The gang, reduced now to just the boys and I, flew with AirAsia from Bangkok to Mandalay in the morning and walked from the bus transfer point to garden guesthouse. It was already afternoon so we ate at a local Chinese restaurant and showered before heading out to watch the sunset at Mandalay Hill; a Buddhist temple on top of a hill over looking the city. The walk up to the top was along a massive covered stone staircase, which had close to 1800 steps!! We were not allowed to wear shoes and had to walk bare foot! Along the way there were stops for shrines or Buddha statues, as well as lots of local people also walking up who were very eager to talk to us!
We were first approached by a group of monks roughly our age. They were interested in where we were from and how we got to Myanmar. They were excited to hear we were English and told us that many local people come to the temple on Sunday evenings just to talk to tourists to practice their English and learn about the world. The most talkative monk told us about the English language school in Mandalay, and how his class always meet on Sunday evenings at the top. Sure enough, when we reached the top there were lots of people eager to talk to us, and as the only female in our group I was quickly surrounded by at least 10 young Burmese women.
They were fascinating to talk to as we exchanged questions and answers about our differing cultures. They were both shocked and excited to hear that I was (technically) travelling alone and asked multiple questions about the cultures of other countries I had visited previously. They were also fascinated by my time in education and my PhD. Not many women get this opportunity in Myanmar…
We all watched the sun set together, stunning… what a beautiful introduction to Myanmar and the people. It was such a contrast to how we felt in Cambodia and some places in Vietnam. The people here wanted nothing from us but friendship and teaching. We offered to visit their language school the next evening and they were all delighted and excited to see us again!
At the base of the temple were 2 guardian lions, they were so big I could only fit one in the picture!!
People waking through the temple.
View from the top
Some of the people we met
After waking back down we went for food in the town and had chicken tosai/dosai; a savoury pancake filled with chicken curry and Dahl on the side. It was so cheap and delicious! We then went for drinks at a local bar which had a small stage on which local women were singing over a backing of electric keyboard preset rhythm tracks…. it was…. special…! What’s more, the men in the pub buy what looked like Christmas tinsel to give as gifts to the women in recognition of their singing… We couldn’t quite work out exactly what was going on. Perhaps a singing competition, perhaps prostitution… We were being too polite to ask directly! We didn’t realise how much the tinsel was and after joining in, we were hit with a huge bill at the end!
The next day I organised a full day of sightseeing outside the town. We went first to ‘the longest teak bridge in the world’. Actually, Myanmar advertised a lot of it’s attractions as ‘the biggest’ or ‘the longest’ and we could never quite work out whether this was the true… but anyway, on the way to the bridge our taxi (aka pick-up truck) stopped at a silk factory and I bought a beautiful scarf to use as cover up for temple visiting.
It was very windy!
From here we drove to a village called Sagaing which was basically just a village of temples. We climbed what our driver said was the best/most interesting temple and in the views from the top all we could see were more temples and shrines littering the hillsides.
Lots of steps again!
Possibly hundreds of temples
At the top
Stupa at the top
We then drove to an ancient village; Mingun, where there was a temple housing ‘the largest uncracked bell in the world’. We got there too late to go in so instead we saw the ancient elephant guardians of the temple.
We raced back to try and make the English school but we turned up too late and so vowed to go back the next day instead. The food we had that night was amazing, but we had no idea what it was as it definitely wasn’t what we ordered!!
After a tiring day we spent the next day chilling and walking around the town. We made it on time to the English school, and were asked to teach a little lesson each. I decided to talk about British traditions, such as Christmas, Easter, Sunday roasts, birthdays that we celebrate like 16, 18, 21, New year’s etc. They loved it and asked many questions!
Afterwards, we went to a traditional Myanmar dance and puppet show. It was pretty! We went back to the same place for food, and with the receipt from the last night, were able to order a great meal again!
We had had an amazing time in Mandalay, such a beautiful town with wonderful people…. However, we were in for a shock when we returned to our hostel that night, a huge riot had kicked off, and guys with long sticks were speeding on motorbikes with police trying to shut it down. We snuck around the back, with the help of some locals, and watched from the safety of our room. Nothing much happened apart from a lot of shouting, the police had managed to secure the area with road blocks and the threat of automatic rifles which they carried… We got bored of waiting for something to happen and went to bed. In the morning, there was no sign that anything had happened, and rumours were already spreading about the cause of the riot… We tried to keep an open mind, but it seemed like religious differences was to blame…
I don’t think this incident affected any of our opinions of the town, and we all left thinking positively about Mandalay. I would definitely return to Mandalay, but I may think about staying elsewhere in the town.
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