07.03.2013 - 07.03.2013 40 °C
On today's agenda was seeing the main sights of Mandalay. We were up nice and early and had a pretty diabolical breakfasting on the roof terrace. Horrible melon, mouldy banana, sweet dry toast, weird white butter and a dry but greasy egg. The tea was nice though. We decided to walk it all the way down to Mahamuni Paya. This is the nations most famous Buddha image, thousands of people visit to apply gold leaf to the body. Apparently there is now more than six inch of gold leaf covering the Buddha. It took us all morning to walk to the temple as it is more than 20 blocks away and it was incredibly hot. Walking down 84th street is really different to the small streets our guest house is on. A massive main road with crazy traffic. People zoom past leaving clouds of vile exhaust smoke and constantly beep their horns. As always people waved and said hello as we walked past and helped us with directions. When we got to the correct street we could see an empty street with what looked like a temple at the end but it wasn't ornate or big. We walked towards it to ask and sure enough that was it. As you go inside you walk down a corridor of columns lined with stalls selling religious souvenirs, scarves and flowers to offer to Buddha. Apparently there is a ten dollar entry fee that will also get you into all the other sights in Mandalay and a one dollar camera fee however no one asked us for a ticket of to pay and there was no ticket office so we just went inside.
Inside there were hundreds of people, mostly Burmese people and a few tourists. All the children were dressed up and families had come to see the temple. There are several courtyards surrounding a huge golden Paya. In these were artefacts and bronze figures recovered from Angkor Wat. In the centre of the temple is the golden Buddha. Women are not permitted to approach and there were hundreds of people sat on a long carpet facing the Buddha worshiping and watching their families apply gold leaf to the Buddha on TV screens. The Buddha itself has a polished face and the body is bumpy where the gold leaf has been applied. Chelsea bought some pineapple and stood eating that and waiting while Liam went to explore the Buddha. It is an interesting place and is mainly full of local people worshiping.
After this we decided to find Shwe In Bin Kyaung monestary. We set off walking and called at a cafe to cool off and sat and had a beer. Finding the monestary proved to be difficult and by this point at mid day it was beyond bearable to walk. We wandered around the smaller streets, through villages and people helped us with directions several times. The smaller streets of Mandalay are another world. Small huts line the streets, open sewers and litter runs down the roads and people go about their normal lives. They shower in the street, sell their fruit and snacks, taxi drivers lay around waiting for business and children play. The roads are not tarmaced and people sit watching and smiling. After a VERY long walk we came to a street we thought it was on and were shown in through a door in a wall which we would have never found on our own. You take your shoes off as soon as you enter so be prepared to walk on the dirt as there are no paved paths. The monestary itself is free and is quite impressive. It is made entirely of teak and is ornately carved. The whole place was strangely quiet and there was no one around apart from the man and his little girl on the entrance doorway. His little girl was fascinated by us and came right up to us wanting to touch us.
After visiting the monestary we decided to head back in to the centre of town towards Mandalay hill and find somewhere to sit for a few hours. The walk back was difficult in the heat and was a long way. On the way we managed to change some money. The rate in Mandalay is the best we have seen in Myanmar and we got 863Ks to the dollar instead of 850Ks. We also managed to check out transport and prices for the next few days. Tomorrow we are going to explore Amarapura so we went to the taxi corner that services this area and enquired. It costs 500Ks per person to go in the back of a pickup. The station is at the corner of 84th and 29th. We then carried on to the corner of 81st and 32nd to enquire about taxi to Pyin Oo Lwin, our next destination. Our guest house offers it at 7000Ks per person but you can get a taxi from here for 5000Ks. You can also ride the same journey in a pickup for the bargain price of 1500Ks so we think we might brave it and try this.
By this point our legs were tired and we were hot and hungry so we stopped off at a stall which looked like it was ran by a family. They had baskets full of street snacks so we pointed to some that looked like giant spring rolls. We sat down and they brought them to us cut up with some chilli sauce and cucumber salad. They were amazing and had curried potato inside and cost 500Ks. There was nothing to drink except water out of a cooler bucket which we didn't want to risk so after we had eaten we walked on and sat in a bar. We sat in the bar and had a cold frosty beer. Every time you sit down anywhere here you get a little plate of peanuts. As soon as they are finished they bring you another one and will just keep bringing more and more. Liam could not stop eating them and ate about 5 plates full before he decided he was too full of peanuts. After more than an hour and a half and three beers we thought we better be on our way to Madalay hill.
The walk was long and after half an hour we realised we were still nowhere near and as we wanted to watch the sunset from the top we better get some form of transport. We hailed a pickup truck and paid 500Ks each to take us to the bottom of the hill.
At the bottom we went inside Kuthodaw Paya, another pagoda with an entrance fee included in the ten dollar ticket but there was no one there to collect any money or ticket so we just went inside. This is the site of the worlds largests book. There are over 700 giant slabs that have been engraved each sat in their own Paya surrounding a central golden spire. We explored and then made our assent up Mandalay Hill. As we had lingered for so long over beer we basically had to sprint to the top to catch the sunset. Mandalay Hill is a hard climb up hundreds of steps, through several pagodas to the top. It is over 200 metres high and at the top we both thought we might pass out. Luckily though we had ran up so fast that we were way before sunset and sat and waited half an hour for the sun to set over the city. The views from the top are lovely, you can see the whole city, the river and the mountains. There are loads of squirrels at the top running through the trees and Liam became transfixed on watching and taking pictures of them and updating Chelsea on what they were doing.....'Chelsea, this one is eating a watermelon'.
The way down was obviously a lot easier and on the way a girl walked and talked with us. She was a student at the University of Mandalay and came to the hill every day to practice her English with tourists. We have seen a lot of this in Myanmar. People approach you and want to talk just so they can practice their speech and learn new words. It is refreshing to have people just want to talk rather than sell you things. We were not asked for any ticket or to pay for Mandalay Hill or any of it's pagodas. We have not bought the ticket and would recommend not buying it as no one checks at any sights we have seen. We only know about the charges from our guide book and the Internet but without that we wouldn't even know how of where to buy one as there seem to be no official ticket offices or booths at any sight so far.
At the bottom we decided to get a taxi back. The driver wanted 4000Ks which was too high so we agreed with a motorcycle taxi on 1000Ks each. We thought he might get a friend to take one of us but no.... All three of us were going on one bike. It was beyond hair raising and as he zoomed through the traffic we both had to laugh and close our eyes.
It was late when we got back into the middle of town and dark. We went to the little street stall for food again and shared a mutton curry, chicken curry, chapatis and biryani and it came with loads of different side dishes, sauces and herbs. It was delicious again. Walking back to our guest house in the dark was a lot harder than expected. We couldn't recognise any of the small market streets without light and had to ask for directions several times. It is a good job people are so friendly of we would still be aimlessly wandering around empty market streets until the sun came up.