A day or so in Mandalay began to get us into the holiday mood. J and I realised that we don't act like many tourists, shuttling from temple to temple, historical sight to historical sight. We tend to like to visit some, and enjoy wandering backstreets and sitting in local cafes just as much. In some places this approach can put you in places where 'spider senses start tingling' but we haven't felt like this at all in Myanmar. In general, South Eat Asia feels safe, but despite the poverty and lack of tourists we feel particularly safe over here (except on the roads......).
Our full day in Mandalay started with a taxi to Shwe In Bin Kyaung, a very calm and relaxing Buddhist Monastery complex which has a beautiful carved teak monastery as it's centre-piece. It was built in 1895 and reasonably early in its existence was the scene of colonialism at its worst. A group of Europeans were ejected for not taking off their shoes. Fair one, as bare feet is the custom of the owners. As a result of this action, many monks were arrested and some sentenced to life in prison. Not so fair.
It is a very tranquil site and not a even a little bit touristy. In fact I couldn't help thinking that a little less meditation and head shaving, and a little more dusting would not go amiss.
From there we stopped off at a tea house for a lime juice and a flaky pan-cakey thing before hitting the semi-closed Jade market. We then started a slow wander towards the centre of town, stopping to look in local supermarkets, a couple of other shops and into a bank to get some cash changed.
In supermarkets and banks the Myanmar answer to unemployment becomes obvious: massive over staffing. In supermarkets, employees outnumber shoppers by about two to one. Jobs include standing in aisles chatting, smiling and saying hello, and dusting tin cans. Banks are better though. The one we went to had 45 staff and 9 customers. At the money changing counter we were served by two people: one who counted out the money and the other who repeated the counting. By this, I do not mean a potentially sensible move of doing a recount, rather the odd activity of saying "10, 20, 30" etc just after the lady who is originally saying it. I wonder which is the junior and which is the senior position.
Other than those two, there were the 5 people on the door saying hello and bowing as you went in and out - (that's right, 5), the bank of 5 on each side of the room doing nothing behind desks, the women who stood at the end of the counter looking down its length, and the cleaner. The fact that Myanmar is very much a cash based economy justified the rest as they were either counting huge piles of cash brought in by customers, or were watching huge piles of cash be counted. People could genuinely barely move behind the counter. It was like last orders before the end of happy hour.
The great thing is that despite this massive workforce, 8 of he 9 customers where waiting in the rows of plastic chairs for something to happen: cash be counted, paperwork be filled in triplicate etc. Some room for improvement me thinks.
We left on day two, after an early morning start to walk up to the top of Mandalay Hill to watch a lovely sunrise. It is a 30 min barefoot walk up steps past a series temples and statues. It is well worth doing early, not only for the sunrise: you miss the crowds and the multitude of stalls selling tat are closed. On the downside, dog mess is not yet cleaned up and the waking men are clearing their throats for the first time of the day. Nice.
For those interested in war stuff, the hill was also the site of a battle between the Berkshire Regiment and the Japanese in 1945. As I panted my way up to the top I couldn't help but imagine the terrifying nature of doing the same, weighed down with water and ammunition whilst fighting for ones life.
We got back to the Triumph Hotel in time for breakfast, a packing session and a lie by the pool before heading off at a silly speed to our next destination.