Published: March 16th 2011March 15th 2011
Mandalay Palace moat
The Palace was originally wooden and lost to the ravages of war many years ago. The 'replacement' is a small structure erected using slave labour at the behest of the Junta for the purposes of enhancing tourism!
Myanmar Part 2
This 'blog' is the second describing our time in Myanmar (Burma to some).
If you missed the first one, you can find it #1 here
We wrote in the first part of this - our holiday 'blog' - that when entering Yangon we immediately knew we'd stepped into another 'space'. When moving up to Mandalay, our perceptions were further reinforced. Myanmar people operate on a quite different way-of-life to their SE Asian neighbours. For example, on the subject of timetables, we learnt there is a table, but all-too-often no-one really operates to the applicable time. On friendliness, there is no doubt that the Myanmar people are by far the happiest and friendliest people we've ever met. If two or more are together, then there will rarely not be a cacophony of laughter. When walking or riding a bike, all will look at us and smile and most will say hello - (mingalaba
We initially wrote this 'blog' while in Myanmar, and published it without pictures. Since our return to Australia, we've uploaded pictures to show aspects of our adventure.
What more needs to be said?
As always, if you want to 'see' more detail in an accompanying picture, Left Hand 'click' on it to enlarge.
Friday 4 March 2011.
...arrival in Mandalay
In the first 'episode', we described the scenery of getting to Mandalay; low scrubby hills for the first half, then a fertile plain for the second half. Our arrival into Mandalay was anything but glamorous. The bus station is merely a huge open dust bowl, and the road into the site just so potholed and bumpy. Once off the bus, the only form of transport were taxi's. But, please don't think of some car - these were 1950's era Mazda B500. A tiny utility style vehicle with a 500cc engine, and JUST capable of fitting in 4 westerners. The narrow wooden bench seats run lengthwise, and neither of us could sit upright as the canopy is designed for the smaller Myanmar person. For a city with such a name, what an inglorious entry!
...Amarapura & U Bien's Bridge
Given the heat of Myanmar, we were up early(ish) and went in search of a motorbike. The recommended guy -
Most villages in/around Mandalay live in dust.
Mr Jerry - advised us that the government has not actually banned foreigner's from riding motor bikes, but that the police chase foreigner's on motor bikes and demand a fee be paid 'on the spot'. Mr Jerry told us that there is no law for the police, they do what they want
. So, while the bike would cost $10/day, the various police fees may be much more. We don't know what would occur if we refused to pay the fee - but on reflection we thought it better not to risk the matter. The alternative was a push bike.
Before having our plans 're-arranged', we'd wanted to visit a couple of places just out of Mandalay. We decided to ride to the first site - some 11km away. Mr Jerry gave us directions via some back roads and off we pedalled. We were amazed at how many local people would wave to us and say 'hello' or mingalaba
. Along the way we stopped at a little teahouse for nozineh
- black tea and condensed milk. In fact the drink was more the other way around; all SE Asians have a very sweet tooth. To our surprise, though it was
U Bien's bridge
The bridge joins two sides of the lake across a narrows.
only a smattering of words that allowed an 'exchange' of intents we felt we were treated like royalty.
After a while along dry, dusty and very bumpy back roads, we eventually arrived at a T junction to a busier road (but still not very busy) aside a large lake. With the limited map we had, we were relieved to see the lake as it meant we were on the right track. We eventually found our way to our first destination - Amapura - and noted that the someone had sense as most dwellings had large shade trees; given the heat and dust, we felt that Mandalay could do with a heap more.
Shortly we arrived at the U Bien Bridge. The lake (Taungthaman Lake) is actually like a figure 8, the two 'balloon' sections connected with a 'narrows' of around 800m. Apparently, some 200 years ago, a local prince decided a bridge should be built across as foot/boat traffic had increased to warrant same. Using large, long Teak wood posts, a quite high bridge of some 1300m was constructed. It is a merit to the quality of both the design and the enduring qualities of Teak. To ensure
U Bien's Bridge
The part with rails is actually a bridge joining two bridges - the span allows boat traffic through when the water level is high.
the bridge was not an 'endurance', the designer had a series of shaded rest stations installed along the way. Even today, locals stop and regain composure at a 'rest' station after a 400m stroll. Now being a very hot day, we did the same. At each station, we'd be greeted with hello's, where you from
, etc. Without being able to speak the language, we were not short of company.
At one station, a monk waved us over. He had limited English, but an eagerness to talk. Beside him was a girl dressed up like she might have been going to a wedding. There were also two young men in traditional Bamar clothing. We learnt that the girl was celebrating her graduation from a Nursing degree. Her English was marginally better, so we together were able exchange conversation. Judy knew the path she was about to follow, and reflected that her 'joy' to begin working in her chosen field would be shortlived.
At another station, a palmist had set up shop and we had a fortunes told. Going backwards a bit, when we were at Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, locals were making prayers to little 'day' temples. We'd learnt
From the left, the Nurse graduate, muggins, the conversational Monk, brother of Nurse (in traditional Bamar clothing), and novice Monk
that when a babe is born, it is given the birth 'day' as part of its name. So, one might have a name like Sunday Jerry Smith. And, the birth 'day' holds much reverence for Myanmar Buddhists. From a well thumbed little book, the palmist advised is that we were born on Friday (Judy) and Tuesday (Bruce). Well, at last we learned something of value!
After a very enjoyable sojourn we made our way back to Mandalay. Thinking we'd mastered the road network (the British laid the streets out in grid fashion, and named by numbers; 24th street, 25th street, etc) we took a left turn deviation at what we thought was 41st Street. Our thinking was that the large body of water we could see between houses was the Irrawaddy River (or a lagoon facing onto it). Immediately after the turn there were several beer cafe's with with views over the waterway. Being hot, dusty and very dry, it was too much - we had to duck in. After refreshments, we headed further west. As the westward part of our map ended at the 41st Street junction, we assumed we'd be heading to the main river. After quite
a considerable distance riding around what we later learned was 'King's Lake', we came to a T junction on top of an embankment. We saw a police point (these are everywhere
) and sought advice. Without adequate English, and using hand signs, nods, and other communicative symbols, we gained the idea that we were far from the river, and should either return the way we came (not enticing) or take the right hand 'branch' till 26th Street (which is the central street in Mandalay).
Off we went, looking over a vast greenish lowlands. Had this been the wet season, we figured it would have been a 'sea' of vegetables. After what seemed to be a long distance, we stopped and talked about being lost. Assuming our reckoning that we turned left at 41st Street, we figured we must have gone past the 'centre' of Mandalay We decided to take the next right to get back 'inland'. The next right was a dusty crumbly road, with a sea of shanty housing. Staying with our conviction, we rode into what can only be described as a ghetto. Being a little afraid, but nevertheless assured by the constant 'hello, where are you from'
, we negotiated the rough - bombsite? - road as best we could. After some distance, and now not having any clue as to where we were, we asked for some help. We were eventually told we were at the cross roads of 45th Street and 91st Street. After travelling so far north (from our original left turn), it was clearly not 41st Street that we'd back then entered. A kindly cyclo driver approached us and told he'd take us to 84th Street (the road on which we'd returned from Amapura
). In the most kind, quiet way, he just told us to tack in behind. Who were we to refuse.
After a shower to clean the sweat, dust and traffic grime, we ate well, and slept even better.
We were surprised at how well we felt after the previous day's journey. That's not to say we were hale-n-hearty, rather, that we weren't just two piles of aching bones.
Mandalay Hill is located just off the (ex) Royal Palace site, which is next door to Mandalay CBD. Given the
View from Mandalay Hill
Looking towards the Ayerwaddy River (the CBD is to the left). The heat, dust and smoke combine to limit visibility.
height, it offers great views of the city. With all the dust and smoke haze, we decided to go to the top early so as to avoid the 'opaqueness' that follows the midday sun. There is a staircase all the way up, and a plethora of temples along the way. As is usually the case for temples located on hills, there is a covering over the staircase. At least the scorching sun wasn't a burden. When reaching the top, the smog made the view an anticlimax. When trying to take a picture an officially dressed woman approached us to say we needed to pay a 500Kyat 'camera fee'. Knowing these fees only go the Junta's pockets, we laughed at her and said that we'd pay the fee if she would get the air cleared of pollution.
The remaining afternoon was taken in a relaxed way.
For an evening meal, we discovered a fashionable trend; the beer bistro. These are abundant, and one really only sees them at evening (during the day, they are closed). A shopfront with tables and chairs has a bar serving chilled beer (into equally chilled mugs). Out front is a glazed box on legs
The 'trusty'? bus
Here, the 'trusty'? local bus picks up bags of cement.
displaying skewers of various meats and vegetables. One chooses skewers, and these are in turn cooked on a little charcoal brazier. The 'bistro' has a kitchen, and on this night we discovered Myanmar chicken soup (and fried rice). The chicken soup is not light like in Oz, but a hearty full strong chicken stock. The preparation includes vegetables, herbs, etc., and clearly simmers all day. The soup has much pepper (not chilli) and meat served in the bowl just happens to be chicken feet. After removing the feet (we are yet to be sufficiently educated to this 'delight'), we really enjoyed this offering. Soup, fried rice, BBQ skewered meats & vege's & cold beer. Mmmmmm!
.....Pyin U Lwin
We'd read glowing reports of a town in the hills some 50k to the east of Mandalay was established by the British as a hillstation (a place to be cool in the heat of the plains summer). Originally having a British town name, it is now called Pyin U Lwin.
With no public transport provided by the Myanmar Gov't (anywhere), we sought advice as
Inside the 'trusty'? bus
Space is always at a premium
to transport options. The private bus operators had timetable suited to towns further way - so left very early am and returned late pm. The idea of a taxi was ruled out due to cost (fuel is exceedingly expensive in Myanmar), so it was the transport choice of the locals - the 'pick-up truck bus'. These are the Mazda or Toyota utility vehicles used by tradesmen in Oz., with two bench seats along the sides, with a canvas covered tubular metal 'roof'. An extra seat hung out the back of the tray, over the tailgate. There were tiny plastic stools inside to enable additional passengers between the seats, and the reinforced tailgate also served as a standing room area. The 'conductor' stood on the tailgate, seeking passengers when travelling through urban parts, taking the money, and giving advice to the driver (more on this below).
We started out from central Mandalay mid-morning with about 10 passengers; all with bags of whatever. As well, the roof rack area was loaded with bags of goods that more than doubled the height of the vehicle. Before we'd got to the outskirts, the number had reached 20. At the city perimeter, the driver
Pyin U Lwin
We were surprised at the widespread use of Australian Eucalypts. Here, they grow considerably larger than at home.
got fuel and then headed to a warehouse - to load up bags of cement. We were amazed that in this little 1400cc diesel Mazda, the driver already had a huge load and ordered everyone out so that he could get 4 x 50kg bags of cement loaded into the tray centre. With this on board, the driver struggled the vehicle onto the well battered road.
Most vehicles in Myanmar are very old and well used Japanese vehicles, so they are left hand drive. Upon taking office, the communists changed the road system to right hand drive. So, when approaching another vehicle for overtaking a driver toots twice. The slower vehicle uses his (yet to see a woman driver) indicators to signal when OK. On this trip, the 'conductor' had positioned himself on the extreme left and shouted advice to the driver as to oncoming traffic.
Not long after leaving the urban Mandalay, the road stated to climb the range. The driver negotiated the gears of the (hopefully trusty) Mazda to get every ounce of power. After a while, the driver stopped in a lay area and got a water hose from a tank to refill the engine
Pyin U Lwin 'taxi'
Believe it or not, Pyin U Lwin uses these as taxi's.
radiator. This radiator 'refill' occurred 4 times up the range. Near the top, the driver made a detour into a monastery. We assumed that with the vehicle now really struggling that we'd all be abandoned (we'd heard of these stories). Not so, the driver was merely offloading the cement. With a lighter vehicle, we sailed into Pyin U Lwin.
Much of what we'd read about Pyin U Lwin was that the treed range made for a great journey. On this journey, the trees were absent. We later learnt they'd been sent to China some 5 years earlier. A policeman approached us while dining one night (later) and told us the average summer temperature had increased by about 6C as a result!!!
Pyin U Lwin may have been great once, but it is no more. While there are examples of lovely British bungalow architecture, the adaptions by locals have certainly not endeared their presentation. Perhaps the 'saving' aspect are the large Australian trees in many of the properties. And, with the cooler climate, there were many plants in flower.
Given the overloading of the vehicle on the way up, and our knowledge of the range topography, we held
These guys 'flew' past us, and our driver wasn't going slow!!!
a fear as to the journey down the range. We consoled ourselves that we'd yet to see/experience 'cowboy' behaviour by Myanmar drivers. The 'downwards' vehicle driver stopped six times for water. We noticed the vehicle had a large water tank on top, with 2 pipes going down the engine bay. We looked and saw that this was a drip feed of water onto the brake disks. Each time we stopped, the water hose would go into the radiator. After it stopped steaming, the 'conductor' would direct the hose onto the front brakes till they stopped steaming. Mmmmm!
The sunset on the way down the range was stunning.
....Minguin & the road from Mandalay
We'd decided to move from Mandalay towards Inle Lake, and so sought bus details. Being a 10 hour journey we found most westerners use a night bus. This was not something we'd appreciate. After some prodding, we discovered there was a company running a (slower) day bus. We went to their office, but the owner refused to sell us tickets. It appears he has enough local traffic to choose
to refuse foreigner's.
With a day 'up our sleeves', we decided to take the journey to Minguin; a town some 40k up the Irrawaddy River. Minguin is known as a site that holds a massive 'obelisk' - being the base of a half finished Paya (pagoda). It was left unfinished after the builder king died. Now, it offers great views over the countryside.
The journey was by riverboat, and almost immediately on arrival we were approached by a reasonably well spoken young man seeking knowledge of our wellbeing, home country, etc. he initially said he was practicing his English, but we noticed most others on the boat had been similarly approached. Clearly, he was a 'guide'. He told us he had ended high school and was working to save up to go to University. His quietness, and upon hearing we didn't want to go with the tourist 'crowd', his willingness to direct us to the sites in a way that avoided the crowds was most appreciated.
At one point, we were confronted by a uniformed person telling us we needed to pay $3 'government maintenance fee'. Seeing nothing was being done, and knowing it was a going
Still much to do
With the use of slaves, King Bodawpaya began work on a 175m Pagoda in 1790. Work halted in 1819 on his death, with only 1/3 complete. An earthquake in 1838 damaged the plinth.
to the pockets of the Junta, we told him that when the school at Minguin had a teacher paid for by the government, we'd pay. While avoiding the fee, we later 'delivered' it to our guide.
Though we'd earlier ruled Minguin out of the various options as it would be touristy, with the guide and a spare day, we really appreciated the venture. We rode our bikes back from the ferry terminal to our hotel, had a shower, picked up our bags, had a meal and returned the bikes to Mr Jerry. We couldn't believe how easy everything appeared to be going when Mr Jerry organised a 'taxi' to the bus station at day rates (they go up significantly after dark).
At the dusty hole that is the bus station, we first saw what would turn out to be the start of a hellish experience.
But, we'll not darken the end of what was a wonderful stay at Mandalay, but leave that to the next 'episode'.
And, you can find the next episode #3 'click' here
This just happens to be the largest operational bell in the world (another, in Russia, is larger, but is cracked)
There are more photos below