From Heho airport we headed to Mandalay, the second largest city in Myanmar and another old bygone Burmese capital. It is the economic hub of upper Myanmar with a population of over 1 million and on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River. It is a relatively young city being founded in 1857 by King Mindon, from 1885-1948 it was under British Colonial control and it was devastated during World War II and invaded by the Japenese. Subsequently it deteriorated and indeed destroyed by extensive fires in the 1980s which significantly changed the physical and ethnic make up of the city with a large Chinese influx. So it has a quite modern if run down feel to its architecture.
There was still some great sights for us to visit. We visited a nunnery where we were served lunch by the nuns, some amazing pagodas, monasteries, markets, lacquer and other workshops and small local villages. One interesting trip involved a very short boat trip across a river where we were met by a few horse and small carriages to take us through the country side. While we sat waiting on the carriage to take off a little girl came up to us and tried to sell us some local trinkets. She was a lovely little girl, quite insistent and with her few words of English would say “you remember me, I remember you!” which sounded very funny and nearly like a threat.
But we thought “aw well we will be on our way soon, and she will be gone, and can’t pester us again!”. Eventually the drivers mount up and we head off and we wave bye-bye to our little selling girl. Only for about 2 minutes later we hear a bicycle bell and the now familiar chant “Hi, you remember me, I remember you!”, and she followed us all the way to the wooden Bagaya Monastery. Fortunately, she wasn’t allowed in the grounds of the monastery, but after our visit and we mounted up, and each carriage was again chaperoned by our own personal persistent trinket sellers!
While we were in Mandalay there was one of the regular religious lunar festivals. The Buddhist religious communities rely on alms and during these festivals thousands of monks come to some of the more religious pagodas and the local communities give alms and gifts which can vary from small amounts of food, to money to electrical appliances and in one case we saw a decorated car being driven for donation at one of the festivals. Mike and Keith got up very early and our guide brought them along and it apparently it was an amazing sight to see.
One of the greatest sights of Mandalay is the legendary U Bein bridge, built in 1782, and it spans for 1.2 km across he shallow Taungthaman Lake and it is said to be the longest teak bridge in the world. We were taken out by boat on the water at sunset and it is an amazing sight to see as the son sets down behind it.
Our final destination was Bagan, but this time it was a minibus drive of 250km to our next destination.