And a few to go too!
25.03.2008 - 27.03.2008 37 °C
Mandalay. What a town. We left the beautiful garden capital of Yangon the other day and have been touring around the last seat of Royalty of Myanmar for a couple of days. We had been following the Lonely Planet guide book to find some restaurants and shops and such for the past few days but had little luck. Either places had moved or they were closed. The Lonely Planet redeemed itself though with an author's choice pick for an evening restaurant. A streetside chapati (wheat flat bread) stand. Ohmigod! These things are awesome. The first night in town we went to eat and I had 3 chapatis, chicken curry and dal and a tamarind dipping sauce. Jen had some fried veggies, dal. tamarind sauce and a double fried egg with hers. It was fantastic but it was too much even for me. Last night, we went looking for a place to eat but did not see anywhere that really grabbed our eye so back to the chapati stand we go!
With slightly more self-control, I stayed to only 2 chapatis and Jen had 1. We were getting up very early the next day to ride to the Mandalay Hill that rises NE of town right out of the plains, so we packed up some dal and 2 more chapatis to go. We are probably going to go there for supper again tonight, and likely when we pass through again. A good enough reason to come to Mandalay...for sure!
But there are many more. Today for example, armed with our trusty, and not very rusty, push bikes, complete with fenders, we rode out to Mandalay Hill at 6 am to watch the sunrise. We were able to get there just before sunrise and watch it come up as we climbed the many stairs on foot. At the top we rested and soaked in the beautiful view. After that we decided to head down to the ferry that would take us up and across the Ayerawaddy River to Mingun. A village that has several old temples and what would have been the world's largest Pagoda but it remains unfinished. The world's largest (90 tons) intact, ringing bell is also there. We decided to take some back roads along Mandalay's streets and found ourselves bumping along the alleyways and side streets of the port and sawmill district. The smell of teakwood dust in the air was actually quite nice. We did receive many quizzical looks as I think this was not "typically" part of the tourist route. We looked quizzically back though as we were pretty lost a few times. We got to the Jetty with lots of time to spare so the boat captain pointed us to a tea shop across the street.
At the shop, we created quite a stir as the young boy who came to take our order did not speak english and he was very excited to try to decipher our hand gestures and english. He called to the shop owner who understood we wanted 2 cups of tea only. A few minutes later, a plate of samosas arrived. Yep, that's exactly what we thought. Our burmese/english and hand gestures are getting worse. But it turns out these are put out each morning to the customers and you pay for what you eat. The tea showed up a few minutes later. We were able to understand the price so for us, it was a huge victory! As we left they all were giggling at our "cei zu be" and "mingalahba"'s.
While waiting for the boat to be ready, we watched as the very busy river port was alive and bustling with trishaw drivers, loaders, goats, and pretty much everything else you would imagine. There are many "rustic" trucks in Myanmar and they still have a hand crank start and huge open flywheel on the other side. The trucks are able to haul quite a lot but don't appear to have much for a braking system. One fellow had sand on the back and it was so heavy that he could not get up the little hill to the street on the first try. To keep him from rolling down the hill, a young boy runs beside him to throw rocks under the back wheel to hold him in place! After he went up, a man with hand pulled rickshaw came down the hill hanging on for dear life as his massive load of 45 gallon drum barrels tried to push him into the river. Pretty exciting to watch over tea!
We got to Mingun with little effort and were instantly greeted by many vendors trying to get us to pay for them to guide us, tell us which shop was theirs or buy one of the many souvenirs we had already seen elsewhere. They must have been to Vietnam for training because they used every trick in the book. Ask questions about you to build a relationship, send their really cute kids to visit with you while you walk and failing that, pretty much follow you till you bought something. It was here we decided to take the 174 steps and free scramble to the top of the Mingun Paya ruins to escape. It was very peaceful. In light of this new found peace and quiet, we sought out further refuge from vendors. So we went walking through their village which is off the tourist track then stopped for tea at a small local shop at the village edge.
After the hubbub of the vendors died down, we headed back out onto the road where Jen said, " We should take a Ox cart ride back to the boat". I couldn't have been more suprised to hear those words come out of my wife's mouth. Animals in a harness, made to do work for humans, and us riding not moving under our own power. I could not believe it. It was a lovely, bumpy ride that was made to feel very authentic as the ox pooped as they walk only inches from the edge of the cart. Thank goodness for the clever design.
After seeing the rest of the sights we went for a beer at a small restaurant overlooking the river. Three young boys greeted us upon our arrival and promptly made their way to clean up a chair for us. After we sat, one of them who spoke very good english got us a beer and the Lonely Planet phrasebook ( which has had very few phrases correct when I use them) actually had one right for once. The boy saw that we wanted peanuts too and he understood! Two language barriers broken in one day. Definitely time to quit while we were ahead. The boys, Toos, his cousin Cho Cho, and friend Kyaw Zin, all started talking to us and were quickly telling us stories. How at 12 years old, they were going to Mandalay University to study engineering. It was fun so they laughed at our burmese and visited with them back and forth for quite some time. At one point, they came back with a cigarette and offered it to us. This wasn't the first time we were offered cigarettes by kids while eating in Mandalay! We also had a small lunch before leaving. At the end of it all, we could not help but pay the exorbitant price they charged us because it had been so entertaining. We were also likely the only customers that day as ours was the last boat to leave the shore.
All that before 1 pm today. Following this hectic schedule, we are heading for home or a beer station before returning to have chapatis again tonight for supper. If you weren't sure, Mandalay is a very cool place.