11 January -Day trip to outer Mandalay

Another day, another night of little sleep due to the karaoke bar that seemed to be next to our window, and a pigeon that was actually nesting on our window sill and the bed which had no foam left in it!
We had arranged for taxi to go to see sights just outside of Mandalay – as listed in the lonely planet. We had a new driver arranged for today as we didn’t really want to take our chances with the same one that left us stranded last night. So our drivers (!) today turned up, with red eyes and teeth to match, clutching parcels of betel nut, and a car that was ram shackled, which was comforting. And off we bounced, past everyone in cafes, having breakfast wearing in all their clothes and hats, scarves, as it was chilly, about 16 degrees.
The drive out of Mandalay was interesting. We drove down Buddha carving street, which was covered in white marble dust, it was everywhere, on the pavements, people, trees, and there were a lot of buddhas in various stages of being carved, with the occasional elephant for a bit of variety.
We then took a dual carriageway out of town, however this was still being built in various places so every so often we were veering to the other side of the road as there was no road our side. Myanmar is also unique in that they drive right hand drive cars on the right hand side of the road. Which is quite odd when you are not used to it.
Our first sight was Sagaing, a hillside with hundreds of stupas all over it, and another steep climb to the top to see a stunning view, although the mist doesn’t do it justice in photos, it is a unique view with hundreds of stupas dotted all over the hillside and covered pathways linking them all.

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We climbed back down the hill, only to find our car had buggered off again! We were stunned, however a few minutes later the red teethed pair turned up, full of smiles and apologies! We smiled and were polite too!
They then dropped us off at a small boat crossing, to go to Inwa, where you hire a horse and cart and are driven around to a teak monestry which looked like the ones in Japan, another stupa and more Burmese temples. At the stupa I was followed around by a persistent young hawker, he couldn’t have been much older than Meg, 6. He was adamant that I needed some fake jade jewellery, I resisted, however he was coerced into taking photos of me, guy and some Myanmar students who were extremely excited to talk to us, they were studying English, chemistry and maths at university and had holidays to travel and see their country.

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Then it was off to see the worlds longest teak bridge, at 1.2km it seemed much, much longer when traversing it, it was ricketty and had a fair few holes in, we bought a packet of chicken curry crisps the other side and walked back, carefully, helping a small boy over the bridge on his bike which was laden with about 20kg of cooked, uncovered, rice.

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It was still pretty early, so we stopped off at a massive golden Buddha, that only men are allowed to touch! It was weird seeing such sexism, but at least I could see it from a distance, and on one of the numerous TV screens around the monestary!

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Just one more teak monestary to see, which was quiet, no tourists and impressive and we were back home for dinner.
We lucked out on dinner, we had seen a place that had English writing so thought we might be able to choose a meal, it was also near to an Islamic mosque, and the menu looked the same as the night before, so we chose the same, mutton meatballs, also a biriyani. It was delicious, same as before we got loads of cold dishes and pickles, and our curry and biriyani was tepid, but the chapatis were fresh off the hotplate and the whole meals was very north Indian in taste. We have made a mental note to always eat near mosques!

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10th Jan – Arrival in Myanmar

So we were up at the ungodly hour of 5.30am, for an hour and half journey to the airport, it was a long time due to the road blocks and protests, we were a little groggy from the night before, but excited to be on the move again!  The excitement waned a little when there were no delays and the mini van driver managed to drive through the streets of Bangkok at around 70km/hr ensuring we were at the airport in 30 mins later, a full 4.5 hrs before take off. We so could have done with another 2 hours in bed but that was not to be!! Then the flight from Bangkok was delayed by 30 mins for an ‘airshow’, at least that was the official explanation!

When we arrived at Myanmar and were greeted by the smiliest passport control officers we’ve ever encountered, then we made it through the screaming taxi drivers demanding our business in arrivals, to clamber on the free AirAsia shuttle bus to downtown Mandalay, a 46km journey which I don’t reckon Ryanair would provide. Our hotel staff were equally smiley and after dropping off the bags we went for a wander and were pleased to find everyone very smiley. Mandalay is built on a grid system so its easy to wander about but you’re in the street with the all the other traffic, be that mechanical or mammals. The area our hotel was in seemed to have a lot of industrial machinery shops and car part shops with pharmacies, restaurants and mobile phone shops peppered around.

As usual we were a little peckish, so started looking for street food, it was not so easy as Thailand, due to the language barrier we were ignored at the first place we approached, the second was more smiley.  So we had steamed Chinese buns with unidentifiable fillings, and steamed wontons with fish fillings and and accompanying red chilli sauce, this was all to take away for 35p. It was delicious, if a little difficult to eat on a dusty street corner, but we managed it.

We had time to get a taxi to see the sunset from Mandalay Hill with the idea that the taxi would wait for us and take us back.  The walk up was a dirty, barefoot 45 min walk up a temple, so we took off our shoes and started walking, and perspiring! There were a few tourists also doing this, we are starting to recognise a few on the circuit, and we dodged the bird poo on the floor! The views were great, and we did the walk in about 25mins, I guess the timings are for people less fit than ourselves, who have had a hard weeks training in Bangkok!!

Coming down we got a bit of pace up, and collected our shoes, whilst we were putting them on Guy saw our taxi driver drive off, literally into the sunset, with 2 people in his car, and he seemed to see us both look at him as well. OK, we were a little surprised at this, thought we should wait to see if he was just moonlighting, however with the growing buzz of mosquitoes and other taxi drivers asking for our business we decided to get a taxi home with a different driver. So, it wasn’t an all together successful beginning to Myanmar, however at least we were home, and had saved money and not got bitten!
We asked for a recomendation for tea, Myanmar food, and we got it! No other westerners were in the restaurant, thankfully they did have a menu in English, however, no prices.  There are two prices in this country one for locals and one for tourists, tourists usually pay 5 times more than locals, but at least now we can pay in the local currency, whereas previously it was all in dollars that went straight back to the government.

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The food was all tepid, which was odd, some of it was tasty, but compared to the balance you find in Thai food this was all fish sauce and fish tasting, even the meaty looking soup. It was interesting and as you can see from the photos, there was plenty to eat, including the raw salad of aubergine and okra! The mutton (goat) curry and meatballs were tasty and fish-less. We were well attended to, about 7 waiters to our table, and as another group of westerners came in they got the same treatment! Many people asked us where we were from, and ‘Wayne Rooney’ was the usual response, and entertaining when Guy alluded to the hairstyle he shares with him.