06.03.2013 - 06.03.2013 40 °C
We had to get up nice and early this morning to fit in breakfast before our 8.30 bus to Mandalay. We finished packing and went downstairs to the lobby of the guesthouse to wait for our bus to pick us up. Of course it was late but Liam did not mind because he got to catch the second half of Man United V Real Madrid on the TV in the lobby. Chelsea was not amused.
The bus itself was one of the better buses we have caught, it had it was clean modern and roomy and had air con but was not too cold. It played Burmese pop and showed the videos on TV with the lyrics across the bottom. Liam asked Chelsea why they do this when no one is going to sing along on the bus. Sure enough pretty much as soon has he had said it a woman behind us starting singing along. When the Burmese pop ended, Western pop started and then it was Chelseas turn to sing along.
We admired the view of the tiny villages and rice fields until it became main road and then read for the reminded of the 5 hour journey. We stopped once in a village for a toilet break and for lunch. Chelsea braved the toilet but Liam gave it a miss as it was a row of bamboo cubicles, with plastic squat toilets. We were still okay from breakfast so just bought some homemade samosas of a little girl, they were delicious.
We arrived in Mandalay a little after 1pm, for once earlier than expected. We got off the bus and we were immediately swarmed by taxi drivers. We collected or bags and told them to give us a minute so we could sort ourselves out. The bus station is 11km out of the centre and they were charging is 8000 kyat. We asked two other westerners if they were interested in sharing the taxi to cut the fare in half. The agreed and then proceeded to haggle with the taxi driver to get it for 6000 kyat.
It was only about 20 minutes to our guesthouse and we checked in without any issues. We are staying in AD1 Hotel which is a little worse for wear but it is clean and we have an attached bathroom. After we had settled in we decided to roam the streets around where we are. Almost immediately out of our guesthouse we stumbled upon a large market. We love walking around Asian markets, especially in Myanmar. This one was just as crazy as usual and huge. The main thing on sale was onions and garlic; we have never seen so many bulbs just piled high in bags. The whole street smelt sweet with garlic. We took a few more streets and the produce on offer changed to chillies, bags upon bags of fresh and dried chillies and then tonnes of different chilli powders.
Scattered around were other stalls selling fresh fruit and veg (not so fresh by this point) and other conveniences. The streets are in blocks and are narrow and extremely busy. Bycicles are piled high with rice, trucks are piled high with people and baskets and everywhere people sell their wares on the street. Mandalay is extremely friendly, everywhere you walk people smile and say hello and children wave. Unlike Bagan people talk to you because they are interested and no one has tried to sell us anything apart from the occasional motorcycle taxi driver.
Once we finally got out of the market streets we decided to head towards the palace and see the walls and the moat that runs around it. It was a fair walk and the traffic here is even worse that Yangon. There are just as many cars as Yangon but the streets are about half as wide. On top of that there are thousands of bikes weaving in and out horns blaring, there were no bikes at all in Yangon for some reason. There are no traffic lights either so every junction is a mine field and crossing the road is a hair raising experience. One car today came within a foot of Liam and just stopped. The Burmese lady gave a little chuckle behind the wheel. The moat and palace walls were impressive. The moat is a lot cleaner than we expected and runs a perfect square around the walls. The walls are old but in great condition and several towers of the palace grounds were visible from where we stood. We walked parallel to the walls for a while, then we came along the biggest flock of pigeons we have ever seen. We wondered why there were so many, all over the floor, on the railings of the path, and covering the electrical wires above. Then a woman walked out with a giant bag of seed and poured it all over the pathway. It was really fun walking through them.
After this we were too thirsty and hungry to go anywhere else so made our way back. We called into a café and had two refreshing draught Myanmar beers each in proper frosty glasses and sat for an hour before going to find somewhere to eat. We came across a tiny street restaurant called Nay Café with a guy flipping awesome looking chapatti‘s over an open fire and a hot plate and decided to go there. It is basically a few tables and chairs on the road and as we sat down a friendly man on the table next to us said hello and started chatting to us. We ordered a mutton curry, a biryani, a plain rice and a few chapatti’s but it came with more than half a dozen side dishes. We got several dips, a gravy sauce, a plate of herbs and a few small tasty salad dishes that we have no idea what they were but ate them all the same as they were gorgeous. Anything we were not sure of we asked the man on the next table and he told us what it was. The whole thing was one of the best meals we have had and cost 2900 kyat. Liam was shocked out how little it cost he left his first tip of the whole trip.
We were not sure what to expect before we got to Mandalay and sort of expected another city like Yangon but it is totally different. On first impressions I think we will love it. The atmosphere is friendly and the streets are busy and vibrant, full of people going about their normal lives. It is what we imagine some of the big towns in other parts of Southeast Asia used to be like before tourism really took off. It is real and exciting. We can’t wait to explore tomorrow.