We arrived early and it was still dark, again we had booked our hotel in advance at the UFO guesthouse and again received a pickup from the bus station, in all my time travelling I’d very rarely considered booking ahead, it really does save a lot of hassle when you are dumped in a new town in the middle of the night with zero bearings. I would consider doing this more often, but in some cases it might mean having to pick the phone up for myself and physically speak to someone....wouldn’t want to come across as a sell out now would I.
Sleep was minimal on the bus so upon arrival at a slightly chillier Mandalay we took a few hours kip before heading out to explore the streets of Mandalay. In the reception area of the UFO guesthouse we came across an old Burmese dear called ‘Effel’, like Effel in Eastenders....but different, not so....woolly hatty! Steve was apparently familiar with her as talks of her occupy some threads on the Lonely Planet forums. Effel likes to talk, her English very impressive, her father being British, she told us a story about taking a ride in a truck with
the Junta and then pissing all over the seat for a laugh, the story seemed to crop up from out of nowhere but was warm heartedly delivered so became socially acceptable....at 7am in the morning. After Effel had finished yarning on about her golden shower memoirs we went for breakfast and to explore Mandalay.
My first impression upon walking the streets was that of a suicide bomber-free downtown Baghdad, dirt roads, heaps of unorganised concrete for pavements, jaded 5 to 6 storey high apartment blocks and again a vast coalition of traffic, this time motorbikes included. A sight for sore eyes in honesty, Mandalay merely representing a name that we as outsiders have all heard of, the general allure modestly unapparent thus far.
We navigated the perimeter of the 8000 odd metre wall of the Mandalay palace with its 210 feet wide moat, and three quarters of the way around the entrance to the highlight of Mandalay, the Mandalay hill, some 240 metres in height offering panoramic views across the city of Mandalay and its outlying rural confides.
In the evening we went out for some Burmese curry, a cheap and dirty eat, just how I like it,
I enjoyed. Steve’s stomach on the other hand did not, during the night he was throwing his guts up, and from this point on he became very sceptical of Burmese food. I similar scepticism that I share with Benozyl Peroxide.
The following day we hired a betel nut chewing driver to chauffer us around the outlying attractions of Mandalay. Our ride was rugged, it resembled a downgraded 1950’s antique that had been shafted by a Bedford Rascal and now they had become inseparable, the back end being ripped out and a bench being placed down each side. I went solo in the back as Steve road in the front with the driver due to his dickey stomach. A hole in the floor of the vehicle allowed the exhaust fumes to pump up through and into the external cab and suffocate me with carbon monoxide to a survivable level. An uncomfortable trip around town, but allowed us too essentially get from A to B.
Our first port of call being some 40 minutes out of central Mandalay, the U Bein bridge of Amarapura, a 1.2km long bridge that stands stilted via wood across the Ayeyarwady river. Strolling the bridge
allows for decent views of farmers going about their daily duties upon their paddocks, along with fisherman on their row boats hoping to reap some big catches upon the river. A nice little insight into rural life down by the river.
We was then driven off to another part of the river where we took a local boat across the river to Inwa, here we would hire a horse and cart and its driver to ferry us around the sites within the Inwa vicinity. We made it very clear that we didn’t wish to visit government relics, this would entail a $10 government fee which considering we would soon be heading to Bagan to see a vast amount of temples and one didn’t really feel the need to over indulge on temples just yet, not trying to say that they all look the same of course as I do appreciate the good time and craftsmanship of such structures......but they do kind of all look the same after a while. And one would hate to get all templed out before actually seeing any temples, temple gazing for me is somewhat of an art, viewing should be done in moderation. Leg
room was scarce in the cart between Steve and I but we just about made it work without it looking homoerotic. Our first stop being a leaning tower, then a temple, a temple, some Buddha’s, a stupa temple and then a temple. The whole trip took about an hour and it was something to do......we took the boat back across the river for lunch.
After lunch we asked the driver to take us to Sagaing, we eyed a hill to which we instinctively trudged up, no questions asked, the view from the top was exquisite offering great views of the rural surroundings and the golden stupas that jut way off into the horizon. As I scanned the scenic view I scanned downwards to discover about 5 metres below me a naked woman bathing, the exact moment I noticed the woman she incidentally noticed me, I overtly gesticulated with my eyeballs and a movement of my head that I was actually looking beyond her at the greenness of the tree leaves behind her but her gasp of shock was enough to suggest that she probably thought that I had been stood there for sometime perving....like a perv, I hadn’t, but
naturally these are the kind of awkward situations that I like to scatter myself amongst, just to keep life nice and spicy, I took a step backward so that I was out of sight and briskly walked to the other side of the viewing platform. I told Steve that I’d just seen some Burmese bush but he didn’t seem too interested, I think he was just jealous.
We trundled back down the hill and headed back into Mandalay reluctantly absorbing as much carbon monoxide as I could en route. Tomorrow we bus it to Bagan, temple town.
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