Mandalay to Hsipaw


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Asia » Burma » Mandalay Region » Hsipaw
November 11th 2009
Published: November 20th 2009
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Gold leaf HammeringGold leaf HammeringGold leaf Hammering

That thing he's putting into the bucket is a timer, a small hole allows water in so that 3 minutes later it will sink.
Mandalay, despite it's romantic connotations, provided little inducement to linger for which I lay the blame solely at the feet of the taxi drivers I encountered who changed their fare (quite significantly) between departure and arrival. Initially I put it down to a misunderstanding on my part however, by the 3rd time (in a row - grrrr) I was distinctly annoyed and refused to pay a penny more than initially agreed upon (a reasonable fare in my opinion). I fear this coloured my view of Mandalay slightly and the rest of the city suffered as a result, on a different day I may very well have liked the place.

Despite this I did find some things to enchant. First was a gold leaf workshop where I took a fascinating guided tour around the facility. Alas, I have been unable to retain all the information imparted (where's that perfect memory my fortune teller envisioned?) but it is a lengthy 5 stage process, each stage involves the initial 12oz piece of gold being flattened and then broken into many pieces to advance to the next stage for a repeat process. The amount of hammering time increases with each stage also ending in
Gold leaf in the makingGold leaf in the makingGold leaf in the making

Note the proximity of the hammerers feet to the hammering area - and the lack of steel toe caps. OUCH!
a mammoth 5 hour session at the end. The hammers weigh 3lbs each and the men who wield them have my utmost admiration, they hammer 1 hour solid, rest 1 hrs and then repeat - all without any footwear and their toes mere inches from those hammers. And yes, I did ask... sometimes those men do miss. Yeouch!

The other highlight was U-Bein bridge, the longest teak bridge in Myanmar (indeed if not the world - I really have no idea as the prevalence of teak bridges). I had wanted to arrive (with all the other tourists) for sunset, but there were things in town requiring my presence that meant I could not linger. I did manage to linger long enough to catch the monks making their journey across, a pretty spectacular sight with their robes flapping as they went.

Leaving Mandalay was no great hardship and next up was Pyin OO Lwin, a charming hill station built by the Brits in order to escape the suffocating heat of summer (and it did get kinda chilly there). However, weather be damned, there are two great things about POW (for short OK, I have lazy fingers) and the weather was not one of them. The first one I encountered immediately I stepped off the train when I was accosted by a charming man and I was whisked away in his horse drawn carriage. That's right folks, your eyes do not deceive you. A horse drawn carriage! At last, my true station in life appears to have caught up with me: the grandeur, the splendour, the splinters in my bum (as with all things the interior was in need of just a little TLC). Were it not for the gross over pricing of such a ride I could have gotten very used to it but alas, over priced it was and I was sadly reduced to Shank's Pony from there on in.

POL is a small town but it simply bursts with things to see and do: rose gardens, temples, markets, Buddha's, waterfalls... In short, any number of safe and interesting things. So, what do I chose to see? The caves! Now, I know I am not good with caves and yet, despite this I am inextricably drawn to them. Thankfully Peikchinmyaung Cave turned out to be very large and well lit, alas it busy and simply chock full of Buddha's of all shapes and sizes. I, culturally insensitive soul that I am, was far more interested in the stalagmites and stalactites which abounded in the caves. The colours were a stunning mix of orange, green and blue, I only wish my camera had managed to capture them sufficiently.

The caves themselves stretched far back and at one point it looked very much like I must wriggle through on my belly. Fortunately that was merely an optical illusion and bending double sufficed. I very nearly made it all the way to the end but my downfall came (as come it must) just short of that goal when, after ascending a (very) short flight of stairs I found myself unable to catch my breath at the top. The air here was hot and not very fresh, but there was certainly plenty of it. I lingered for as long as I was able (about 2 minutes, if even that) but still the suffocating feeling would not leave. At risk of losing all control and embarrassing myself mightily I made a mad dash back to the entrance (odd how I could move so fast with no air in my lungs no?) where, with fresh air and daylight aplenty I managed to calm down. I am, you'll all be pleased to hear, very much looking forward to visiting yet another cave complex when I reach Hpa-an (this one has a secret lake - I simply cannot forgo the chance of seeing a secret lake).

I would like, if I may, to pause here in order to interject a small piece of advice to anyone attempting this trip: please, pay very careful attention to all details when arranging your driver. I, being far too busy attempting to locate one who spoke enough English to get me to my chosen destination (and back again), forgot to look at the actual mode of transport itself. This small oversight meant I picked a driver in possession of a bike with no back seat, resulting me completing the entire journey perched upon a wire rack. Surprisingly, it was quite comfortable for the first few miles, but it did begin to smart after that. The agonies endured when we left the blessed tarmac road in favour of a cobbled, potholed dirt track I cannot even describe! By the end of the day my posterior was very bruised
Cave exitCave exitCave exit

boy was I glad to see this
and (worse still) very swollen. Fabulous! Like it need to get any bigger.

I took myself (enlarged posterior and all) off to Hsipaw the next day (incidentally I had the best samosas ever at a small tea shop just to the left of the station entrance in POL, which makes a 3rd fabulous thing about this place). I was taking the train for the thrill of crossing the Gokteik viaduct which is apparently the 2nd highest crossing in the world (and built by the British - railways and prisons, we built them where e're we went). Tales of great heights and pieces of bridge tumbling down into the abyss below as the train crawls across (so as not the shake the thing to pieces) had lured me here. Alas, it was a case where the imagination was far greater than the reality. It was not nearly as high as anticipated and I felt disappointingly safe as we trundled across at quite a reasonable speed. However, snatches of some incredible views and a charming old lady sat next to me (who kept falling off her seat for no apparent reason) provided sufficient entertainment to make the journey worthwhile.

Hsipaw
Taxi!Taxi!Taxi!

One of Mandalay's few highlights were these cute little taxi's
is a sleepy little town perpetually engulfed in a a cloud of dust thanks to the enormous trucks that trundle through it day and night. It's not a large place, by any stretch of the imagination, but yet once more I got lost. This time I was attempting to locate the towns finest attraction known as little Bagan. It looked very simple on the map but took me ages to find, and then only after I had wadded through a stream, crossed two fields (this attraction was in town!) and eventually got an impromptu lift from the postman (at least I think he was - he had a lot of letters in his basket) when I flagged him down for directions. I wish I could say it was worth the effort in getting there but alas no, a handful of crumbling stupas surrounded by semi burnt rubbish and an avaricious ipod wearing monk. I left fairly sharpish.

In view of my tortuous route to get here I consulted my map and decided not to return the same way, but rather to complete a simple circuit (as shown on the map) and return to town the opposite way. Two hours
Buffalo cartBuffalo cartBuffalo cart

Who finally confirmed my wrong turn
later, I was strolling through country lanes, with not a sound to be heard (there should have been at least a faint rumble from all those trucks surely) and only the company of numerous butterflies as I went. Vague thoughts that perhaps I may one again have taken a wrong turn began to intrude and, when I encountered a lone buffalo cart, the driver assured me I was well and truly off track and headed towards some distant township. Said township was many miles distant so I about turned and returned in time for a late lunch.

Abandoning plans to walk to the local hot spring (3-4 hours each way) I instead spent a pleasant afternoon ambling around town, stopping on a regular basis to indulge in a cold, and highly calorific (and I wonder why I'm putting on weight out here) cold drink. It was a charming way to spend the afternoon and I stumbled upon some of the prettiest fire engines I have ever seen, I was up and down that street photographing from every angle. those engines were fabulous, I really wanted to see them at work but unfortunately no one thought to start a fire that day and I had no matches to hand (just kidding! I never would.).

At this stage I was getting rather fed up of the constant packing and unpacking that being constantly on the move entails and so I booked the next bus out of there determined to have a lazy last week in the tropical South.


Additional photos below
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EatingEating
Eating

How these monks cope with the hordes of tourists flashing cameras in their faces whilst they eat (and I saw many tourists pushing cameras right in the face of said monks) I do not know.
Young girl in longyiYoung girl in longyi
Young girl in longyi

note she has tied hers like the men do, most women just fold over and tuck in.


21st November 2009

Memories of Burma
I have enjoyed reading about your visit. It brought back memories of my own one week visit (maximum visa permitted at the time) to Burma for Christmas 1974. My wife and I arrived in Rangoon at 8:30 pm after the money changers had closed, and I asked another passenger how we were to get to our hotel without using foreign currency, which was illegal to use. He graciously said that we could use his car and driver, as his wife had driven to the airport to meet him. It turns out he was the British ambassador, and we rode his official car with the Union Jack flying to the hotel. A couple days after touring Rangoon we booked a flight to Pagan. We had wanted to stop in Mandalay, but the airfare was much more expesive. As it turns out, the plane landed in Mandalay on the way to Pagan. Why it would have cost more to stop over, I never found out. We were very impressed with Pagan. Shortly after we returned to Bangkok, there was an earthquake that extensively damaged the temples at Pagan. I guess they must have repaired them since then.
21st November 2009

re. memories of Burma
Wow, I wish I'd seen the temples before the 1975 earthquake they must have been a sight to behold. They have been extensively repaired coutesy of UNESCO, ,amy of the Buddhas are replacements and unfortunately most of the atrwork on walls and ceilings has been lost. I saw one before and after photo and could never have imagined how great the damage was from looking at the temples now. Many things have probably changed since your visit but it would seem the uncessingly friendly and giving nature of those who live their has remained constant and that, for me, is what made this such an incredible place to be. Already I am planning a return trip next year, maybe I will see you there?
24th November 2009

cute and funky fire-engines!! what about the firemen!!!.......... WHAT! yes, alright, sorry (so i like men) i have something in common with the gold leaf makers. yes indeed, i also miss my target with my (own) hammer and smack myself. ooohh "sare" see ya babe. xx
27th November 2009

Alas, no firemen to be seen Fiona but I can crtainly vouch for the Myanmar menfolk. Very beautiful and yet masculine at the same time (even in their longyis, much like a man in a kilt, kind of primal), the only drawback is the general panchant for betlenut which results in red stained teeth and gums. the women are all stunning too so you and hubby could have a fine old visual fest out here.
27th November 2009

having fun!
Have enjoyed catching up on your travels and it certainly sounds like you are having a fab time out there, your already planning a return trip?? youve not finnished this one yet!! Hmm interesting modes of transport hink I would prefer the sedately pace of the horse and cart to the dubious looking taxi or the buffalo cart! OMG how old is that fire engine!!! Got the post card this am so will show the kids when they get home they love reading the cards and some of your blogs. Ooh before I forget the girls cards and parcel have arrived safely, Chloes card was opened and for some reason minus stamps but the pack of stickers is still in there. Iam being a terrible parent and not letting them open the parcel heehee!! its sitting by the front door tormenting them. Iam getting great enjoyment from watching them trying to sneakily squeeze, shake and just guess what is in it. Ive obviously failed somewhere along the line as they haven't sussed yet to read the customs label lol!! hey ho enjoy the rest of your trip and look forward to reading more of your blogs. Thanks we had a great trip to Wales seems ages ago now though! Big sis x
3rd December 2009

Memories of Burma
Yes, it sounds like the people haven't changed much. They have so little, but were so generous and kind. Unfortunately, I won't be able to join you next year in Burma. Our vacation will be in Italy, in conjunction with the graduation of my son at a university in Rome. Our next priorities are South America and then Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific.

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