We started out our Myanmar adventure in Mandalay, the last seat of the old Burmese Kingdom before the British colonized them in the late 1800s. We landed at the recently built, yet underused, Mandalay Airport in the middle of green fields and then took the free Air Asia bus 45 mins to the city center. As soon as we got off the bus we were surrounded by rickshaw and bicycle drivers. Our hotel was really close, about four blocks away, so we politely declined and most of the guys scampered away. Except one guy on a cycle rickshaw. Like the typical tout who wanted to sell us his services, he asked us where we were from, where we were going, etc. We answered his questions and once again politely told him we didn’t need a ride. We started walking to the hotel and he appeared again, asking us more questions and telling us about his city. Once again we politely talked to him and then headed on our way. When he appeared a third time I was like…hmm..this guy is persistent, but not annoying because he was so nice. He told us about a $5 tour he gives of the city, which he could take us on in the afternoon. At that point we were impressed with his good english and after he told us he could bring us to a vegetarian restaurant (we went to Nepali Food, yummy, very cheap Nepalese food) for lunch we were sold. So there you go, remember this ladies and gentleman, persistence pays! Don’t take no for an answer, but make sure to be nice too. So, we got a $5 tour of the entire North side of Mandalay our first day. At the end of the day, we ended up giving him $10, which he thoroughly deserved. He was really friendly, knowledgeable, and he pedaled both of us around the city with his skinny legs.
He brought us to all of the tourist places (all of the other tourists had drivers as well, some in cars other in tri-rickshaws, so this is a thing in Mandalay).
Kuthodaw Paya had 729 stupas, a stone “page” of text in each one.
The sweetest girl convinced me to buy flowers. A side-note. Throughout all of (touristy) Myanmar, at every temple/pagoda there are peddlers trying to sell you something: flowers, food, clothes, paintings, lacquer-ware pottery, jewelry and everything else. Honestly, it got a little frustrating. Some of the children wouldn’t leave you alone, asking your name, where you were from, saying we were lucky. It made me sad that they had to do this instead of going to school.
Our driver then brought us to the base of a very popular tourist attraction, Mandalay hill, to watch the sunset. For those who didn’t want to walk there is a road, but we climbed 755 feet (all steps) to the top. We ended up talking with two young monks who wanted to practice their English (they are everywhere). At the top we watched the sun set and watched the people watching the sunset. 😉
The evening concluded with another vegetarian restaurant called Marie Min. But before we left, our driver sold us on having his friend drive us by car for the next day to see south Mandalay and then tour the three main sights outside of Mandalay (another popular thing to do and about $30-35). The sights are: the U Bien Bridge, Sagaing and Old Ava. We decided to go for it, so we planned to meet his friend at 8am the next morning.
He was there early, smiling and ready to drive us around. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak English as well as advertised, but he was a nice and safe driver.
First stop, a gold leaf making factory where these boys flatten gold for hours and hours a day. We really wanted to just buy them machinery that could do it in 1/10 the time… This gold is used to cover all the pagodas and statues all over the country.
We stopped at a temple with a massive Buddha that is constantly covered with gold leaf. The lady with the green shirt (below) asked Aurelien to apply her gold leaf to the Buddha for her, as women aren’t allowed in. I believe they make wishes on the leaf, maybe a Western guy applying her leaf is good luck. 😉
At one stop, Old Ava, you have to take a boat and then hire a horse and carriage for six dollars to take you around the sites. We would skip this part of the tour next time, the ride was bumpy and the temples were nothing new. It was nice seeing the countryside, rice fields and villages, so it wasn’t fully a waste.
Everywhere we went people wanted pictures with Aurelien. We think it’s because he is tall, handsome, and strange-looking? Not sure. 😛 Our very last day (in Yangon), Annalisa had a big group of school girls swarm her for a picture.
The last stop of the tour was U Bein Bridge to watch the sunset with all of the tourists and monks. More monks approached us to practice their English (this seems to be a Mandalay thing, monks in other areas of Myanmar or SE have not talked to us).