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Published: February 3rd 2012
Kipling wrote a poem about it, Frank Sinatra and Robbie Williams sang about it and now I’m blogging about it. Somehow I doubt my words will become as well known as theirs but here goes. ..
(FYI, Kate thought I didn't know who Kipling was, but as we Brits all know - Mr Kipling bakes exceedingly good cakes!)
We arrived in a dark but already active Mandalay at 5am in the morning after an overnight bus journey from Yangon and a tuk-tuk into the city from the bus station. The journey from Yangon was pretty comfortable if a little cold in a deluxe reclining seat with the air conditioning blasting. Fortunately our bus was not decked out in full Barcelona livery like the one we saw at the service station otherwise Kate may have refused to get on it.
After checking into our hotel we took a local ‘bus’ (an open backed truck loaded with people) to hike up Mandalay Hill. It was still early morning so we were able to see hundreds of monks running around the city collection alms before returning to their respective monasteries for breakfast and prayer.
The climb up Mandalay Hill is
punctuated by several temples, tea houses and rest spots although we decided to head straight to the top beat any crowds. It also has a number of bizarre outside 'photo booths' which are popular withth chinise tourists. The view from the top across Mandalay is pretty impressive but the sky was a little hazy and unfortunately the photos weren’t that great. Certainly worth the climb though and we felt particularly good as we descended seeing others who were only just beginning the climb.
There are many monasteries and temples (payas ) to visit around the town. We did as many as we could before retiring back to our hotel to catch up on the sleep missed on the overnight journey.
The next day we got up early and caught another ‘bus’ to visit Sagaing Hill. Sagaing Hill holds more than 500 stupas and its monasteries are home to over 6,000 monks. Apparently monks from all over visit here to relax. This I can believe as the hills did have a very calming feel to them.
The bus only got us to the foot of the hill beyond which a winding 5km plus road through stupas and monasteries
would take us to the top. We hired a couple of locals on motorbikes and rode up to the top of the hill to check out the view. The weather was perfect and we saw a fantastic panoramic of the countryside below full of gold and white stupas with the winding Irrawaddy River in the background.
I had though the journey up was pretty exhilarating but the downwards trip surpassed it. There were many times that I didn’t think my pilot had allowed for my weight when braking a little late for the corners!
We decided that riding on the back of the bikes was so ‘relaxing’ that we extended our agreement with the guys and had them take us the 45 minute ride through local villages and down dusty tracks to U-Bein’s Bridge.
The 1,300 yard U-Bein’s Bridge is supported on teak pylons that have been in place for over 200 years. The scene was pretty serene with mainly locals crossing the bridge and fishing in the waters below. We were surprised how few tourists there when we arrived just after lunch. After a tasty lunch of fried fish and crabs from the lake we had
a very relaxing afternoon strolling along the bridge and around the local temples. The missing tourists began arriving shortly before sunset. We took this as our cue to start back to the city.
We have travelled a lot of local buses in our travels. Often they are referred to as chicken buses. Well this time we got one that actually had live chickens on board! Again we were the only tourists in sight (which we enjoy).
After a great street-side meal on seated the ubiquitous tiny plastic stools in the street we got an early night for our 4am start the next morning to catch the slow boat to Bagan. Scroll and page forward for the rest of the many,many photos.
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