Friday, September 23, 2011

on the road to mandalay

After 3 days in Inle I caught the night bus to Mandalay.
"Much better than the morning one" says the travel agent.

A pickup from Nyeungschwe to the crossroads cost 700kyats. I arrived an hour early (due to transport departing early in some cases) and then my bus was 90 minutes late. While waiting, several large European style coaches stopped to pick up people so I felt quite encouraged. My bus turned up: a rusting sardine can on 4 dodgy wheels. So this was the good bus. I'm very glad I didn't take the morning one

Once on board I'm sitting by the window, squashed up against the wall. To make things worse, there is a metal cage thingy screwed to the wall to hold 2 water bottles and this is digging into my knee. Then the local karaoke music starts loudly on the bus tv. Then the aircon blasts icy air right down the back of my neck whilst the driver leaves the bus doors wide open to add some dust to the atmosphere.

So while I develop leg cramps, backache and an icy neck the man across the aisle from me begins throwing up out of his window. Meanwhile the local next to me falls asleep and uses me as a pillow. Then his bony knee presses against my other knee (the only part of my body NOT suffering discomfort at that point). The dirt road I should add is a shocker, full of potholes, fiendishly busy and the air on the bus is full of diesel fumes and dust.

Then the bus breaks down.

At least I get a chance to get off and stretch my legs.

We get going again eventually and then shortly after 2 guys across the aisle leave so I spring over my sleeping neighbour like a startled gazelle and grab both seats. I keep these for the remaining 5 hours and this makes the rest of the 8 hour journey bearable.

Arriving at a Mandalay bus station 11 kms out of town I was lucky to run into a tout for the Royal Guest House which I was planning to book into, who organised me a share taxi for 3,000k. I arrive at the guest house at about 5am and I am allowed to stay in the aircon reception until there is a room available for me about 8am-ish.

My first room was on the ground floor. My single price was $13 A/C and fans. I got a very large room with three beds. I was also bitten quite a lot by something - not mozzies or bedbugs (as these leave a nasty bite on me), but something less severe and there were a lot of them and I don't know exactly what they were. (My second night I moved up a floor and had no further problems).

Mandalay was very hot and very big. I tried walking around the palace, and gave up halfway. Each side of the palace grounds extends for 2 kms. Too hot and too tired.

mandalay palace moat

back street temple

After a small siesta, I met Stephan a young German backpacker at the guest house and we decided to head off in the afternoon by pick-up to one of Mandalays biggest attractions - the U Bein Bridge in Amarapura, once the capital of Myanmar. U Bein Bridge is a 1.2 km wooden footbridge and the longest teak bridge in the world. It was built by the mayor U Bein from the unwanted teak columns removed from the old Amarapura palace during the move of the capital to Mandalay.

Just before sunset we hired a small boat to get a closer look at the bridge.

I hired a motorbike taxi to the wharf my second day and a 5,000k boat to Mingun. The boat needs a minimum of 4 people to operate. It Was looking dicey for a while. (I'm telling you - there was hardly any foreigners in the country!!) But finally there were 5 of us so we set off at 9am.

mandalay wharf scene

Mingun is about an hour up the Ayeyarwaddy river and is an enormous incomplete temple started in 1790 by King Bodawpaya and left unfinished because an astrologer predicted that if the temple was completed the king would die. Nearby is the Myatheindan Pagoda or white temple built by the grandson of King Bodawpaya.

Mingun is an easy half day trip from Mandalay - the boat which took us there takes us back at 1pm and the downstream trip takes 45 minutes to get back.

on the way to mingun

lunch at my favourite mandalay local

The following morning I decide to head up into the hills north east of Mandalay to a town called Hsipaw.

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