On our last day in Mandalay we decided to hire a taxi to take us on a tour of the sights outside of the city. That means on the second to last day we had to find a taxi driver. Which really isn’t hard – everywhere you walk you hear “Taxi? Maybe tomorrow?” The key is finding someone who will negotiate a fair price and who speaks decent English. So, after spending the morning visiting temples on the island of Mingun, we started walking to yet another temple waiting to hear the magic words of “Taxi? Maybe tomorrow?” The first guy we heard apparently thought we had extremely rich pockets (or that we were very stupid) – he quoted a price 3.5 times the going rate and wasn’t prepared to negotiate. We hired the second guy to take us to the temple, but for reasons neither of us can put a finger on we declined to even ask him about a day tour. As we started to walk back to our hotel we found a third guy and he was the charm, or so we thought. Quoted the right price, seemed to speak English pretty well. Bingo. We arranged to have him pick us up the next morning. We were set.
Or so we thought. He arrived right on time, in a clean and air-conditioned car, and drove more cautiously than just about anyone else we saw driving. But his English skills were not nearly as good as we thought. So we had a driver, but one that couldn’t answer even basic questions about Myanmar. Like, why is there barbed wire everywhere when we keep hearing what a low crime rate Myanmar has? Or, why aren’t the kids in school? Or, why are most of the billboards in English? Nonetheless, we made the best of it.
We started at one of the holiest temples in Mandalay. So holy that women are not allowed in to see the golden Buddha. At least the outside had some interesting details.
Next stop was a monastery to see the monks have lunch. Basically, the monks line up with their bowls, then walk into a big pavilion where they are given food, then eat. We aren’t quite sure why this is a tourist attraction – it seems pretty intrusive in the daily lives of the monks, particularly given some of the tourists are pretty extreme in their attempts to get good photos. We stood on the side and tried to be respectful and left just as soon as we could.
Then it was off to see local weavers making fabric and wood carvers. In both cases, what we initially thought would be a cheesy tourist trap left us totally impressed. The weavers work on old fashion looms and make designs that are out of this world. And the wood carvers make the most intricate carvings with no patterns that we could see.
Next stop was Sagaing Hill. This is a hill outside of town covered with pagodas and temples of all shapes and sizes. It was a hazy day, but still quite the view.
Then it was off to Inwa, which is the location of an ancient city. To get there, you take a boat across the river. Then you take a horse cart around the island to see the sights. After picking a horse that looked well fed and well treated, we were off. Bump, bump, bump! The “road” was so bumpy I nearly fell out once or twice. But we enjoyed the couple of hours spent in the carriage and the various sights along the way.
The last stop of the day was U-Bein Bridge. This is a 1.2 kilometer bridge made entirely out of teak. It is a popular spot to see the sunrise and sunset. We got there a bit early for sunset, but walking across the bridge was an experience. What don’t you see? Yep, right, no guardrails. And, although you can’t see it, there are some nice gaps between the teak boards and a few places where the entire bridge swayed when we took a step. Only in Asia!
Next stop, Bagan. (In fact, we have already been to Bagan, but extremely slow internet has prevented us from posting).