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Published: January 25th 2011
The whole time in Mandalay we spent doing nothing, except a brief trip to the local market where on the walk there we almost got run over by a car backing out from a driveway, we had been having Shan noodles from the street vendor near our hostel, Royal GH, nice place simple and cheap, $7 for double room. There is a rooftop deck where we spent one evening drinking beer while watching the sun set. Nylon ice cream parlor for some good ice cream 2 minute walk from the GH, other than that we did nada in Mandalay, we saw the moat of the old city but we did not venture in it. We slept in on the day of our departure to Pyin Oo Lwin or Ping A ling Ding Dong as we call it, easier to remember. Took the share truck 2 blocks from our GH, one old man helped us find the bus stop, he is the street cleaner, he have to leave his broom somewhere then walked us to the truck departure point, it took awhile to get full, we were way inside the truck and we could barely move, its full to the brim and
the roof is low, we felt like caged animals. We kept stopping for fare even though we could not fit anyone anymore.
The road has many twists and turns and I felt dizzy so I have to look out the tiny opening in front of me, it was a trip I did not enjoy and we stopped for lunch, we did not get out we just want to get there, the truck keeps stopping to cool the radiator with water as the road starts to go up the mountains, it struggles but makes it, just barely. Most of the trucks are full to the brim people on roofs etc. Arriving in Ping a ling, we got dropped off near the Purcell Tower, a landmark in the downtown area, we started looking for place to stay starting at Golden Dream GH, full, we tried, Cherries, full, we tried 5 or 6 more on the same road all full, wtf is going on?? There is a fire balloon festival this weekend and everyone is here from the nearby villages apparently, we even went out of the center and even there all hotels are full! We started to get worried, we can
go straight to Hsipaw but the last truck taxi leaves at 3pmish, it is now 5pm, and Connor was convinced we can stay up all night and party so no need for beds, well I don't subscribe to that point of view!
Frustrated, we kept walking along a road with old English mansions and we found an abandoned place where there is a small empty room, Connor thought we could sleep there for the night, I don't think so, it is cold here and we have not much warm clothes with us.Some motorbike drivers tried to help us, even them after making a few phone calls told us all the GH are full, but they said there will be trucks to Hsipaw even in the eve, stopping at Zambia restaurant and hotel, but his English wasn't great so we doubt he actually understood us. Last resort we decided to head back to Golden Dreams GH and I pleaded to the reception desk, a nice woman who sympathize with us, I told her we can sleep on the bench in the lounge or anywhere we just don't want to stay in the streets the whole night. After much deliberation they
pulled out their lists of 3 foreigners all staying in rooms with two beds each but all by themselves at the moment. Problem is they are all out walking the city so we have to wait and ask them.
Meantime we had dinner at the restaurant next door, came back and an Israeli woman who is staying in the hotel was willing to share with us the other only bed in her room, she said we can fit there, she paid $10 for her room, so we thought we will split the cost with her but when the manager of Golden Dreams came he wanted us to pay $10 each! Connor lost it, I tried to stay calm, after all this deliberations and pleading turns out they are not good samaritans but just a regular good ole' sons of b#@*%es, greedy bastards! One dude say hey it's festival time, take it or leave it! One reason I thought they would understand our cause is because LP said it's a hotel run by a nice Indian family, but turned out they are greedy. Our Israeli friend took us to the hotel next door as she know the owners, Grace Hotel,
also full but was more sympathetic with us and we convinced them we can sleep in the sofa, they will charge us $6 each but its ok, better than $10!
We then went to this area where the fire air balloon festival is going on, its a bit far from the center and we hired motorbike to take us there. So many people, unbelievable, its like a country fair like in the States. We went to where the main action is, the fire balloons, one is being launched when we arrived and this 50 ft. something balloon, slowly goes up in the air loaded with fireworks, when it was maybe just 30 ft up it started shooting or raining down fireworks unto the crowd, it went above us and we both got worried we don't want to get hit by an astray fireworks, true enough as it gets past us, a rocket just shot down towards a crowd! It was funny but dangerous, as it goes higher it started to rain down beautiful ribbons of different colors like a fountain, this one was a success, then it took a long time before the next one was launched but it
was just a tail of candles.
It was quite cold and we walked towards the carnival where all the rides are, they have a ferris wheel, a rock the boat thing, a merry go round, and all powered manually, meaning people rocking it back and forth! The most interesting one was the ferris wheel, where young men go up the wheel about 6 to 10 kids and use their weight and gravity to get the wheel going and they then the guys cling on to the carriages until it's time to stop it again, they do it by dangling on the carriages on both sides to even the weight and stop the momentum of the wheel. Connor and I watched it in awe, we thought it was so ingenious! Other than that the fair was a disappointment, we were hoping for some real party, with dancing and drinking, we got bored quickly and hired a motorbike again to take us back to town.
Back in town, we watched Premier league FB on a local eatery/bar for a good hour or so, I was freezing, damn it is cold here, who knew Myanmar can have winter?! We walked back
to the Grace hotel and lo and behold we are not sleeping in the lobby sofa, they made a bed for us in the storage room area, which looks like a dungeon! It was smelly, open drain next to Connor's bed, a smelly trash can on my side, unwashed plates, empty beer bottles,a few coachroaches and for sure they have giant rats here! The only good thing is there is a furnace in the dungeon to keep us warm. The beds are another thing, thin flimsy cots that sinks when you lie on it and there is a metal bar across in the middle that hits your midsection when you lie down, anyway this I guess is better than sleeping on the streets tonight, I put on a scarf across my face to mask the smell and at 3am a call to prayer woke me up followed by the water pump at 5am, that did it for me and I got up and waited for Connor at the lobby.
We left the hotel with little sleep and feels disgusting and walked towards the train station, a good 15 minutes away, we met an Indian/British dude along the way, Merrill
a nice lad, we all go to Hsipaw by train. We bought tickets at the station, specifically requesting a window seat, the Israeli girl joined us there and we bought the $5 first class ticket. The train arrived and the ticket seller walked us to the carriage and pointed to us our seats, a local man was sat in mine and I told him it is my seat, he just looks at me and stared at me blank not a chance of budging, so I called the ticket guy and he told him off and he sheepishly moved. The train eventually left, about an hour late, nice scenery we stopped at small towns and also witnessed the local vendors selling their food on top of their heads, yelling out their wares. The landscape was cool, lots of colors, honey flowers, yellow flowered sesame plantations blanketing the countryside, some farmers are threshing their grains, some building massive haystacks, we enjoyed it immensely, then we crossed the bridge that the British made crossing a deep gorge, if it wasn't cloudy it would have been perfect photos but the experience was great in itself, there is a river on the left and a
waterfall on the right. Then 2 more hours or so until Hsipaw.
At Hsipaw we found Mr. Charles GH, nice place and cheap, $8 for a double room, we went to Mr. Food for late lunch, it rained so I borrowed one of the local hats, the typical pointy conical ones. I looked like a local! After lunch we headed to the river to have a look, we saw huge trucks crossing the bridge, coming from China,according to a local boy who talked to us, mozzies started to appear as it is near dusk so we went back to the GH and had a few beers with the other tourists, then off to bed late. In the morning we got picked up at 5am by a tractor! It took us to the bus station, we are going to Mandalay.
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