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Published: January 22nd 2008
On leaving Bagan, Scott managed to score himself an unexpected souvenir - Food poisoning. So following a long and sleepless night for both of us, we boarded a plane and headed for Mandalay feeling a tad worse for wear. Given the state of Scott's stomach our first day in Mandalay was pretty much all spent in bed catching up on sleep.
The following day we emerged from our room and picked up a guide from outside our hotel to take us on a tour around the city. First off we headed to an old teak monastery, followed by a few things such as gold leaf factories, marble statue carvers and tapestry makers. From here we went to the Mandalay palace and fort that wasnt actually that old. The original was destroyed by a fire and has since been rebuilt. Given that it was only recently built, the palace wasn't very exciting and so we quickly moved on.
The next stop was Kuthodaw Paya which is dubbed the worlds biggest book. To record buddhist scriptures, giant stone slabs were engraved with text and each is housed in its own small stupa - 729 in total. However afterwards we headed to
Owls for sale
You could buy these owls and set them free from the bridge
a very similar Sandamani Paya that actually has more stupa's.
The final stop for the day was Mandalay Hill, virtually the only substantial hill in the city. To reach the top you climb about 2000 steps which takes a good 40 minutes, longer if your recovering from food poisoning. The view from the top might have been good had there been less of a smog shroud over the city, but you could still see a lot including a big prison complex right next door to a massive 5-star hotel.
That night we went to the Moustache brothers. The three brothers are a performing troupe that have become famous for their political jokes at the governments expense that have landed two of them in jail numerous times, the latest being for a month after the September demonstrations. The show itself was...odd...the brothers came out with a few funny jokes but a lot of the night featured women dancing. The women included the brothers wives and other relatives, however most of the women are pretty far over the hill - so pretty much we paid to see some old fat women jiggling around the stage (sounds like a nasty strip
club but fortunately they were clothed). The troupe has been banned from performing anywhere but in their own home and only to foreigners which we think has attributed a lot to their popularity. Our guide and driver seemed to be very sceptical about the troupe however their reasons were lost in translation so were still not sure why they didn't like them.
The next day we hired the same guide and driver to take us to the ancient cities surrounding Mandalay. First stop was Sagaing and a climb up the hill which had yet MORE stairs. The top was just a standard temple with a view of the surrounding area, including the monastery where the president monk lives for 3 months of the year before heading abroad.
Second stop was Inwa, a former royal capital, which was on a piece of land only accessible by ferry (almost an island but not quite). To get around we had to hire another horse and cart and we saw an old monastery (Bagaya Kyaung) made from teak, another brick monastery built by an evil queen, and finally the 27m high Nanmyin watch tower that now leans like the leaning tower of
Pisa due to a past earthquake. Climbing up the rickety wooden ladders is a little daunting because of the strange angle of the tower but the view of the farmers working the countryside was quite nice.
From here we headed to Amarapura, another former royal capital. The main attraction there is U Bein's bridge which is a 1.2km long and made of teak. Basically you head there to watch the sunset, which was really beautiful. At one end of the bridge is a monastery which houses about 1500 monks...so by the time the sun began to set the bridge was swamped with a large portion of the monks out for their evening stroll. While waiting for the sun to set we spent a fair amount of time chatting to our guide about Myanmar life and the current political situation which was quite interesting.
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