Greetings from Mandalay!
This place is so different from Yangon. Starting with the environment: it’s cooler and less humid (thank goodness), but for some reason there are also billions of mosquitoes everywhere. I’m pretty allergic to (and pretty terrified of) bug bites, so fingers crossed…
In Mandalay we’re staying at a distant relative’s spare house. His name is Ko Kyaw Win (Desmond has nicknamed him Koch). I know I should be grateful that an unknown relative has allowed 10 pretty much random people to stay in his home, but I can’t help but feeling slightly disappointed. The house is huge: 5 stories total – but 2 stories downstairs are a storefront, and we’re on the top 2 floors. But since it’s an extra house, no one’s lived here for over a year, so there’s dust literally everywhere (yay allergies!), and there’s no water right now. Goodie. We’ll deal with the living situation tonight.
Anyway… after dropping off our luggage, we set off to more pagodas. First up: Mahamuni Pagoda, which, according to Wikipedia, is the second most important / famous Buddhist place in Burma (Shwedagon is first and Kyaiktiyo is third). The special thing about Mahamuni is that according to Buddhist legend, it’s one of a handful of likenesses of Buddha created during his life. I think the legends say that an ancient Burmese king modeled the image while Buddha was meditating in the palace.
After Mahamuni, we went to Mandalay Hill, which, as you might expect, is a huge hill in Mandalay. There’s a pagoda at the top of the hill, and there’s an awesome view of Mandalay from the top. My parents said that when they were younger, they had to climb up Mandalay Hill (almost a half day trip), but we’re lucky because there are now roads, and we can drive all the way to the entrance of the pagoda. A memorable part of Mandalay Hill Pagoda was the locals who pointed us out as foreigners. This happens to us at every single pagoda, but even more so here. It’s funny when you can understand and speak Burmese, and you hear Burmese people talking about you because they think you don’t know what they’re saying… this one poor group of girls was convinced that Desmond was a famous Korean actor and kept taking pictures of him. Hahahaha. Sike.
We had a quick lunch, and drove off for Sagaing. First, we stopped at Mingun Pagoda, a ruined pagoda built into a mountain. There was an awesome view at the top. This one is really interesting – it was purposely abandoned when it was built, because the king who ordered the construction was told that he would die once the pagoda was completed, so it was just never completed. The structure has also had some earthquake damage, but I think everything inside is still intact.
Next was the Mingun Bell, right next to Mingun Pagoda. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the biggest bell in the world – it weighs 200,000 pounds.
We then drove through some back roads to catch the sunset at U Bein Bridge in Sagaing. By back roads, I really do mean back roads (cue Indiana Jones music again) – dirt paths, cow and goat crossings, and huts in the middle of fields. After 4 days in Burma, I’m still shocked that there are so many people who live without internet, TV, and non-mechanical transportation.
We walked across U Bein Bridge, which I’m pretty sure is made entirely of wood. You can feel it creaking while hundreds of people are walking across it. Kind of scary since I don’t know how old this wood is…
After an unfortunate sunset (apparently there hasn’t been much sun for the last few days), we headed back to Mandalay. Here, we had dinner with our host, Koch. It turns out he’s an okay guy. But he wouldn’t give us the wifi password (even though his son was blatantly using the wifi in front of us), so it looks like we won’t have internet until at least the new year when we’re in Bagan or Inle. Whoopie.
Anyway, time to go figure out our sleeping situation. We got running water, so we were able to “shower” – I say shower with quotation marks because in order for everyone to get hot water we had to conserve the water, i.e. we turned on the water into a large bucket, and showered by scooping water with a pail. I will never again take for granted my trusty shower head.
Sleeping will be another matter though. Samantha, Alexandra, Desmond, and I are on the uppermost floor of the house, which is essentially just one huge living room. We’re sleeping on mattresses on the floor, which isn’t too bad (this morning, there weren’t even mattresses, just a very very dusty rug). The real issue is the mosquitoes. They are everywhere in Mandalay, and as soon as you open a window or door, at least 5-10 come in. (Side note: there are also lizards. We opened a window this morning and a lizard came in. It doesn’t look to be here anymore…) We all have mosquito nets, but we don’t know what to do with them. I’m off to figure mine out now, wish me luck -__-