My trip to Mandalay went via Bangkok. Actually the plane remained the same for both legs, I could have stayed in the plane … (This is something I still remember after 3.5 weeks, which is funny considering how significant this fact is …) Also along the way, saw some more red passports speaking Italian, the first one I have heard on the road so far.
I had organized a pick up from the airport to the hostel. The guy who had my name written asked for the taxi money (20000 Myanmar Kyats, also when he opened his mouth, his teeth, full covered in reddish beet stains, scared me a little). I did not have any Kyats with me so I gave him 20 dollars to exchange. I know that 20 dollars should be at least 26000 Kyats and after he returned he still insisted on giving him tips because he waited half an hour outside. (To be fair, you never pick up someone exactly when the plane is supposed to land … but I wanted to save the troubles to argue) After I pointed out that the missing 6000 Kyats went somewhere I am not aware of, he quickly grabbed the 6k from the taxi driver and split with him by half. This was really the first disappointment I had after hearing a lot of good things about the people in Myanmar. But I guess this is what tourism brings with itself …
The hostel Ostello Bello was pretty organized. They have a specific desk for organizing transportation. Events are organized on the rooftop. The first night, we played “Stand, Land, Fluss” (Didn’t know it is called like this haha) where I briefly met a Nicolas (FRA), Selina (CHE/ZH) and David (AUT) (I believe). Selina and David met online to find their travel buddies for the world travel. Basically, the moderator mentions a letter and you need to come up with unique answers for different categories. For example, for B, you would need to write down Belgium for country, Belfast for city, and if anybody also mentioned Belfast as a solution for city, you only get reduced points. After the events you would get to know different people on the rooftop but after 2 beers, I went down to catch some sleep for the tour next day.
On the tour, I met Nicolas again, together with Dane and John. Nicolas is a social worker who lives in Le Mans. Dane just finished his 2-year teaching in Korea and is traveling through land routes only from Korea to London. John is retired and is exploring the world by himself.
The tour guide used to be a monk for 2.5 years. He said he was a very bad monk, and we suspect that he might have been kicked out of the monastery. He also has an owl at home, which if screams at night, is supposed to bring good prophecy for the family.
During the lunch we discussed some interesting topics, however, I can’t recall the details after 3 weeks … Maybe it was not that interesting to me after all. The golden leaf pagoda, Ava, monastery and U Bein bridge gave us a pretty good impression of Myanmar.
At the sunset, while having a beer, we met others from the hostel as well. One particular Dutch said something that I still remember: if you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much. I had a good chuckle at that one.
Without doing much that night, I headed to the Mandalay hills the next day. I took a bike to get to the foot of the hills and took the below local bus which drove quite crazily to the top.
The walk from top down was really enjoyable since there were almost no tourists on the way ( I only saw two). There was time to observe and also to let your own thoughts flourish. In the afternoon, I followed suggestion someone and visited the area behind the hills as well. Despite being only a blink of an eye away from the imperial palace, the neighborhood looked like a shit hole. The food was so cheap (500 Kyats for a noodle soup). It doesn’t really make how this area is so underdeveloped. But of course, from time to time, you see well established buildings too (such as the pink one in the picture).
The (last) imperial palace did not have much to offer, except the exterior. I met a French lady, Darphene, in front of the gate and we visited the palace together. She used to work in a medical device company and basically the relationship with her younger, newly joined boss, went south and she decided to quit.
The more modern part of the streets of Mandalay.
That night, live music’s been played on the rooftop. Also, a German girl played there as well, who I met afterwards in the bus to Bagan as well. Just before, I met Alfie, who just introduced himself downstairs while I was reading a lonely planet about Myanmar. Normally, I would not have done that since reading a book would be a sign that normally someone does not want to be disturbed. But did I mind? No, I did not … So interpreting these kind of signals can be misleading too. If the person is interested, he/she will be. The best way is to find out.
After the concert, I also talked to Fabian from Lucerne, whom I did many things together in Bagan along with Nicolas. We ended up checking our facebook friends to see whether we have some mutual friends or not since Switzerland is not a very big place. He was able to explain his connection to everyone I mentioned which is not bad at all.
We also had conversation with a girl originally from Uzbekistan, who lives now in Miami. She was on the same trek with Nicolas from Kalaw to Inle Lake, where all 3 guys in the group ended up being gay. Nicolas told us much drama on this trip whereas the Uzbek girl considered the other 2 guys being very nice to them. ” fights? xD”
Me, in the raining Bangkok, I guess it is god’s turn at the water festival now to pour down what he/she might have missed. But this was some good catch up to do, now I am only one country behind!