on my forearm around town? Not if it cools the itching!
All the cool and calm stray dogs around town and in the pagodas aren’t really all that manky or unpleasant – just ubiquitous. And they’ve got some character!