The weather is cooler up here in Mandalay. I noticed when we got off the plane there was no wall of heat greeting us as there was in Yangon and I didn’t need the fan on overnight.
I found much better accommodation at The Royal City Hotel. For $25 I get a large twin room with a/c, bathroom, fridge, TV and breakfast. So all is good on the accommodation front.
All is not so good with my bites though. I’ve been ill today and have managed very little in the way of getting out and about, in fact I had to cancel my plans to go to Mandalay Hill as I knew the heat and the hill would be too much for me. The bites on my arms ache and I feel really tired, too tired even to write much in my journal this evening.
I did manage to get to the Gold Pounders factory, which was interesting. I got the low down on how gold leaf is made. I bought a packet for Mads as currently she is painting again and I thought she may be able to use it. Ten 2” square sheets cost about $6.5 or 8,000 kyat. The guide book says it should’ve cost 2,000 kyat, another example of how quickly things have moved on since the book was written.
Today I left Mandalay for the mountains – hooray. I headed for a town called Pyin Oo Lwin to the east of Mandalay and I was hoping for cleaner air, lusher greenery, good views and less pollution, none of which I got. The journey up in a dodgy taxi took about two hours once we had gone round the houses collecting everyone and everything. There was no respite from the dust and fumes at all especially around the quarry areas where large wagons were heavily loaded and chugged relentlessly up the hills.
The Royal Park Hotel ($36) was alright, well situated in a quiet area away from downtown and the main roads. It was cold at nights…can you believe I needed a cardigan and a pashmina once the sun went down and one morning it was too cold to get in the shower!
I liked the Pyin Oo Lwin; it was more authentically Burmese than Yangon and Mandalay, still with a diverse race mix but definitely erring toward them looking a bit more Mongolian. There was less influence of Chinese/western influences here. I’ve decided there is no one type of racially authentic Burmese person. Apparently, there are over one hundred and twenty different tribes and types of people that make up the population, and no one group seems to dominate. Over the years they have deeply cross pollinated.
I hired a bicycle and rode to the National Kandawgwi Gardens for the day. The gardens and grounds surrounded a lake which had a decent walking path: unfortunately I couldn’t ride the bike around the gardens. It was Independence Day yesterday and all the local schoolchildren were having fun in groups, eating, singing, playing games and seemingly really enjoying themselves. I took some photos of some quite surreal bedding displays…really garish but not incongruent for this part of the world. The detail was impressive; I saw two women manicuring the flowers and hedges with scissors. No machinery here!
Colonial buildings are much more in evidence in Pyin Oo Lwin. Some of them have been maintained well with beautiful gardens whilst others have been let go and now house dozens of families in divided spaces. One thing I’ve noticed up here is that gardens are certainly more prevalent; the district is well known for flower growing and this is reflected in the appearance and condition of people’s grounds. I even came across some garden centres. The fields surrounding the town were well farmed; you could see small green crops being grown. Whether these were flowers or edibles I don’t know but the soil was a rich red and apparently coffee is grown here too.
For the second time yesterday, I tried to get to Bagan and failed. The city is just totally booked up; flights are available but accommodation isn’t. I’ve returned to Mandalay shortly to be taxied to the airport for a flight back to Yangon. I’m pleased I took the excursion into the hills; it certainly gave me a different perspective, a non-city perspective on Burmese life and culture.