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1/10/2013

Mandalay

Day 4: Mandalay - Air pollution, no kidding!

For easy going reasons (sometimes you just have to except that things not always go the way you like) we had a French toast and a coffee in our hotel before checking out.


We tried to book our last night in Yangon (in 3,5 weeks time) in our hotel, but that was easier said then done. When we wanted to do a down payment the ladies from the reception desk told us they didn't know the price for the room in February yet. To cut a long story short, after a lot of discussion the monkey came out of the sleeve (Dutch expression), they wanted to raise the prices in February, but I assume they did not dare to tell us. That's how it goes right now in Myanmar,...prices rise almost monthly. Heavily!


We took a flight from Yangon airport to Mandalay and on board we got a refreshment towel, drinks, coffee and a lunchbox filled with a cheese croissant and a brownie (45 minutes flight). Not to forget the immense beautiful flight attendants, right Klaas? It went all so smooth.


That I cannot say about our taxi drive from the airport to the Mandaly City Hotel. We were prepared for a hassle on the airport, but this was just, well let's call it a slapstick. Briefly: there was 3 of us, some cool dude from California joined us. After Klaas yelled towards 14 screaming taxi drivers 'SHUT UP', he was able to negotiate a price for the 35 km ride. It took him quite some time but after a firm handshake the deal was made: 7.000K. We went to a decent looking van BUT when we thought we were leaving, six bags and five persons also bought a seat in our van. After 15 minutes pushing and pulling (in the meantime about six guys joined our taxi driver)they figured out that it didn't fit (understatement). We were all upset and felt misled and demanded a better solution, but they just did NOT give in. So we ended up paying another 3.000K and the other party 5.000K for 2 private cars. I am learning a bit Burmese these days and I could not resist to mention 'far too expensive' in Burmese about 25 times.

We arrived in the Mandalay City Hotel after a peaceful ride. The hotel is really not a flashpacker hangout, but rather a group tourist kind of place). I found that a bit shameful but I have to be honest as well, the room is fantastic and the swimming pool an extravagance. We are enjoying the quietness and cleanness a lot.


Straight after unpacking we went into town...well town..you mean smoggy town? My god, there is some heavy traffic going on here. It's so dirty, smelly and busy but there is something to it. We went for a cold appetiser to the Ayeyarwady hotel rooftop bar, near the,.. indeed Ayeyarwady river. WOW what a great place to unwind and relax for a bit. And to make it all up for the shitty taxi price, we did not have to pay for our cocktails since it was happy hour. Well, lucky us: rooftop, cocktail, peanuts, amazing view, sunset and some fantastic noodles to finish it off.


We took two motorbikes back to our hotel. What an experience. You hav to know that most of these motorbike guys chew the beetle nut all day long, which makes them pretty stoned, then they haves us in heavy traffic on their motorbikes. Klaas got completely crazy. He couldn't stop filming the whole ride. Actually it was kind of cool! And we made it back in one piece. Actually we think they drive super safe and not too fast like these idiots do in Amsterdam. I say a great first day in Mandalay!


Traveller facts: Booking a flight within Mynmar is till now only possible through an agent in Myanmar. Flights cost around 80-140$, depending on the distance. Flight times change all the time, because there are not enough pilots, plains etc. But in return you get a beautiful handwritten ticket.
From Mandaly airport to town expect to pay 10.000K per taxi. It's quit a long drive. Negotiating seems possible, but in the end they just fooled you. Happy Hour in The Ayeyarwady hotel between: 5.30-6.30 pm

Day 5: Mandalay - Taxi...taxiiiiii?

We slept like an ox (Dutch for great night sleep) and went for breakfast at 8.15 am. New hotel, new chances. It was a buffet with fruit, cereals and good coffee so no complaints on my behalf what so ever. We decided to take the afternoon off til 12.30 to hang out around the pool. Actually I used this time to get my first travel reports online. I found a window of opportunity: all the tourists were gone, nobody using the wifi, so I was finally able to upload my blog. Hallelujah! It's becoming some kind of obsession which I really am ashamed of. The pool was great. Nobody there, the water crystal clear and the garden surrounding the pool an oasis,..mmmmm! Around 1pm we decided to take a walk to one of the restaurants mentioned in the bible; 'Too Too'. We also checked out BBB but it felt kind of awkward to sit with ONLY blondish travellers.


'Too Too' has delicious cheap food and after paying 7.000K we decided to take a cab to the Mandalay Hill. Uuuuh what did you say, a cab? Well after 25 minutes we called it a day and walked all the way back to town to find a bicycle outlet to rent a bike. NO TAXI TO BE FOUND. Crazy after Yangon where taxi after taxi turns up. Strange how different two big cities can be!


We arrived at a bike rental place and started to talk to the brother of the lady who runs it. He turned out to be a funny guy who speaks practically fluent English. We were intrigued! We gave him several options for our itinerary the next day and within 5 minutes talking to each other we shook hands. Tomorrow @ 8.30am Hla Myo (say: Lámyou) and his brother will guide us, on the back of their motorbikes, to the U-Bein's bridge and the opposite side, Sagaing. Total damage: 24.000K. I look forward to this trip a lot because I love to be on a motorbike and after reading the report of Tripavisor's contributor Susie st Auswel(it was one of here highlights in Myanmar), I feel very good about it all. Hopefully we will leave the noise and the dirt (what comes out of my noise every evening here is not funny).

We left Lámyou and went on our way to the Gold Pounders Workshop where they make sheets of gold-leaf. They use it to make, for example, shining Buddha images. This is not an easy task....it's hours and hours work by hand done by muscle-bound gold-beaters who hammer out in an insistent, thumping rhythm. It was okay, and truly amazing how much work it is to get a thin leaf of gold, but all together it was not taking my breath away or something.

And then it happened....Klaas' tummy was all of a sudden totally upset. He straight took a motorbike back to the hotel and I went into 'town' to buy myself an extra pair of long trousers. I ended up in a fancy upscale warehouse (Diamond Center) with an enormous supermarket @-1 level. I love supermarkets abroad so I run into it and had the time of my life. Actually I was so surprised, it felt like I was in a big French supermarket in the 70ies (but with a cell phone dept.)It was all there. I bought a ridiculous pair of fake Adidas pants (only 2 stripes and 1 pocket) for only 4.000K. Just what I need for a day on the motorbike tomorrow.

Back home Klaas looked a lot better. Big white chairs sometimes just do the trick. For dinner we decided to go to an European kind of place for burgers. Hell why not? I just do not want to fool around with my lover's stomach. I know what trouble that can cause. We went to the V Café and had great french fries and a giant beefburger. Good unhealthy food that will hopefully kill all the bad bugs! We met a lovely couple from Canada and had again an interesting conversation about a few aspects of life (the guy knew a Dutch island called 'Terschelling' very well and he could sing a 'Willeke Alberti song -ik hou van jou'-). That wasn't the only connection with my country, Holland, that evening. I was stunned when I saw a promo on television (V Bar has a lot of flat screens) saying that later on that evening the movie 'The Heineken Kidnapping' would be aired. WHAT????? No way. A Dutch movie (also spoken in Dutch) on Burmese television? Unfortunately we do not have this channel on our hotel television so I can't proof it.

Traveller facts: 55$ for the Mandalay City Hotel is a bargain. The beds and the rooms are very comfortable and the pool and the breakfast buffet a great bonus. We are going to pay for the motorbike plus driver/guide who speaks well English 12.000K pp for a whole day (08.30 am - 7pm). We pay 1.000K for short rides in town on the back of a motorbike (they drive super safe!). We paid 2.300K for a giant burger and 1.600 for a giant plate of french fries. And if you like red wine, the V Bar is your place. Not too bad wine for only 1.000K a glass.

Day 6: Mandalay - Wow wow wowwwwwwer!

7.30am and my iPhone brutally wakes me up. A quick shower and breakfast and a few chats with the people I met in the hotel during my nightly internet sessions (I am not the only one with wifi issues. Whole groups of tourist hang around that one spot where wifi might be available).
A funky group of 11 Singapore people on their BMW's motorbikes doing a tour through Myanmar (all the way from Singapore!!) Every morning when they leave the hotel there is 'a Myanmar guy' showing up on his motorbike who follows them. Every town a different one. According to their guide this is for safety reasons...right! You can follow her on: mrrrmrrr.tumbler.com
We met Lámyou who brought his brother Timyou for the trip. Timyou made different choices in life and became a motorbike mechanic. He doesn't speak English.
Let me start with a short description of Lámyou, because we think he is very special (we know this now after a full day with him :-).

Lámyou speaks very well English and he laughs all the time. A very addictive laugh :-) He's a very intelligent, smart father who got married 3 years ago. He has a daughter of 1,5 years old who, so he says, breaks your heart when she moves her hands 'Gangnam style wise'. Lámyou takes care of his mother while his father died of a heart attack several years back. I think you might call him a true entrepreneur. He learnt English on his own (because at school they pronounce the words wrongly, he said) and he started up several businesses like exporting Myanmar clothes, a trishaw guide and motorbike driver. You can hire bikes at his sister's place and he is available as a guide. 

He was invited by an Australian lady Judyth Gregory-Smith to visit her in Australia, so he has been travelling for a while in Australia. Judith wrote 'Myanmar a memoir of loss and recovery' (Read an interview with this special Australian writer, also about Lámyou -she names him Kyar Min because of certain reasons back then- click here).
He does not have an official tourist guide license (which is very hard to get in Myanmar), but I am sure that he's better then most of the official guides we saw. Only his positive thinking and humor is why you should be with him.


We made a logic itinerary together for the day (he has plenty of suggestions) and hit the road while singing 'hit the road Jack and don't you come back no more more..'. Funny! Traffic is totally crazy in Myanmar but we knew that and were prepared for some heavy lung pollution. Lamyou and his brother drove safe on their nice motorbikes. Our first stop was the sacred 'Mahamuni Paya'.

Lamyou explained us all about it and I realised how great it is to get detailed explanation of the things we see. I was very impressed when I saw the big Buddha covered with thick layers of gold leaves, men put on him. The Buddha is twice as fat now as he was in 1901 when he started his life. Many ladies peacefully sat in front of him in total devotion. Klaas was allowed to go all the way to the Buddha and found it very spectacular. Certainly to see all the men covering the Buddha with their gold leaves (10 pieces of gold leaf 2x2 cm cost 7.000K = 7€).


After we got our share of religion, we hit the road again towards the marble stone and wood carving street. Again, wow! All these artistic people making such nice sculptures out of massive blocks of marble and wood. The patience this whole process takes, I am so impressed. The trees in the marble street were all totally white which made me want to sing Mariah Carrey's 'All I want for Chistmas...'. By the way they hardly tried to sell us anything, which I liked a lot.


Then it was finally time for the big tourist explosion: the monks who get their meal near the U-Bein's bridge monastery 'Mahaganayon Kyaung'. After reading Susie here story on Tripadvisor we were prepared for some shameful moments. She didn't say one word too much. Our pics actually didn't came out that great, because we felt so miserable surrounded by so many silly (group) tourists, that we just couldn't concentrate ourselves. We took a few pics and left. It is indeed astonishing what happens there, but the 200 flashing camera's in the monks faces were just unbearable for us, certainly Klaas felt totally depressed afterwards.



What I found really fascinating to see, is a lot of poor kids begging for food with the monks. They are all so adorable but at the same time it's breaking one's heart to see four year old's carrying babies around. Sadly enough I am almost used to this, after seeing so many of them.


Back on the road again, we crossed the river by a big new iron bridge (Saigan bridge) and entered 'The stairway to Soon U Ponya Shin Paya and Sagaing Hill'. The views were amazing. From the top of the hill we took some pics and Lamyou took us to his village. Very rural, maybe I can say poor. But what struck us the most was the fact that the people looked much happier then in town. We loved driving around on the back of these motorbikes. No pollution, only waving kids, nature and simple bamboo huts (we tried to ignore all the rivers filled with plastic and other dirt).



We like to talk to the kids and fool around with them. They are so open, but shy (in the beginning). These kids on the pics are carrying wood from land into boats. Child labour 100% so that's why we give small things away that they can use. No candy, no money, we brought some key chain hangers from my former work place. Useful for many things. They really like it. In return they let me carry some wood on my head. Right. Piece of cake...NOT!


Carrying wood makes a woman hungry so we decided to head back towards the U-Bein bridge for the afternoon. Along the way the brothers found a great place for lunch. All together we paid 10.000K for beer and four great dishes.


Read the rest of my adventures in Mandalay in the next chapter!

2 comments:

Antique Buddhas said...

Mandalay, one of the most beautiful city in the land of Burma. The Mahamuni Temple which includes the famous Mahamuni golden Buddha images is one of the most fascinating and a must visit places of Mandalay.

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