Mandalay was a city that not a lot liked, but I found a lot of contentment in! A city so big has a lot to offer.
When I arrived from Myitkyina, I was starving and had a specific place in mind. By the time the mini-bus found my hostel and dropped me off (the last one of course) I was definitely cutting in close to the closing time of the Indian restaurant I wanted to check out. A motorbike picked me up and took me there, but I had in fact missed it. Luckily, he knew of a place even better! Right around the corner was this super busy (all with locals), super grungy make-shift looking restaurant that served the BEST and most inexpensive Nepali food. MMMMMM. I paid about $1.30 for a huge bottle of water, two chapati, dahl, and veggie curry. YUM YUM YUM.
This dude knows what’s up.
And not only did he bring me there, but he waited for me to finish as well so that he could drive me back! And this new best friend of mine offered to take me sight-seeing the next day for a pretty reasonable price. And I’m so glad I said yes!
He picked me up after breakfast with a huge smile, and a helmet in hand. And he kept me busy until sunset! We started off with tours of a bunch of little areas that Mandalay is known for: marble carving, gold pounding, and a jade market. He also took me to a few pagodas, monasteries and then to Mandalay Hill – a pagoda on top of a hill that takes about an hour to walk up to. It was perfect! And exhausting so much was seen!
During my walk up Mandalay Hill to watch the sunrise, I met three novices (Buddhist students). We had a good conversation since they wanted to practice their English, and we had a lot of laughs. One of them, Tim, invited me to come visit his monastery the next day. So I did!! And it was for sure one of the coolest things I’ve done on this trip. I’m so thankful for my opportunity to have such a personal experience in a monastery where I was able to ask questions about Buddhism, be taught about the processes of the school, and have a translator for the younger children I wanted to interact with. The majority are boys, but there were also a few girls, and there was a section of the school for orphans. It is mandatory for boys to become a novice before the age of 20, and once they are 20 they can decide if they want to continue onto monkhood, or if they would like to pursue other things. And as for the orphans and girls, this school is able to provide education to those who would not normally be able to receive it. It offers free education – yes, some of the teachers may only be age 16 – and opportunities to these children, regardless of their situation. Buddhism in Myanmar is a whole new, complicated thing that I don’t quite understand, and although this shed some light on it, it also opened a whole new can of worms… but that’s a post for another time!
The day after was…. My birthday! My first birthday abroad. It was kind of strange! I hadn’t really been spending time with anyone (other than my Myanmar tour guide!) and birthdays are never really something I get super excited about, or like to make a big deal of (I always seem to have pretty mediocre birthdays!). But I definitely didn’t want to do nothing with my day, so I booked in to join the tour with my hostel. It was a good decision! Although the tour was kind of crap due to way over touristy spots we were taken to, the group we had was lovely company! In fact, half way through the tour we decided to just stop in at a small restaurant and have a beer! Our last stop with the tour was the U-Bien bridge – the famous longest teak bridge in the world! It was SUPER touristy, and definitely did not hold true to the promise of monks crossing during sunset (there were hundreds of tourists instead), but the sunset was nonetheless absolutely gorgeous. During this, I decided to tell my new friends that it was my birthday and that I had had a lovely day!
After the tour was done we all went for dinner, which they treated me to! I mean, my bill was only about $1.30, but still! And afterwards we stopped at a bar for another beer. They surprised me and pulled out a candle and sang be happy birthday! I was so surprised I almost teared up! It was so kind of them! I mean, I had met them only that morning. When I asked them where they got the candle they said that while I had stopped in a store on the way back they saw some candles that were on a Buddhist alter and asked the lady if they could take one! She seemed confused and flustered, and it didn’t seem for sure that they got the approval from her. We joked around that they’re going to get bad karma for stealing a candle from a shrine! But not really because they made me so happy with it. My birthday abroad was definitely a success!
I woke up suuuuper early the next morning to catch a slowboat to Bagan. I had done so much research (or so I thought) on this, and was prepared to be on this boat for two days with a bunch of locals. Turns out… it was only about 12 hours and there were a bunch of tourists. Lol. Not what I expected, but regardless I had a very lovely day sitting in the sunshine, watching the sandbars and fields go by as we made our way down the Irrawaddy River. We caught both the sunrise and the sunset, and made a few stops along the way where we were able to catch glimpses into village life: women doing laundry in the river, young boys splashing around, women washing their hair. Our boat was loaded up with a ton of construction supplies and we made a long stop where we watched this incredible amount of supplies get unloaded, hauled up a sandy hill, and placed onto wooden carts that were to be pulled by oxes! That was probably my favorite part of the day.
And then…. We arrived in Bagan.