Location: Mandalay to Sagaing, Myanmar
Good nights sleep, breakfast at 7am and then 8.30am bus ride back into city for tour of three monasteries. Our first stop was at Mahamuni Pagoda housing a large 12 foot gold Buddha, the devotees - men only, women had to stay on the outer perimeter - have put on so much gold plate that the poor statue is now 2 tons heavier than when originally installed. Lots of local tourists as this is a major pilgrimage site and the Buddhist image is deified in this temple. We got wet wipes to clean our feet from APT guides before putting on our shoes and driving to the gold leaf area to see how this is done. All gold is mined in North Burma and a nugget US$1600 is then hammered down to less than paper thin sheets with mallets weighing 6lbs. The workers earn US$3 per day for this most laborious task in hot conditions, almost like shave labour. There are still 200 families in the gold leaf area working to produce milions of small packets of the gold leaf. A real eye opener.
Our next stop was the Kuthodaw Pagoda constructed in 1860 in the reign of King Mindon consisting of 720 small stupas each with marble tablets inside with Buddhist inscriptions, hence known as the largest book in the world. Quite a large complex to walk around, a large gold stupa surrounded by the white smaller stupa books. Outside a lot of ladies selling lovely fresh water lily flowers that are offered to Buddha.
Then onto our third shoes off stop, the Shwenandaw Monastery built in 1878 of finely carved teak in a traditional Burmese style. This monastery is situated just outside the Mandalay Royal Palace and is the only remaining major original structure today of the palace. Wonderfully ornate carvings.
From here, on the bus and back to the boat for lunch and a quiet afternoon as we upped anchor and sailed towards Sangaing where we anchored on the rivers edge. Two buses were waiting for us, and at 3pm we departed to a small village to watch silk weaving. Being Buddhists they dont produce silkworms as they cant kill them so all silk thread is imported from China. The same methods as we ha e seen in most Asian countries, such beautiful intricate weaving and so precise and fine. Then into the shop for purchases, we bought nothing!
Another bus ride back to the U Bein bridge where we had been the morning before this time for a sanpan ride to watch the sunset, complete with a glass of bubbles. We were paddled around for around an hour, similar method to the gondolas in Venice, and the sun went down, lots of great reflections and silhouettes on the bridge, very calm waters. Quite romantic as only two per boast. The sun went down quickly to darkness, no red tinges spreading across the sky, so back in the bus and a 20 minute drive over the big bridge back to our hotel where we had half an hour to shower and change for dinner.
After dinner we were treated to a show of Myanmar cane ball up on the deck. Its a very pleasant temperature by 9pm. Cane ball is a country-wide all game with a light cane ball very loosely woven, half the size of a football. But tonight we had o Lyon e lady doing acrobatic feats with the ball juggling it on her foot. The show was half an hour and she didnt drop the ball once but kept it in the air, finally ending up at the top of a set of three stools with bottles under each leg and a pile of four bricks, twirling plates on long sticks. Very exacting and fine balance, a great performance to finish the day.
Location: Mandalay, Myanmar
Our first boat cruise day, but we had a free morning. After breakfast explored the large market, six floors of mainly clothes, shoes and odds and sods. Not a fruit and vege market. Caught a taxi back to the hotel and we all walked down the road, the five of us as we all seemed to arrive in the lobby at the same time, for a coffee. Checked out and took the hotel taxi to the Mandalay Hilton to check in and catch the bus to the port and RV Samatha, our home for the next two weeks. Not the most celubrious of ports, more like a river stop surrounded by old ferries and working barges. Had a light lunch, then as our cabins were ready we unpacked before going for a walk, back out to the main busy road and supposedly to a fruit market. From the banks of the Irrawaddy and up to the road there was a mass of humanity, the most depressing, awful living conditions, filthy, unhygienic, people barely ekeing out a living, loads of young toddlers and babies, young mothers. The men were probably down on the river boats loading steel and cement, the worst living conditions I think we have ever encountered. So after a dusty, hot stroll we turned back to the boat.
First night aboard, welcome cocktails and bubbles, introduction of all staff (ratio on this trip one to one). Nice dinner - salmon - followed by a cultural show, local dancing very colourful and small band. Good entertainment.
Location: Mandalay, Myanmar
An early start, 5am pickup by Aung Aung for a 40 minute drive to the outskirts of Mandalay to the U Bein bridge. Today is a public holiday but everyone was still up early. Markets open, schools closed. The bridge was pretty quiet when we arrived, still dark and eerie but the morning soon lightened and the locals started crossing the bridge. This is a 200 year old teak bridge, not in the best repair but substantially renovated; the original teak was from an old monastery and engineered by none other than U Bein. The bridge crosses Taungthaman lake, a lot,of water activity- people fishing, ladies wading in the lake fishing with hand held nets, several small canoe like longboats that sit right on the waterline. Several Buddhist monks and nuns, chaps fishing off the bridge. It was all happening, it wasnt a spectacular sunrise but a good way to start the day, the mornings are almost devoid of tourists so a pretty authentic view of life. By the time we departed at around 7.30am there were even more people arriving and it was getting very warm. It felt like about 10am. Aung Aung drove us a little further south and then over the Irrawaddy for the first time, a wide river and big modern spanned toll bridge built by the Germans. We drove through Sangiun and a slow drive through as the market was in full swing and busy. But a good look at local life especially being a holiday day. The villages are poor and people live very modestly, lots of cattle pulling wagons, Chinese tractors cum tuk tuks, lots of small roadside shops and food stalls, a lot of humanity. We were too early for coffee at the Garden Cafe, but got our tickets for the archeological sites at Mingun, ate our hotel packed breakfast and ordered coffees (European standard, great!) at the cafe. They were ok with us eating our breakfast, lovely people, with a group of local woman following us trying to sell their souvenirs. Stopped at Mingun Bell (weighs 90 tons, 13 foot tall); Mingun pagoda (very large, but never completed as it was destroyed by 1839 earthquake), then to the Hsinbyume Pagoda, a brilliantly white pagoda where we had fun taking lots of photos. Lots of young girls trying to sell all sorts at the pagodas and of course shoes off. Then back towards the big river bridge with another quick stop at the Umin Thouse pagoda (30 caves pagoda on Sangaing Hills. 45 Buddha images in a crescent shaped colonnade), then the Werawsana jade pagoda before returning to the hotel. The jade pagoda was interesting as it is new and completely made from Burmese jade. By now it was pretty warm, especially hot underfoot with shoes off! Then back to hotel by 1.30pm. A very interesting morning, good to get the early start in and to get out in the countryside and see local life, very nice friendly people but poor, no luxuries, no government handouts, all hard yakka by the locals themselves.
Aung Aung collected us again at 5pm for a trip up to Mandalay Hill to the pagoda and to see the sun setting. Great view over the Mandalay Plains, good sunset, took lots of photos. Pitch dark by 6pm, Aung Aung dropped us off at the Minglaba Restaurant close by hotel and had a nice authentic meal there, ate too much ...
Location: Mandalay, Myanmar
Weve arrived! Five weary passengers. We departed Wellington at 4.45 pm yesterday and now in our lovely very traditional Bagan King Hotel. After a six hour layover in Brisbane, an eight hour flight, a five hour layover in Singapore and then another 3-1/2 flight to Mandalay via Yangon, we were certainly ready to be welcomed here with a cold pineapple drink and a cold towel.
Interesting flight flying north over Myanmar, the Irrawaddy is large and very brown, though it is the end of the monsoon season. The country is very green and flat in the southern region. Dont know much about Mandalay or indeed Myanmar, no doubt the gaps will be filled in over the next week or two.
We are having a quiet night in the hotel, will check out happy hour and eat here before an early night and early 5am start tomorrow four our sunrise over U Bein bridge, before discovering a few pagodas - there seem to be plenty around.