2/2/2009 – 1 Monk, 6 Nuns and 1060 teak posts
I was awake bright and early, eager for the day to start. I went down to the tiny breakfast room consisting of 4 tables and chose to sit with a French girl called Celine. Soon after her friend Dino from Canada joined us and we enjoyed a leisurely chat over breakfast. Both are travelling around the world and they met on the flight over to Burma. The breakfast was smaller than the previous places but still good. More eggs and tea and sweet bread.
I inquired at reception about taxi prices and waited for Arianne to call and confirm whether they wanted to join us on the day trip. In reception, Dino also overheard my plans to visit Sagaing, Inwa and Amarapura and asked to join us. So in the end 6 of us squeezed into a small blue Mazda pick-up for the visit to the 3 ancient cities. It was a little uncomfortable and there was a strong smell of noxious fumes. We tried to have a laugh and admire the scenery but the smell was getting to us. Once we arrived in Sagaing Adam spoke to the driver who revealed that the exhaust was broke, which meant all the fumes were coming straight into the back. We told him that we couldn`t spend the day inhaling that and he got a bit upset as wasn`t going to be getting such a big fare. We eventually paid him half and he left us to our own devices.
Sagaing Hill was a long, hot, climb up a countless number of steps. Along the way we saw Monks chilling out, several small shrines and of course, exhausted tourists resting from the sun. Halfway up I got chatting to a Monk who spoke good English and was keen to speak to me about his application to Montana University. He told me his name was Mr Quick in English, and Javanna is his Pyi name. He walked with me for a while and quietly said that he wanted to talk to me in private later about politics. After I had taken a look around and answered lots of questions for some young novice Monks, Mr Quick took us to his Monastery which was a basic small wooden building with a keeper. On the way down he told me that he was scared to talk openly because the government have many spies and he doesn`t feel safe. He spoke of how he loved his country and hoped that one day they`d get democracy and the woman they voted for would run the country. I felt sorry for him and his people, and also helpless that there is nothing we can do to help.
We were pretty hungry so we told him we were off to get food, he led us towards what I thought would be the village but instead we ended up in the Nunnery and sat around a small table and were served lunch. The 6 of us, Celine, Dino, Adam, Arian, Neil and I listened intently to Mr Quick`s story and joked around with the Nun`s who just kept bringing more and more food. The Nun`s managed to get Adam and Neil to eat a birdseye chilli, and cackled at their reactions. I thought Nun`s were meant to be good?! Next up the girls, including myself had our faces painted with the powdered wood that most of the women in this country wear.
Time was getting on and it was clear that we would have to miss Inwa so Mr Quick led us down the streets to his local shrine and then we climbed aboard a horse-cart which took us to the local bus stop. The bus was brimming with people; the guys climbed on top but as girls we weren`t allowed to as it`s seen as disrespectful to the men sat below, so we were squashed into the back of the bus up near the engine. It was stifling hot. The bus would then stop every few hundred metres to pick up more and more people. I was starting to get worried that we wouldn`t make it to Amarapura before sunset and I was particularly keen to see the U Bein bridge. It was definitely a `travel experience` but I am not really in a rush to do it again.
Eventually we arrived at Amarapura and Mr Quick led us down a dirt track, through a market, over a disused railway track and through the small village with large leafy trees until we came to the 1.2km long U Bein bridge with its 1060 teak posts, the longest of it`s kind in the world. We hired a boat to take us around the lake and the bridge as the sunset set on the horizon. The bridge looked stunning against the orange and red sky and behind us, the sight of all the tourists in their hired boats staring at the same sight looked quite amusing.
After sunset we walked back to bus stop and clambered aboard a less packed bus for the trip back to Mandalay. We said our good-byes to Mr Quick and got dropped off several blocks away from our guesthouse. The streets are quiet at night-time in Mandalay and we walked relatively easily and without hassle to find a nearby beer station serving food. It was a very local looking place and we were subjected to stares as we walked in. The staff were super friendly and one waiter spoke quite loudly and openly about his corrupt Government and how they let the people down. We shifted in our chairs a bit, feeling nervous and asked him to keep it down but he insisted that everyone there felt the same. He then gave each of us an old Kyat note with a picture of Aung San on it and a `freedom` stamp, which became discontinued overnight a few years ago. He told us that many people were left with no money as they were without bank accounts and all their cash was suddenly deemed worthless. Yet another case of the crazy Government ruining it`s own people.