The Road to Mandalay

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December 7th 2002
Published: December 22nd 2017
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Bangkok to Mandalay

Our flight from Thailand was just over an hour and we passed over jungle, valleys filled with rice paddies, mountains and specular rivers before banking over the mouth of the Irrawaddy River and landing at Yangon (Rangoon) Airport. The country is controlled by a military junta so we were uncertain of what to expect, passing through immigration and customs was a slow process I paid a small bribe to avoid purchasing the mandatory 300USD, it seemed a good idea at the time but later I would regret this action.

We took a taxi with a guy named Aung who took us on a city tour and helped us arrange bus tickets to Mandalay. The magnificent 99 metre Shwedagon Zedi Daw or Dragon Pagoda as it is also known was our first stop. The pagoda is said to be somewhere between 2600 and 1400 years old and holds relics of four Buddha’s. The golden pagoda is perched on Singuttara hill and dominates the city, we left our shoes at the entrance guarded by lion like leogryphs and climbed an enclosed stair to the summit. At the top the structure opens up into an open court yard containing the mud brick pagoda covered in gold plates, precious gems and topped with a large diamond.

Next we visited a huge colourful reclining Buddha and to a huge crocodile structure that you can walk through that tells the story of some Buddhist story or myth. We then drove around the city looking at the decaying colonial architecture before stopping for a cheap and filling rice dish at a local restaurant. Mark didn’t cope with the smell of the fish soup he compared to the smell of a wet dog, but I think he enjoyed the attention of the locals there are so few white people in this city and people including the children are curious about us. Next we went to the black market to change our FECS (Foreign currency exchange certificates) for local currency as the rates are much better, I am certain Aung was skimming off the transaction and that he put us on a cheap local slow local bus rather than the Express coach we were expecting, hey you live and learn.

The bus ride was bad, really bad the road was horrendous, the driver a maniac that seemed to enjoy hitting potholes and the bus itself was packed with bales of god only knows what, our ten hour trip took twenty as we stopped constantly to let people on and off. A numb arse was our reward for this horror journey but Mandalay was definitely worth the visit, we were surprised to find a man holding a placard with Mark’s name on it when we staggered painfully off the bus it seems Aung had rung a head and arranged a room for us, I had talked to locals and it seems Aung had been lining his pockets at our expense so I refused to go there and negotiated a good rate and a ride to the Nylon Hotel which was quite very comfortable and bathed.

We decided to return to Yangon by air so we booked our flights on Air Mandalay and ventured out into the city for a Chinese dinner before wandering down to the markets to look at a handicraft store where we made a few purchases. Next morning we were woken by the racket emanating from a nearby mosque then headed down for a rather good breakfast, we then met the taxi driver who brought us to the hotel and visited so many pagodas that we were soon sick of taking our shoes off all the time, next we visited a really excellent craft shop where I bought an elephant weaving for Ruth they had some really great stuff but I am very low on cash. We visited the Snake pagoda with its giant python entwined Buddha’s on the way to the airport. The airport was a huge surprise it was massive, modern and sitting in a rice paddy, the place was also empty except for a handful of cleaning staff. We farewelled Nayainwin our guide and boarded our 415pm flight to Yangon arriving 90 minutes later.

On arrival we had to walk a kilometer to the international terminal because we had no money and the only credit card machine in the country was located there, no ATM machines in Myanmar then, after a sticky moment or so with the soldiers I was able to initiate a cash advance and then after some negotiation managed to get us onto the evening flight back to Bangkok – first class if you don’t mind.

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