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Passing through... We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves--Pico Iyer---Passing through from Europe to Africa to Asia to Oceania etc.& back again! 9 mos. of dreaming and exploring!

Mandalay and surroundings

MYANMAR | Sunday, 28 April 2013 | Views [517]

We were hoping to book a day bus from Inle back to Mandalay, but there weren’t any! The only choice we had were 2 night buses that got us into Mandalay early in the AM (go figure!). We booked the cheaper one assuming that would be fine---boy were we wrong!!!! Did I mention previously that the worst bus ride ever was from Bagan to Inle Lake?? Well, let me update that information: our night bus from Inle Lake to Mandalay was our worst bus ride ever!!! Nothing touches it!!! First off, the bus was old and dilapidated (much worse than the previous ones we had been on). Second, the seats were miniature! I could barely fit in my seat, so you can’t even imagine how cramped Tom was (he actually couldn’t physically fit in the seat and his legs had to dangle out into the walkway)! The seats were busted up, and Tom’s handlebar was completely broken and you could not lean on it. The bus was packed, but at least the A/C was decent (however, it was also night time so on that note it was more pleasant). With the windy roads, cramped spaces, loud TV (although entertaining!) it was IMPOSSIBLE to sleep!!! I don’t think either of us dozed for more than a few minutes the whole night! It was truly impossible! At one point I dozed off and my head somehow flung off the seat and that woke me up. Somehow Tom and I tried to twist and turn into decent sleeping positions, but that caused at least one of us extreme discomfort. We couldn’t even move in our seats. It makes me tired and nauseous just thinking about it. On top of that, before even getting on the bus we had a fun ordeal. We were told the bus was coming at 6pm at the bus station and that we would be picked up at the hotel. We were indeed picked up at the hotel, however, it bypassed the bus station/stop and took us to the junction of the highway. Here, we saw our German and Irish friend waiting for their bus (we had already said our goodbyes!). Then, apparently, all of our buses were delayed by at least an hour. The only person running the show seemed to be a lady who would just point to random buses going by and somehow direct certain people to them. Everything was written in Burmese (?) and no one had a clue which bus was which as they went by. We decided not to stress about it and watch the ‘foot volleyball’ game across the street--- I know there is a specific name for this popular Southeast Asian sport but I forget it at the moment. Either way, these guys were really good—headbutting and scissor kicking the small bamboo ball across the net (slightly higher than a badminton net). Every so often the person running the show with the buses would change and you just had to accept the chaos of it all. Somehow we were directed to our bus which arrived an hour and a half late and we were off……horribly off….ughhhh

It was sheer bliss when we arrived in Mandalay at exactly 5am. To get off that terrible bus was a moment neither of us will ever forget---oh the happiness!!! We found a friendly taxi driver to take us to our pre-arranged hotel that agreed to take us in at 5am and we only had to pay for the upcoming night. We waited a few minutes for our room to be ready and then crashed to sleep for a few hours. We wanted to take advantage of our last day in Myanmar, so we got up at 830 for breakfast and to arrange a day tour around Mandalay. We knew we would have limited energy, but we wanted to see something….

We negotiated to pay 25000 kyat for the day for a driver to take us to see the surroundings of Mandalay. Around Mandalay there are apparently plenty of nice things to see as the city is surrounded by 3 ancient capital cities- Sagaing, Inwa and Amarapura. There are lots of pagodas and temples to see, lots of beautiful views, and the pleasant countryside. I would say the best part of the day trip was the beginning in Sagaing. You climb up a set of stairs for about 15 minutes (in RIDICULOUS heat!) and you have a view over the entire countryside, dotted with gold and white pagodas as far as the eye can see! An awesome view!!! Atop the stairs is also a large pagoda, and walking around it gives you these spectacular 360 degree views onto the valley and river below. What a gorgeous sight, even in the intense heat. Atop the hill, we found a large tablet standing next to a Buddha statue that described (in English and Burmese) the practice of Vipassana meditation…..it was a nice touch, and reminded us to be more diligent with our meditating ;)

We also met an older couple from Toronto, and I learned that the husband grew up in Windsor and his dad worked for Ford Motor Company, and now they live in London, Ontario. Small, small world….

After that great trek we were supposed to go to Inwa (the next ancient capital). I had read on forums that out of the 3 ancient cities it had the least to offer, so we decided to skip it as it was an extra cost to take a ferry over to it and to pay an entrance fee of $10---in our opinion not worth it, and we saw that we weren’t the only ones thinking that! Next he took us to famous Amarapura, known for the world’s longest wooden teak bridge --- I know, I know, it doesn’t sound that exciting, but it’s supposed to be a nice photo op with all the monks that cross it. We rested there for a bit with a cold beverage – it was just too hot to walk around, and enjoyed the view. Around the entrance of the bridge there were plenty of nicely scattered pagodas and temples, and lots of monks walking about –fun fact: 3/5 people that live in Mandalay (and surroundings) are monks. The scenery was pretty and serene, and after relaxing a bit we walked the bridge. We were all ‘templed out’ at this point, so we decided crossing the entire bridge to get to yet another pagoda on the other side was just not worth it. So we enjoyed the views from the bridge for a while and decided to call it a day. A COLD shower was in order!!! We thanked our driver ‘Mr. Lynn’ and headed back to town. After a much needed rest from the heat (and attempt at internet access) we went out for dinner and surprisingly, I had my best meal in Myanmar! Fish sour chili it was called and it was quite spicy and tasted great! Tom was jealous of my meal as he had trouble eating his –egg soup with coriander (a bad choice I told him!). After paying for our day trip, arranging airport transfer for the next day, and getting dinner, we had exactly a few thousand kyat (“chat”) left (= $2-3). We decided to go back to the ice cream place across the street and enjoy some dessert. My favourite thing about the place is the young boys who practically run the place---efficient and quick with the orders and bills, always on top of things whether it’s a car driving up to order ‘drive through’ off the street, or tourists asking questions about drinks and desserts. They were always giggling and smiling ?with us ?at us as they took our order….

We attempted to use the internet again after returning to the guesthouse, but that was again an unsuccessful endeavour—certain pages wouldn’t work at all, and otherwise it was incredibly slow and unreliable as the power kept going out. We were good that evening and did a full hour of meditation—it had been a while and we could tell because it was incredibly hard to get through the hour- aches and pains, and uncomfortable anxious feelings all creeping up again--- but so good for us that we did it. Our A/C here was reliable so we enjoyed a comfortable nights rest before our flight the next day….

Overall, I am happy we did Myanmar. It is true that it is completely different and behind from the rest of Southeast Asia, but it is definitely not backwards. It is different in both good and bad ways. It is horrible that there is such a regime running this place, but there is hope for change in the future. The people here are kind and intuitive, happy to embrace foreigners wanting to learn more about their country. There is an air of sincerity here among the locals, which is so nice to experience in today’s world. The people are truly what make this place (and the lack of mass tourism helps too!). I am not sure I will come back here in the future, as I feel like it might change in the wrong direction in the upcoming years (in terms of tourism, and potentially, unfortunately, in terms of government too), but I am grateful to have seen it and experienced it in this time frame and I hope (I truly hope) the corrupt government gets crushed and that the people of Myanmar stay as kind and bright as we have seen them :)

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