Mandalay: Friday 22nd February 2008

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It would have been perfect to stay another day or two or three in Bagan. Bagan was beautiful with so much to see and do. Soe told us about Mt Popa; how it was used as a hill station and that it is jungle with many animals including monkeys to be seen. We will have to visit there next time we come to Myanmar.

This morning the sunrise was stunning. We could see the warm crimson glow on the stupas. One large golden stupa was especially magnificent. The fogged car windows didn’t faze our driver and we arrived quickly at the airport.

Flying to Mandalay was a very short flight, less than an hour though we were told it took 16 hours by car and 14 to 24 hours by rail!

We were met at the airport by our next guide, Mimi Lat, who introduced us to Weng Go our driver. The airport is about an hour from Mandalay and hence more rural. We stopped at a roadside stall on the highway and walked along with Mimi inquiring as to the prices of the various vegetables and pointing out the more exotic ones to us.

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We drove directly to Amarapura, and walked through the village streets to the Mahagendaya Monastery. We watched as the monks lined up for their daily procession; the pre-monks at the end of the line dressed in white robes.

All the food for the monks is donated, with the donors serving out the food. As the monks are not allowed to come back for seconds, they are each given a huge serving.

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We met a family group who were from a northern part of Myanmar. They came here each year to donate, and this was their 8th trip, the journey taking them 1 and a half days to complete.

As we walked around t he monastery we could see glimpses of the monk’s daily lives, washing out food bowls, monks robes hanging from lines, monks walking around reading their scriptures.

We stopped at a shrine to the Principle Monk who established the monastery; from here we could see the U-Bien bridge.

We continued walking through the monastery, moving through the kitchens where the food was being cooked in huge woks over a timber fuelled fire. Pepper was being roasted in one wok, whilst the other contained a pork and bamboo dish which had a very strong pork flavour.

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Inside a nun and some girls were preparing tomorrow’s breakfast, her telling the cook after tasting that the pepper required more roasting. The nun was here as her mother who had died 7 months previously had wanted to visit this monastery but never was able too.

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We moved on to U-Bien bridge. Mimi told us how a previous flood had demolished the bridge, the huge teak logs retrieved by the locals from the river to rebuild the bridge. Michelle wasn’t feeling well so she waited in the shade at the ends of the bridge, an easy target for the sellers. A man was selling Little Spotted Owls amongst other birds, including a small falcon. Owls are considered lucky and wise, and they were gorgeous looking back at me with such trusting curiosity in their eyes.

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Cycling is not permitted on the bridge, but it doesn’t stop most people. The rails on the bridge side used to be very ornate, but had long been stolen by overseas travellers I was told. Only metal spikes remained. Nobody apparently falls off the bridge to my surprise.

Rowers below on the water waited for tourists and in the distance fisherman could be seen in their boats.

Returning back along the bridge, a man climbed up a tree at the side of the bridge holding a small child which he (jokingly?) offered for sale at US$5,000.

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We then took a ferry across Little River and had a very tasty lunch under a mango tree. Grilled fish covered in a paste of coriander, garlic and thyme was delicious. We also had spring rolls, vegetables cooked with noodles and of course a soup starter. Also a very nice pork dish as well as other dishes.

At the toilet, a small boy was giving directions to the toilets and assisting with towels then receiving money. I asked Mimi if this was customary to have to pay for toilets at restaurants as well. She was surprised and I think he may have gotten into trouble for his little well earning enterprise.

After lunch we rode on a horse cart to Ava, the former royal capital Inwa and visited Bargayar Monastery which was perched on massive teak posts to lift it above the floods of the Awerwaddy.

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Young children, like in a crčche or pre-school were being taught by a monk. Antique chests used to hold the scriptures of Buddha lined the passages, their gold leaf worn exposing their teak construction.

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Back on our little horse drawn cart we next visited the Leaning Tower of Ava. A little girl here was so determined to sell me something that she followed us from here to Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery. I bought and owl and some elephants at the watchtower and a little elephant from the girl.

Another seller at the watchtower told us how the government wouldn’t give any money to repair the staircase so the people had to fix them themselves from their own money. They were also told to cleanup the area too for their trouble. The stairs were quite rickety, though the view from the top of the tower was worth the effort and scare of climbing.

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Returning back across the Little River we began our drive to Sagaing Hills and visited the temples on the hilltop.

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On the way back to our hotel we stopped at the moat and took some nice sunset photos whilst chatting to a monk who could speak English. He learnt English whilst studying with a monk in New Zealand.

Dinner was a BBQ in the beautiful gardens of the Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel. You could choose from various skewers of meat: prawn, fish, squid, chicken as well as potato and vegetable skewers. They also had dishes of fish curry, crab and many other tasty dishes. We finished the evening watching an excellent puppet show, including a live puppet and a dance show showing the progression of various traditional dances through the ages and history of Myanmar.