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Mandalay

sunny 30 °C

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Rather than being unceremoniously dumped at a bus station in the middle of nowhere, the bus dropped us off right at our door. Night Sweet Hotel looked very professional with concierge to help us cross the road and see that we didn't need to open a door for ourselves... Not bad for £20 a night. We got a nice bright room on the top floor and even a pretty good breakfast included.

Mandalay is a dusty, smoky sprawl of a place. Taxis were expensive so we decided to brave the traffic and get a motorbike. First stop was the train station to book a 4am train to our next destination and then on to a food stop. We found a place with nice curries and good, but expensive strawberry lassies (our latest obsession). After we decided to limit our riding around in daylight so headed back to the hotel for some planning, sleep and a couple of episodes.
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For our second day, we decided to head out of Mandalay to see some of the more picturesque former capitals. First up though was the Ubien Bridge - a large ramshackle teak bridge crossing a lake. It was quite pleasant in the early morning with mainly locals strolling along, fisherman and cockle pickers doing there thing and a bit of monk business going down. We returned in the afternoon thinking of staying for sunset and found coach loads of western tourists, many of whom looked very miserable for some reason. On the return visit, we grabbed a quick beer and a crab before leaving the tour groups to it, happy with our mornings memories and photos.
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We stopped to grab petrol at a slightly chaotic station and the staff tried to charge us for 7 litres. Knowing that our tank probably held 3 in total I explained that we wouldn't be paying that... I also explained how nice people had been so far and my disappointment at finding people trying to take advantage. After a small discussion amongst themselves, we were told no payment was necessary... Apology accepted and a good bonus - free fuel for the whole day!
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Inwa is further south of the bridge and is a pretty low key town. Horses and carts ply the streets ferrying people to various temples. I was glad to have a bike so that i didn't have to follow a stinking horse around for a couple of hours... Nothing was particularly standout, but the area is scenic and there are plenty of small temples that you can "discover" alone. The main attractions were busy enough but not oppressive. I quite enjoyed watching a photography group with one woman taking photos of kids with a huge lens about a foot from their faces.
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After Inwa, we took the bridge over the Ayerywaddy River to Saigang where gold and white stupas shine from the hillside. We chose a random monastery to visit where there happened to be a film crew up to something and a friendly monk, keen to show us around and practice his English. Like many monks, he had been "given" to the monastery as his parents couldn't afford to feed and clothe him. The monastery was beautiful, but the lack of choice in how to spend your life is quite sad... On the way down the hill a group of kid monks heckled us. One of the boys (about 7yrs old) was smoking. They looked like a proper little gang. Perhaps being a monk as a kid isn't so bad...
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Next up on our bike tour was getting lost around the western end of Mandalay. There were plenty of locals going about there daily lives, many of whom were keen to say hello. Having had enough of battling the rush hour traffic, with the sun setting and red eyes from a the dust and the fumes, we set our sites on a restaurant. Diamond Ring vegetarian Indian restaurant was awesome! So good that we went back the next day to work our way through the rest of their tandoori breads with paneer, Dahl, cauliflower and potato curries. Each one was extremely tasty (I'm writing this 8hrs into a 10hr train journey and it's making me very hungry!).

For our last day in Mandalay, we had planned to cycle around the streets, take in the palace, a few pagodas and Mandalay life in general. Given the heat, dust and our laziness, we took the motorbike again.

In the centre of Mandalay is a moat and walls cutting out a square with sides 2.5km long. Inside there appears to be very little... Its nice and peaceful and seems to he mainly army bases. At the very centre is the former palace. For us it was interesting as we'd read a good book called the Glass Palace (the author's name escapes me), which describes the walled city as a place commoners could only look upon from until the British invaded and exiled the royal family in the name of cheap teak. The palace was bombed and heavily damaged in the second world war and so much of what was there was reconstructed afterwards and is in a slightly shabby state.

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The golden monastery was originally brought from a former capital and rebuilt within the palace grounds. Later it was moved again outside of the walls. This saved it from the bombs and it's pretty impressive now, but in its glory of would have been covered in gold leaf and must have been quite the site...
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It was a hot day so we checked out a posh hotel to see if we could use their pool. It seemed we could, though at 30 dollars we decided it was a bit steep. Next door was an Olympic sized outdoor pool, which was only 2 dollars. Sophie had decided that a public pool would he disgusting and despite it being nice she stuck to her guns and watched from the side while I did a mile. Well, she actually got the Bagan blog written so she did well.
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The last activity for the day was to climb Mandalay Hill. Sophie has been a bit put out at having to walk barefoot so much, even taking to doing a strange tiptoe thing; walking gingerly, if you will. Apparently the ground feels horrible under her feet. Anyway, Mandalay Hill is a series of covered walkways between pagodas taking you to the top of the hill (about a 45 minute walk). You walk barefoot because of all the pagodas, but the ground is a little dirty (dogs, cats, birds, people). The walk up has a couple of small highlights but is generally a line of souvenir shops, dodgy construction projects and obscured views. At the top, the coach trips arrive and even have an elevator to take them the few metres up from the car park... The views are impressive, but the people annoyed us too much to justify waiting for sunset and anyway, the curry was calling to us...
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Posted by bloorsontour 08:54 Archived in Myanmar

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