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Eric’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 30 Nov 2006

Location: Mandalay, Myanmar

Map28/11/2006

Got enthused this morning and headed out on the side of a trishaw for a look around town – must be the warmer weather, I’m back to shorts and singlet, with a longyi and kroma to wrap on if they want it for any of the temples etc. Anyway the weather is beautiful again and I spent about four hours looking at a few temples, climbing Mandalay Hill, and wandering around the old palace. Not real riveting to some people, but I had a great time, not least on the trishaw as he tried to push us from one place to the next.

The traffic is pretty good here and if you stay off the main roads, which the trishaws have to do, the cars are fairly forgiving and will slow down to let you keep moving, or dodge around you – much less frenetic than Saigon was. I did feel sorry for the poor old driver though, as he struggled to push the bike and me on uphill slopes – he might have been sixty kilos but nothing over that.

Mandalay hill is the highest point around and took about twenty minutes to climb, all stairs from one temple to the next with each temple having flower sellers, postcard sellers, food and water stalls plus the various touts and hangers on that just want you to give them your money, so it gets a bit wearing after the fifth or sixth temple. On the way down they leave you alone, but, you still get accosted by all the people who have an uncle or cousin that owns a taxi, and would dearly love to take you to where-ever tomorrow or even the next day if you have the time or inclination. For a country that is only just opening up to tourists they are learning fast. The worst part of climbing the hill is getting to the top and the haze spoils the view so the photos aren’t very flash at all – still it was worth the climb to see it for myself.

Anyway, that was enough tourism for one day, so I went and tried Dagon Lager at a little café I’d noticed. It is in the same vein as Beer Myanmar and on a par, and is also on tap. Mind you it was 50Kyat more a handle. (US$1 = Kyat 1250 – 1400 depending on who you find to change it) – I love this country more and more each day.

Something I found out tonight – the trishaws only stay off the main roads during the day. I grabbed one at about half past six tonight and off we went – straight down the middle of the main drag for about four miles before we had to turn off to get where I wanted to go. It was pitch black by then so it’s a good thing the cars have lights, pedestrians, pushbikes and trishaws sure don’t so I couldn’t see them coming unless there was a car following us.

At one stage we hit a pothole and the whole trishaw headed straight for the gutter – this is still on the main road - the driver had to jump off and grab the bike and drag it to a halt, or it would have been ass over for me for sure. As it was he just smiled apologetically, grinned and jumped back on, and off we headed back on our merry way. Even worse when we got off the main drag and onto the side street – pitch black with not street lights and potholes everywhere, so we were dodging all over the road even when there was oncoming traffic. I think the main problem may have been that if my side got into a pothole, the driver wouldn’t have been able to drive it back out and I would have had to get off and give him a hand.

Eventually we got there and it was all worthwhile – I had a big feed of sates (BBQ over here) and he got 1500 Kyat for his work. The best feed I have had for days – with a really nice dipping sauce with lots of pepper (but no chilli still) that added a really good zing to the meal. They take it all off the sticks, chop it up, and then add it to whatever vegetables you choose for the meal. With four handles of beer the whole meal only came out to 4000 Kyat.

29/11/2006

Took a blue taxi (Mazda B600 ute with a lid over the back to shelter the seats) out into the country around Mandalay today to check out some of the old ruins and other sights.

Started at Paleik where the wat has two big pythons that sleep in the alcove with the main Buddha statue. Three of them just arrived and took up residence in 1974 and the spot has become famous for them. They wake the remaining two up at eleven every morning and wash and feed them, and will let you have your photo taken holding them for a donation to the wat – not this little black duck – even if they are pythons. Just around the corner is a whole forest of old stupas in varying states of repair. Some of them look ancient but I don’t know the dates – when they restore them they put the restoration date on the plinth, so some of them should only be twenty or thirty years old by that. Anyway, many of them are similar in style to the later Angkor stuff, althouth there is no Hindu imagery anywhere here.

From there went on to Inwa, where you cross the river on a ferry and then get a horse drawn cart to take you around the area, stopping at various wats, monasteries and other items of interest where the locals try to flog off all their trinkets to you. This whole area was once a walled city similar to Chiang Mai and in places parts of the old walls and some of the gate sections can be seen, still in good nick.

After that it was on to Amanapura, and the U Bein bridge which is a long two hundred year old teak footbridge across the local lake. It is about 1.3 kilometres long and, strangely perhaps, leads to a few more wats on the other side. Once you have wandered through tem you are free to wander back across the bridge to the taxi, to try and find your driver among all the food stalls. Mine was asleep on a bench and had to be woken up. We took of and got about five miles down the road before he had to pull over for a toilet break.

That was enough for me, so it was back to town and a few cleansing ales to slake the thirst and wash away the dust.

30/11/2006
Having a lazy day today, and trying to do a bit on the web page etc, as well as some shopping and a bit of touring around the city. Tomorrow it is a boat cruise up to Mingun, and then Saturday I head to Bagan, which is the old city full of stupas and monks.