Looking out of the airplane window, the fields around Mandalay are a patchwork quilt just like Alberta. The patches here look as if someone has just tossed the patches down in a willy-nilly fashion. Some patches are bright green as it is the end of the rainy season. Some patches are a muddy brown from the rain that fell only this morning. After our long haul, we have finally reached Mandalay.
Our guide, Ow (phonetically speaking, of course) and driver, SanWay (also phonetic), meet us and off we go. First stop, Farmer Currency Exchange in Mandalay. We had read that we shouldn’t change money at the airport as they do not give a very good rate. Their rate as far as Murray can remember in his sleep deprived state is about 700 khat per 1 USD. We obtained 970. The ladies at the exchange are super friendly, let us confirm their math and waited patiently while we count out the strange bills.
Next stop, lunch. As we drive up, there are three large tour buses in the parking lot. Warning bells go off in my head…..”TOURIST RESTAURANT!!!!” Just the type of place we avoid if we travel unguided. Coke is $1.50, a little much considering Murray paid 65 cents at the airport in Bangkok. We have chicken with cashews and pork fried rice. It is actually very tasty. Sitting over the edge of the Irrawaddy River, where so much activity takes place, on a deck with a view is a wonderful introduction to Myanmar.
The four of us decide that we will try to ask the guides to take us to restaurants that are not tour bus stops. This may not happen as these restaurants usually feed the guides and drivers for free so it is in the interest of the guide and driver to take tourists to these spots.
Today is a boat ride across the Irrawaddy River to see the unfinished Mingun Pahtodawgyi, a 150 foot high square solid structure that was never finished. The king’s astrologer indicated the king would die as soon as this huge stupa was finished. On the king’s instructions it remains uncompleted. It was supposed to be over 500 feet high. Massive! It is an imposing block that deteriorates in leaps and bounds with each earth quake, the last in 2012 inflicting much damage.
We also stop to see the a lovely white structure representing the seven oceans on one side and seven mountains on the other side and Mount Meru in the middle.
It is said the design is inspired by the cosmos.
We notice there is very little litter in Mandalay and surroundings. It is refreshing to know the people are looking after their country. We spot the shop keepers sweeping the road in front of their shops at closing time. If this is the reason there is less garbage about I hope this habit continues and the folks are able to keep up with dirge of garbage that has taken over so many countries.
Today is Sunday and the end of one of Myanmar’s many festivals. As we organize our room at the Emerald Land Inn, we hear firecrackers popping in an almost continuous staccato symphony. It reminds us of the night of Diwali we spent in Port Douglas, India.
We have arrived in Mandalay.