Friday 20 Jan – Mandalay
Mandalay for some reason conjures images of an exotic Asian city – we blamed Robbie Williams and the more mature members of the group blamed Rudyard Kipling – but the city itself is a grid of stores, traffic and wires… but for our first full day we did all the big hits starting with Mandalay Hill.
Mandalay itself is very flat but Mandalay hill at 760ft, and the mirror coated shrine at the top with its large standing Buddha is a good starting point to view the city from on high. Randomly from the car park, there is the usual shoe deposit then a series of escalators whisk you to the top. Barefoot on an escalator is a slightly strange experience but we loved the use of disco lights set around the heads of many of the statues.
Next stop was the site of the Worlds Biggest book – set around the pretty Kuthodaw stupa, the Worlds biggest book is actually 729 tablets inscribed with the texts of the Tripitaka, each tablet is housed in its own small white stupa so no page turning.
Next was the very odd Mahamuni Paya where local devotees pay their respects to a 13ft tall seated Buddha that is believed to be 2000 years old. Somewhere along the line it was decided that as an offering the men would apply small pieces of gold leaf to the statue and over the years the continuous application means the statue is now bulbous and noduled and probably worth millions!
Next we stopped off at the Shwe In Bin Kyaung, in contrast to the other sites this is a very tranquil carved teak monastery complete with gold leaf covered interior. The building stands on posts and probably would have been gold on the outside too originally but now is a dark wood covered with carved figures and cornicing.
A quick-lunch at a traditional tea shop where alongside the usual noodle soup and fried rice they serve tea in 3 formats – black tea, weak black tea with condensed milk or strong tea with condensed milk. I went for the strong tea which was pretty much builders tea as the sugar content outweighed the tea taste!
We rounded off the day with a bit of window shopping at a gold workshop and had a quick wander around the Jade market which was a fenced grid of lunacy in which people traded their Jade, gambled, cut stones or ate and drank – it was rammed, noisy and vaguely terrifying so no photos unfortunately.
Night time we headed out for an evening meal at the Ayarwaddy River View Hotel (posh by our current standards) complete with sunset over the river and a traditional puppet show which was mainly confusing, a little bit nuts and for some reason gave Karen the giggles. We jumped in a tuk tuk home to loud Myanmar disco music – I’m sure the neighbours loved us!