Thursday, April 6, 2006

Mandaley and Bagan 17-01-2006

After Inle Lake we took yet another marathon bus ride (this one was about 12 hours and ran late) to Mandalay which was as far north as we got.
On the way to catch the bus (minutes before getting into a packed public pick-up to our designated pick up spot) I managed to rip my all time favorite pants across the back of one leg much to the hilarity of all watching . About 1 inch higher and I would have disgraced myself. The pants were given an ungraceful send off into a bin basket outside a tea shop. Lucky for me, the toilets at the tea shop although squats set in concrete, were spotless and completely dry making the pants change over an easy one my favorite pants, RIP.
The bus ride was pretty standard, long, bumpy, uncomfortable and cold. We didn’t even get a movie on the karaoke screen.
Mandalay was bit of a non-event for me.
We spent the first day in recovery from the bus ride.
On the second day Dylan bought our boat tickets to Bagan and together we cut inches off my hair and combed out the rest which I’m sure you can imagine, took hours and hours and more uncomfortable hours. It was driving me completely insane, I did like the look of it but I couldn’t run my fingers through my hair and I hated putting so much wax it in and I seemed to spend too much time fiddling with it and thinking about it.
Mandalay also has the dubious distinction of being the one place I’ve felt genuinely ill, I spent a lot of time on the verge of almost throwing up and I came within seconds of passing out face first into my thali lunch. Not your usual sort of travel sickness, just have to say that! Just too tired and too hot.
I think.It was here that we confirmed that Yangon really is the only place in the country where you can cash in a travelers cheque, this information mind you only came to hand after a long walk in the heat to the same big flashy hotel were we could change one in Yangon. Dylan was in a grumpy mood and formed the opinion that it WAS possible, just not if you’re two scruffy backpackers that reception doesn’t like the look of (and he thinks I’m too cynical sometimes).
At the hotel’s direction, we found a travel agent who changed some Thai baht for us at a hideous exchange rate (about 70% of normal) which was able to tide us over to Bagan. I was a bit blasé about the whole thing, couldn’t change it so why worry about it? Dylan sulked about it for the rest of the afternoon.
That night we had a fabulous Shan dinner (I felt better by now), we’ve taken to Shan food in a big way, so nice! I especially love the complimentary chilly and fresh tomato dip with cucumber and cabbage you get at the start, I could have eaten loads of it if it didn’t burn my mouth so badly.
We were walking back to our hotel - which was pretty scummy and expensive by the way, only rescued in my memory by yet more friendly staff, especially the breakfast lady who chatted to us and fed the birds and squirrels bread out of the window – when we met a taxi driver who called himself Tony and who knew just about every bad Aussie/Occa thing you could possibly say and was desperate to know few more (we added ‘flamin’ malarky’ to his repertoire). We chatted to him for ages even though he knew we didn’t need his services, talking about lip rings and so on. Then he had a question for us ‘What is important to you?’… I said Dylan, Family, Study, Dylan said Me (well I was right there after all!), Family and Work (not so keen on the work bit), we asked him what was important to him and he said ‘communication’ which was interesting I thought. The more I think about it the more interesting it gets. He said most westerners say the same thing we did.
We took a ‘blue taxi’ (more like an elongated tuk tuk) to the boat landing the next morning, tickets in hand. The driver we’d organized the night before said it would take at least half an hour to get there so as we were to be there at 5:30am we were up horribly early to do so… the ride took less than 10 minutes. Typical. The boat was about 80% Germans with Lowe Alpine packs, cameras to make D and I green with envy and wearing socks and sandals. In fact, during our entire trip we seemed to meet many more Germans than any other people (only about 6 people in 3 weeks that we met would have spoken English as their first language). Of note among the passengers was also a group of women in flash clothing and too much make-up (one wonders where they think they were?) and a very large Italian man who wouldn’t have bothered me except that he spent most of the trip lazing about on deck in the sun mostly undressed and playing with his beer gut and man boobs. I was nastily amused to note that he had a very impressive sunburn by the evening.
Getting to Bagan was amazing, the sun was getting low (about 430pm) and everything was lit up with a golden hue. There were dozens of children and other people to greet us, hardly anyone selling anything. We took to trishaws (bicycle powered thingamies) to Nyuang U (the cheap village to stay in) from Old Bagan where we landed. It was the most incredible trip, ruin after ruin after ruin lit up by the setting sun, hundreds and hundreds of them, most small, some enormous. My driver pointed out (in between wheezes) the more famous of them as we went along.

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