Road to Mandalay



Well, I just had to give this item that title, didn’t I? I was up at the crack of dawn again to get an early breakfast and gather the last of my things. As I waited for the bus, I played badminton with the young daughter of the guest house owner before she was rushed off to school.

Just after 7:00 the bus appeared and I jammed myself into seat 9 for the bumpy ride east then north. Overall, it was pretty uneventful. At our lunch stop, I shared the packet of biscuits I’d bought with a hungry dog. For the rest of the trip I just fidgetted, listened to Hatebreed on my MP3 player and became happier once we hit the main Route 1 and I could read again.

We got to the Mandalay bus terminal at around 15:30 and I was ushered straight onto a motorcycle. It cost me 2000K to get to the Royal Guest House as recommended by both Lonely Planet and the owner of the Pyinsa Rupa. Nice enough place, and at $5 for the room with a separate (hot) shower wasn’t a bad deal.

Some of you may have been lucky enough to get an email today. There’s a cybercafe locally which has a connection running at a tolerable speed. It’s the Cyber P@lace on 80th street, just up from the cross street that the hostel is on. When I logged on, I had over 150 emails waiting (plus 289 spams) so if you didn’t get a reply then you’ll have to wait until I’m in KL next week. Sorry!

Mandalay is numbered like most big American cities – all the streets have numbers rather than names except for a handful which have both. The higher numbers (60-ish upwards) run north/south and the lower numbers east/west. As each corner I passed seemed to be well labelled, it does make getting around a little simpler. Then there’s the constant offers of transport – tri-shaws, bikes, taxis and just guides touting for business for today or the next day.

Rock God

Rock God

For dinner, I stopped at a street place more or less opposite the ET hostel around the corner. Indian food knocked up on a couple of coal-fired stoves. My chicken biriani came to a whopping (not) 1500K and was enough to fill me up. I ended up having two discussions with people while I was there. One an obvious Muslim chap with the acompanying beard who asked if I was Muslim because of mine. When I said I wasn’t he then tried to convert me.

The second was an English teacher who’d lived in Mandalay all his life. He teaches nearby and – it always seems to come up – is also a Muslim. Like all Myanmarans (is that the adjective?), though, he’s just pleased to see tourists coming to visit his country and he was very interested in my opinion of it so far.

Back at the hotel I got chatting to a Slovenian couple who’ve booked a taxi for tomorrow to take them around quite a few of the sights. They were looking for someone to split costs with and I’ve happily jumped in. 15,000K for the taxi for the day, split three ways. Not bad.

So my rough schedule is: the surrounds tomorrow, cinema (really!) and Mandalay Hill on Friday with perhaps the Moustache Brothers in the evening, and up very early on Saturday to see the golden Buddha down the road being washed at 4am followed by a trip to the island off to the west. My bus back to Yangon is already booked for Saturday evening.

For those interested, there are now three buses heading from Mandalay to Yangon each day. They all take roughly 12 hours (although it could be up to 15) and they depart at 15:00, 17:00 and 17:30. This means that if you catch the first one, you could get to the bus station in Yangon then catch a short taxi ride to the airport in good time to check in for the early Air Asia flight to Bangkok. Had I known about this earlier, I’d have stayed in Yangon a day more back at the start of the trip and done that instead.

Ah, well. Then I’d not have met Mark, Anna and Michael!

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