3/2/2009 – A Day in Mandalay
Today I spent on my own, wandering around Mandalay. On the recommendation of the receptionist at my guesthouse I walked a couple of blocks down the road to take a pick-up to the Mahamuni Pagoda. It seems that Mandalay is bigger than I thought and not exactly walk-able. I was nervous getting on the crazy bus again on my own and I didn`t see any foreigners around at all. Burma doesn`t seem to get that many tourists. I asked around about the Mahamuni Pagoda and a conductor found me and shuttled me onto his bus along with 3 other old men who just stared at me. We waited for around 20 minutes and I realised that I wouldn`t be getting anywhere quickly that day. Eventually we moved on and then the bus broke suddenly and I fell off the bench onto the dirty metal floor. I bruised my hip and cut my toe open a little bit. It wasn`t too bad but at the next stop the conductor disappeared and then came back with a plaster and a dirty rag for me, which I thought was nice.
The Mahamuni pagoda didn`t really bowl me over as the most interesting part was the Buddha statue that is constantly being brushed with gold leaf but women aren`t allowed up to the shrine so I just looked from afar.
I decided to walk to the Monk district and Shwe In Bin Kyaung. I like being able to walk through a city so I can get a fell for the vibe of the place. I was greeted by lots of smiles and `hellos` and after about 45 minutes I instinctively turned left down a quiet street which turned out to be exactly right. It was a wide road, lined with old leafy trees and Monks walking to and from temples and shops. I came to the Kin Win Kyaung pagoda where a friendly local spoke to me about English football, as they do and pointed me in the direction of the old teak monastery nearby.
The monastery was a beautiful, elegant teak building set in a leafy compound. I walked around to the sounds of chanting and prayers from the adjacent temple. It was perfectly peaceful.
Afterwards I crossed the street to a tea shop where groups of Monks huddled around plastic tables sipping tea and who stopped to stare as I walked in. I`m not sure if they get many foreigner as no-one spoke English and communicating my need for tea was a little difficult. At first they brought over a cup of hot water and a sachet of coffee. It took a few trys to indicate that I wanted tea and I ended up with lemon tea which was good enough. I spent a while writing and drinking tea being aware of a the little boy to my left staring at me. Every time I smiled he ran away. Then 2 old ladies sat down at the table opposite me, said something to each other about me and smiled huge grins at me. I smiled back and said hello. I finished up my tea and indicated for the bill. Before the boy-waiter came over, he stopped by the old woman who indicated that she was paying for my tea. I was so shocked and couldn`t think what else to do but so thank you repeatedly. She then disappeared behind me and placed a large bottle of water next to me. I was stunned by her generosity and thanked her. Maybe I looked thirsty, maybe she felt sorry for me being on my own or maybe she just wanted to be nice to the tourist? I`m not sure, but her kindness was unexpected and lovely.
Later in the afternoon I attempted to walk to Mandalay Hill but a trishaw driver insisted that it was too far and I would miss sunset. I relented and let him take me, and sure enough it was a long way. We passed the huge Mandalay Palace and it`s surrounding moat. I had decided earlier not to visit there as it was rebuilt after the war with forced labour.
When we got to Mandalay Hill I was only 20 minutes or so from sunset and it was a huge climb up millions of steps. I psyched myself up and soldiered on up the steps, barefoot in the hot, sticky city heat. The route passed many small shrine along the way and just when you thought you`d reached the top, the staircase turned a corner and revealed the further climb. Finally I reached the top, red-faced, dripping with sweat and a little breathless. But the view was fantastic and I still had plenty of time left to walk around the pagoda perched atop the hill and take a moment as the sun went to bed.
Just before the moment, I turned around to see a familiar face and there was Adam and Arianne, my Aussie friends. We took the long walk down the hill together as the dusk drew in quickly at times we could not even see the steps we were walking down. When we reached the bottom it was dark, I hadn`t eaten all day and I was shaking a little from the exertion. Arianne offered me a seat on her trishaw and off we went to Downtown Mandalay, enjoying the warm evening air.
For dinner, Arianne and I went alone to a nearby restaurant as the boys gathered at the beer station. It was nice to have some girly time and make a new friend. We also made friends with the waiter/trishaw driver who offered to take me back for free. I had a lovely chat on the ride home and he took the opportunity to talk about his Government to me and the lady that they hope will come to power. He told me that he didn`t like that Mandalay has become a motorbike city as it used to be pleasant as a bicycle city. He said that the Chinese sell cheap motorbikes and now people use those. In turn motorbike taxis are now putting him out of business. He also gave me a discontinued Kyat note as a souvenir and I did pay him for the ride back.