The Road to Mandalay
Mandalay Travel Blog› entry 27 of 34 › view all entries
After breakfast we snaked our way down the fairly terrible mountain road for a while before getting stopped at another huge line of backed up trucks. Seems there was a landslide due to the nonstop rain and men wearing only longyis and sandals were busily swinging sledge hammers breaking up the giant boulders lying in the road into small pieces. It ended up only being a short delay before we were rattling down the serpentine road again. Four hours later we finished the descent.
To celebrate making it down the mountain in one piece, we stopped for tea and snacks at a little roadside place. They are very funny little joints with small, sometimes tiny wooden or plastic stools around a small, low table.
We wouldn't be doing justice to this blog if we neglected to provide a description of our vehicle. It is a vintage 1980's four door Hyundai Stellar TX 2.0 of unknown but very high mileage, dull gold in color without air conditioning (in reality it seems to have it but either it doesn't work, is to expensive to use, or most likely both). The back windshield is held in place with duct tape which leaks on our heads when it rains (which is often). Cindy's driver side rear door wont open after driving on bumpy (or as Min Min says "Bampy") roads for to long (most all roads here are quite "bampy"). My passenger side rear door window often cannot be rolled up and rattles terribly (they try to fix it in each town).
Now that we were back on the plains, we drove past endless bean and chili fields before stopping for lunch at a good local
Well the fun began an hour or two after lunch when we hit flooded roads with houses inundated some of them almost completely underwater. Another lineup of trucks waited on the side of the road as we ground to a halt. Water was gushing over the road sometimes hip deep. Once again, traffic was only one way at a time and we were stopped next to a truck packed with giant, hog-tied, squealing pigs, all of whom were very unhappy.
After a while it was our turn and we inched our way into the water with Min Min navigating as Min Ko slowly drove, trying to avoid the depths and a stalled engine, as the water level rose. I looked out the window at people pushing stalled scooters and dangerously low electrical wires hovering above the flooded fields. Water started flowing in through my door flooding the foot well but we made it through the first flood ok.
We had to ford a total of five or six flooded areas, some of them so deep that we had to turn off the engine and pay locals to push us through so we didn't stall the engine.
After eleven hours of driving for a total of 135 miles (so much for 25 mph!) we arrived in
This morning we had an early wakeup so that we could catch a ferry to Mingun and see the sights. We hopped in the car and were treated to the madness of
We went to take the ferry to Mingun but it was delayed so we walked to the riverside where a bunch of little kids were playing on a mound of sand while their parents carried large logs on their heads from the river.
The Hyundai wouldn't start so we walked back to the ferry landing and climbed aboard a fairly grotty wooden boat with a stinky and loud diesel engine for the ninety minute trip down the
We were checking out a riverside temple with a funny, older nun when Kyawnin Khaigzoo, an 18 year old "guide" in Mingun attached himself at the hip to us. He was actually nice and knowledgeable and spoke fluent English and Min Min (who was off working on the car with Min Ko) had told us it was worth hiring a guide for "pocket money", a term he will not put a number to (but in the neighborhood of 100-200 Kyat).
Kyawnin walked us up the road to Mingun Paya which is a fifty meter high brick foundation for what was to be a 150 meter high Pagoda that was never finished because of a large earthquake In the late 1800's. It was a hot, barefoot walk up the one hundred and seventy some steps (we took Kyawnin's word on the count) but the views from up top were nice. When we climbed back down, a little kid came running with our somewhat cleaned sandals and started hooting and hollering like he won the lottery when I gave him 200 Kyat (fifteen cents). Nice to see genuine, non jaded kids since many of them immediately ask for money, candy (Bon Bons) or pens (Stylo). We can thank the French for that.
After cooling down, we walked to see the Mingun Bell which is the worlds largest uncracked bell (big enough to stand inside) and then up to the very pretty, stark white Hsinbyume Paya.
We had lunch at a little place and bought Kyawnin a Coke which he said he was going to "share with my family" which probably translates to "sell it back to the restaurant that my sister owns". When it was time to catch the ferry back, Kyawnin told us that dollars would be better for a "present" than Kyat and "bigger is better." He didn’t seem too happy with our tip which was a lot more than "pocket money" in our estimation - hope he gets over it.
That afternoon we visited Shwenandaw Kyaung, a very beautiful and intricately carved wooden building. It was designed to be movable and was originally built at Amarapura, the old capital then moved to
For sunset we climbed the steps up Mandalay Hill for a nice view of Mandalay and then walked around a bustling night market where I managed to step in an ankle deep mud (I hope) puddle. We had an excellent Shan food dinner at Lashio Lay, recommended by Min Min as well as Lonely Planet.
This morning started with an electrical outage meaning no toast and no fans or AC at breakfast. 8:00a.m. and I already need to change clothes, uggh!
Today was more touring of
Each piece is then cut into six pieces and repackaged where a second man pounds on them for another thirty minutes.
Next we visited Mahamuni Paya, one of the most famous pagodas in all
In the alleyways behind the pagoda there are entire streets dedicated to different types of artisans. We saw marble carvers working on every thing from small Buddhist figurines to twenty foot reclining Buddha’s, wood carvers chiseling intricate designs into panels, and embroiders stitching tapestries and bronze sculptors making wax models to be cast.
A quick visit to Kaunghmudaw Paya, a interestingly half "Dolly Parton" shaped pagoda was followed up with a visit to a very nice silver making place where they make very ornate and detailed silver boxes and bowls. We got a great demo of the process, watching one man skillfully etch out a design and then begin the first of many steps in pounding the rough shapes into the bowls surface while another used a hammer and nail set to start adding details to the bowl. The stuff was beautiful but expensive (small boxes were hundreds of dollars and big bowls were thousands). We really can’t figure out how they sell much considering they don't take travelers checks or credit cards.
Next on our busy tourist schedule was YAFP (see entry on Vat Phou in Champakak if you can’t figure out what this means or try clicking here What is "YAFP?") and a visit to Sagaing Hill with a view of the Ayeyarwady. We were besieged with little children chasing us all the way up the many steps selling trinkets. "I want to sell! It’s my Lucky Money! Cheap price! Business no good today!" I am considering opening a Value Based Selling seminar here - I could be a millionaire (well at least in Kyat).
- Lesson One - Don't lead with price. Just because it is "only one dollar" doesn't mean I need or want it.
- Lesson Two - Differentiate. If you are selling the exact same stuff as everyone else it will be tougher to close.
- Lesson Three - "No" might mean maybe but three "No's" means move on to the next prospect.
After admiring the views from the hilltop and Pagoda we went to Amarapura, the capital prior to
We got back just in time for an electrical outage which caught Cindy in the shower in the dark but I came to the rescue with a flashlight. We ate at the Hotel again to enjoy the Myanmar Draught. When we tried to order food, the waiter told us the prices weren't correct on the new menu (which seemed to match the original higher prices from the other night). We ordered some food and ended up being charged even more than the rates on the new tourist menu. They must have been trying to recoup their losses from charging us local rates last time. Tomorrow we head to Bagan, the ancient capital and home to thousands of temples rivaling those of