And Mandalay here we arrive at 6.30am and more conveniently a five minute walk away from the hotel, which I don't think pleased the 10 or so taxi drivers hoping for a job. First impressions? Well, we were dropped off by the train station so the area is like any other inner city train station, teeming with people already.
We had an absolute result at the Taw Win Myanmar Hotel as they were able to check us straight into our room which was, after being in hostels, luxury. So a much needed nap for a few hours was taken. We hadn't planned much for Mandalay so we spent the day aimlessly wondering about the dusty streets with a view of visiting some monasteries. The only one we made and successfully walked about was Setkyathiha Paya and a copy of the golden rock (actual one elsewhere in Myanmar). Mandalay didn't really connect with me, maybe because it was just a generic city, busy streets but not a lot going on. Actually it's the friendliness of the people that made it fascinating. One of the things they do which I like is to make a kissing noise when they try and get peoples attention, yep it's the small customs that I enjoy observing. So, overcome with weariness we decided to head back to the hotel for a rest before the evenings activities, on the way back we found ourselves having to jump over the train tracks and meandering through a real trackside community with rough and ready timber stilted houses.
That evening we decided we would walk up to Mandalay Hill to watch the sunset, we set off with what we thought was plenty of time. Hmm we didn't factor in tiredness (damn google maps saying it took 1 hour 30 mins!) It was a race against time to get to the top of the hill and well, let's just say we saw a tiny glimpse of the top of the sun for all of 10 seconds. But still the view of the city and the observing the monks up there at the temples was pleasant. Then it was time to head down, in the pitch dark, thank god for phones having torch lights on them now! It felt like the longest journey ever we were all knackered and moods starting to fray but as we found a chapati street food stall where dinner cost us all of 18p...I kid you not! (So guess where we ate for the next two nights?) A early night was much needed and taken.
The following day we developed a bit of a plan, a lazy day of pottering about. Christine and I decided to go for a walk, again distances not being our strong point, we headed to Shwenandaw Kyaung - a Buddhist monastery. It took over an hour so maps are deceiving. We asked how much it was to go around - $10! You know what mate I can see the entire teak monastery through the railings. I'll just take a picture and move on. To be fair it looked pretty impressive. On the plus side I managed to get a beautiful Burmese skirt for £3 (down for £7).
On the way back we passed a house where under, what I can only describe as a car shelter, 20 children where being taught. We headed back to the hotel to pick Laura up for our afternoon adventure. To speed things up we took a motorbike taxi back to the hotel. Christine looked like she was crapping herself, since we were given a helmet that more resembled a plastic baseball cap maybe I can see why. After a few hours monging about we headed down to the river to watch the sunset. The first spot was a little park where we befriended a young monk who couldn't wait to take our photos. Then we were advised there was a cafe down the road on the river side serving beer...that was the natural choice so off we went. We hit up the local beer, Dagon and at 40p a glass how on earth did we refrain from only having two glasses?! Probably because we were still so shattered and Laura and I suffering from a cold. Then again a stop at the chapati stop and hotel for a beer and bed.
On Sunday 16th November we were up and out super early to go get the 9am ferry over to Mingun. Mingun, how do I describe it, a tourists paradise?! Too many tourists actually as in the 7 weeks I haven't already been away I haven't encountered to many tourist havens...thank god. But we explored the Mingun Paya which should have been the largest stupa in the world...if they had finished it so actually it's the worlds largest pile of bricks with touts wanting to charge you for just saying hello (ok I'm exaggerating). Then we viewed the Mingun Bell. The worlds largest uncracked hung bell but still just a bell. Sorry maybe my enthusiasm is a bit low for Mingun. However the Hsinbyume Paya was a beautiful huge white temple. Then it was time to get the boat back to Mandalay. Once back we headed back to the cafe on the river and spent the next several hours drinking the Dagon and a quick snack and watching the river life unfold. An afternoon I didn't want to end as watching the going on's was amazing. There was the young girls unloading a boat full of terracotta pots but by balancing up to 4 of them on their heads! The pigs squealing as they were being hauled off another boat. Two young lads finding it hilarious running amongst the pots poking each other with sticks then (this will sound cruel) they each picked a puppy up my the hind leg and launched it at the other lad. It was cute as then one of the lads runs inside and then reappears with water and food for the puppies showing some affection. A beautiful afternoon showing what life here is about. Sadly it was time to head back and visit our new local, yep the chapati stall.
And that's Mandalay done so off we headed to the bus station to head to Lake Inle. (I hope the above makes sense I have written it after a few glasses of wine at the vineyard in Inle Lake, Myanmar).