Bang smack in the middle of Mandalay is a huge walled off square of land surrounded by a moat and lined with watch towers. This used to be the original ancient city and was the last stronghold of the King when the British invaded. Now, it contains the remains of the Royal Palace and houses the Myanmar military. This makes for an interesting mix as the Palace is the main tourist attraction #triggerhappyphotographers whilst the military areas are heavily restricted! #nophotosallowed Someone clearly didn't think that through…
There’s not much green space around the city but, doesn’t mean that the locals can’t play football, they just close the road, set up a couple of goals and away they go! It did seem a little more organised than that as there appeared to be trophies on offer for the victors. There was a definite desire to win at all costs including some pretty brutal tackling and full on slide tackles on the concrete! Oh and the DJ playing Shakira Shakira on repeat really brought the game to life.
မင်္ဂလာပါ - maingalarpar
The nicest people you will ever meet
State of WCs:
2/10 most public WCs are porcelain holes in the ground and no no to any toilet paper
6*c - 32*c
They have curry and fried rice for breakfast, super serious!
No. Of bites:
Maryam 5 v 2 Andy
Gold leaf pagodas and buddhas
Close your eyes in any vehicle to avoid your life flashing before your eyes
Stray cats and dogs, and fish
A restaurant meal costs around £2/3, hotels are a little more expensive than Thailand but all much cheaper than Europe
Gold, Bare feet, Traffic
6.5 hours ahead of GMT
At the base of Mandalay Hill, we got to witness a massive pilgrimage of devout Buddhists queuing up to see the sacred collar bone of the Buddha. What we hadn't realised was that the bones were a recent addition to the Pagoda and that the full moon symbolises a holy day of worship (they follow the lunar calendar).
Wow! The ancient city of Bagan has definitely been one of our top destinations so far! With over 2,200 historical temples, pagodas and monasteries within 16 square miles it is easy to understand why! In its day, it is said there were 10,000 structures and they were being built at a rate of 2 a month! The pagodas were mainly made out of brick but some of them still had remnants of their previous grandeur via highly decorated rendered facades and painted frescos on the interior.
Even more specifically, watching the sun rise over the temples was one of the singular highlights of our entire trip, made even more special by hot air balloons slowly gliding through the early morning haze.
Another day, another sunset. Not quite as glamorous as sunrise but still very beautiful in its own right. We arrived at the tallest pagoda about an hour before sunset as we were warned it would get busy and it was already quite full, the top tier especially was almost at capacity. We climbed up and set up on the second tier and watched, as for the next hour, bus after bus, taxi after taxi, bike after bike pulled up at the bottom and they all were climbing up to get a view!
"Gold, gold, always believe in the sooooul..." There are golden pagodas and Buddha's everywhere in Myanmar, it makes you wonder how a country that is so obviously poor can afford to spend so much money on gold leaf decoration. Botahtaung pagoda was even more sensational as it was hollow and allowed visitors to enter in a labyrinth of, you guessed it, gold lined walls!
Me life flashed before me eyes! entering Yangon in a taxi the driver was doing 55 miles an hour on a tiny backstreet with cars parked on both sides, how he didn't hit anything is beyond us. All we know is that everytime we came out of a car alive and crossed the road without getting hit we had survived to see another day.
In Other News...
The burmese really protect their lovely skin from the sun. They do this by wearing Thanaka, a yellowish paste made from ground bark. Its very trendy, espcially amongst the girls, so naturally Maryam had to try some.
Oh, and if you're wondering Andy had to wear a skirt (I mean a Longyi).
Next is a quick stop to Laos!
Visiting Inle is all about seeing how the locals live on, in and off the lake and its resources. Houses are built on stilts above the water, they wash their clothes, plates and themselves in the water and they even have floating gardens filled with tomato plants.
On the evening of our arrival we had an amazing Inle carp fish supper which cost a whopping £2.50. Wondering how such fresh and massive fish could cost so little, we were enlightened by our student guide San on our boat trip the following day. He told us that the fisherman receive 1,000kyats (about 60p!) per kilo of fish they catch which is especially low considering they spend about 12 hours each day on the lake fishing from sunrise to sunset.
They’re fishing methods were pretty skillful, as they used a domed net structure and a kind of spear to catch the fish, all whilst standing on one leg as they used the other leg to steer the boat!!! The fish were always caught alive and kept in nets under the fisherman’s stilt houses to maintain their freshness.
We enter yet another country colonised by the Brits. So taking that fact and that our taxi driver sat on the right, we assumed that he would drive on the left. Wrong! Well, only slightly wrong as they used to! There are two stories;
1. They wanted to go against the Brits after independence
2. The previous dictator Ne Win was advised by his astrologer that Myanmar would be better off driving on the right hand side of the road.
Either way, they changed it - overnight!
The U-Pein bridge is the longest teak bridge in the world at 1.2km in length (surely there can't be that many teak bridges out there!?) but the real highlight of a visit is to come and watch the sunset. The unobstructed views from the bridge, the reflection of the sky in the water and the silhouette of the bridge when viewed below make for some great photo opportunities.
Well, they were gliding in real time but our time lapse video makes it look like they should have the Benny Hill theme music playing! A 5:30am start on our electric moped was completely worth it, especially since we still made it back to the hotel in time for breakfast!
Our guide San also took us to some interesting workshops on the lake where the residents worked on making silk and lotus fabric, carpenters making boats and paper, craftsmen making all things exciting with bamboo, a knife-making blacksmith, and the Lonnnnnng Neck ladies. We learned that the Kayan women needed strong necks to carry loads on their backs supported by their heads, thus they elevated their necks with the aid of metal rings between the ages of 7 to 17. Such an intriguing world we have!
To mark our final night in Myanmar we treated ourselves to the cultural show and posh dinner on board the floating Karaweik Palace on Kan Daw Gyi Lake. #flashpackers The dancing elephant and Marianette puppeteer were particular highlights of the show!
In Mingun, a small town near Mandalay sits a very large pile of bricks. These bricks are the remains of the unfinished Mingun Pagoda begun by the eccentric former King Bodawpaya. If the pagoda had been completed it would have been the largest in the world at over 150m in height, however, like all mad leaders of this country, there was to be a twist of fate! Praying on the King’s superstitious nature, a prophecy was created by the unhappy workers saying that the King would die if the pagoda was completed and with that, construction was halted! The second largest ringing bell in the world (it was the largest until 2000) was also procured by the King and is still in use in Mingun, to Andy’s disappointment it wasn’t very loud.
Ryan Beggs and the girls meditating on the golden pagoda!
The £2.50 fresh fish supper complete with 2 side salads, rice and a soup