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Map of the Mandalay Palace Complex

The seven-tiered tower at the entrance commands the view.

Margaret was feeling much better this morning – Yay!! We were picked up by the JJ Tours bus company (for Joyous Journey, M told me) and we took a bus from Bagan to Mandalay. The bus asked us for the address of our hotel and dropped us as close as they could. We had only nine blocks to walk. Still, it’s in the 90s here every day. Personally, I love the heat (not humidity), and after a couple days I was used to it. We also didn’t know the city, and had to cross the railroad tracks which took a while because we had to find a bridge first, then figure out the street signs till we were sure we were headed in the right direction. Dragging luggage nine blocks on busy streets with no sidewalks felt hotter than the 90s though. We were so relieved to find our hotel finally.

We dropped our bags, freshened up, and met in the lobby by 3:30 pm. There was a lot of day left. We caught a taxi to the Mandalay Palace. It was $4.50. I’m getting used to taxis for everything when it’s so inexpensive.

Entrance to the main palace building.

Detail in wood on all the buildings is elaborate.

The palace was built from 1857 to 1859 and the monarchy was in place when it was built. It was designed to be the center of the new capital city of Mandalay. The complex is an enormous square in the middle of the city, and surrounded by a fortified wall and a moat. There were cannons out front. The security is more rigid than anything we’ve experienced so far, with police/military meeting us at the front gate and asking us to turn over our passports and name our hotel before we could go in. Also, no photos were allowed in the grounds outside the palace area.

I included the map at the top to show how many buildings are here. The grounds are extensive and well-kept, and visitors are allowed to wander through all of it. The larger buildings are more decorated. Inside they contain several old thrones for different kings and queens. One building holds artifacts such as the royal betel spittoon, royal sandals, and a royal pot.

The royal sandals, Yak tail whisk, the royal dagger.

Inside one of the buildings at the palace.

More mirror adornment.

Life size replicas of king and queen on their throne.

More carved wood detail.

The buildings near the rear of the complex.

Fiery red in the setting sun.

We walked through many of the buildings, and came out again near the spiral watchtower. We collected our shoes and went back to our taxi, where two young swindlers tried to cheat us by trying to talk us into having them drive us to our other destinations. They were so sneaky, and so bad at it, we lost our patience and told them to forget it. For example, they quoted us 20,000 kyats at one point. So then one says, “Ok, I’ll give you a discount of 2,000. So the price will be 22,000 kyats.” Margaret said, laughing, “That’s going the wrong direction!” A fair price for what we wanted would have been more like 8000 kyats anyway. When they took us back out to the front gate, I handed over my 2000 kyats that we had agreed to in the beginning. “No, it’s four!” the tall one says. “You told me two,” I said. “But there are two people,” he counters, “Two thousand kyats for each of you.” “No way! We discussed it, and we agreed to a price of 2000.” Well, we went back and forth with those scheisters, and I finally gave in and handed over another 2000. We have not had anyone try any kind of manipulation this whole trip until these two. It’s only $1.50. But still. Ugh.

Margaret and me in one of our taxis. You ride in the back and it’s open air.

Young monks at the palace, with cellphones and sunglasses.

Looking across the moat toward our next stop: Mandalay Hill.

We were so mad we walked to our next stop. It was only a mile to the base of the hill we were about to climb. On the top of the hill is the Su Taung Pyae Pagoda, and apparently the place to watch the sunset. Many people gleefully told us there were 1700 steps to the top, which is 755 feet above the rest of the city. So. We started up the steps.

It was a pretty long haul. That’s a lot of steps in 90+ degree heat. We stopped for breaks and took photos of the city on our way up. There are a few smaller pagodas on the way up. And finally, we came to an escalator to carry us the last few feet. Since we had to leave our shoes at the entrance, I remarked that stepping onto the escalator in bare feet did not seem like the safest thing to do. At the second level, we walked around spilled blood on the floor, then passed an older woman as she had her toes bandaged. Right. Not safe to ride escalators in bare feet. Just sayin.

There were a lot of steps.

You can see the rooftops over the steps as they continue up the hill.

A view on the way up.

Inside one of the pagodas on the way up.

At the top the pagoda is beautiful and mirrored (which by now you know I like). There were people everywhere and the sun was setting, making the light a little bit magical. We walked all around the pagoda and talked with people and took selfies and had a fun time till the sun set. The sky was rather hazy and obscured most of the view, but turned the sun a bright red as it dropped to the horizon.

People waiting for sunset.

All these vessels contained drinking water. Not sure what the signs say, or what difference it makes, drinking from one pot vs. another.

This dude was really into his shot.

Setting up a great shot.

There it is! Sunset over Mandalay.

We left just a bit before sunset in order to beat the crowd. We had to wait in line at the elevator, and the queue was growing so long (and sunset not quite happened), that they reversed the order on the escalator, and had both elevator and escalator going down. Finally we got to the bottom, paid a donation to get our shoes out of the locker, and went out into the parking lot to find a taxi. After our last experience, we were afraid of being taken advantage of. The guy who took us was totally no-nonsense, and practically rolled his eyes when we tried to bargain. “Look,” he says. “It’s 5000 to take people to the bottom of the hill. You want to go to your hotel. That’s 10,000 total.” We asked, “How about 6000?” He just looked at us. “8000?” He rolled his eyes and gestured to us to get into the taxi. “The price is 10,000,” he stated matter of factly. Ha ha ha!! So funny.

I can’t help myself. The street views are still so captivating to me.

We were passed by lots of fire engines on the way back to our hotel. We saw at least five of them. Note the man in back is wearing a sarong. Is that safe? Will he change to other clothing before fighting fire? He will certainly put shoes on.

This place was packed nearly the whole time we were there. You can always spot Margaret’s blonde hair in a crowd here. Just below and to the right of her, you can see where the curb of the sidewalk is. All the tables in front of that are in the street! (Curt- notice the plastic chairs)

Delicious buffet from Shan State, a large region on the east side of Myanmar.

We were hungry and ate dinner at a place recommended by the hotel staff as having authentic Shan State traditional food. When we arrived, there were only a couple people there, though tables from the place were spread out onto the street. We sat down and ordered and before our food came, people started arriving. In no time, the place was jammed with people, and more and more arrived to grab take-out meals. Margaret and I were seated at a large table, and the staff asked if we would mind having others seated at our table with us. Of course not. A lovely young French couple sat down and we told them what was delicious on the menu. They were getting ready to go – not on a three day trek as we had done – but on a six day trek! Out in the western part, I think they said. “Where women tattoo their faces,” they told us. “Not many tourists go out to that region.”

Finally we walked home to Home Hotel (aptly named). What a day! Bagan in the morning; Mandalay in the evening. Full belly and comfortable bed. Life is good.

 

One room in the Prince of Wales suite

We are sleeping in a historic room.

Our hotel is amazing once more. The place is enormous and also dated in a delightful way, such as the chairs upholstered in purple velvet. We are on the shores of the Irrawaddy River, that flows south past the dining patio.

Margaret and I had a nice easy 9 am start this morning, but there was a problem. Margaret’s supper last night included an amazingly spicy salad and it did a number on her in the night. Despite feeling off, we met our driver for the day. Ansel (I’m sure I’m spelling that wrong) met us at the airport last night and took us to our hotel. He offered to be our driver for today. At $35 for the whole day, split between the two of us, we quickly agreed to give up our motorbike rental idea for someone who knows the area and the traffic.

Shwezigon Pagoda – major bling

The first pagoda stop was very touristy with lots of bling! By bling I mean plenty of gold, many colors, vendors set up everywhere, gaudy in every direction. M was still feeling poorly and stayed in the car. I made a quick trip through and headed back to the car with a plan to give instructions: no more bling, less people. I wanted to see all the gorgeous pagodas we had been passing to get to this one. Luckily, that was Ansel’s plan all along. He got what he said was the most famous pagoda out of the way first, and all the rest were much better.

There are 2600 pagodas in Bagan. At the most, there were 4000 of them, but many were destroyed in the 1975 earthquake. Unfortunately, in 2016 another big one hit north of Mandalay, which isn’t too far from here. It was 6.9 on the Richter scale, and damaged 400 of the local pagodas. Ansel said that until that time, tourists were allowed to climb the stairs inside many of the pagodas, and thus get on top for a great view. But now, for safety reasons, there is only one pagoda safe enough to climb. (I climbed it!) They were all built from the 11th through the 13th centuries. As we drove through the region, the renovation work could easily be seen on many of the larger pagodas.

At the next pagoda, M tried walking around a little and that only made her feel worse, so we dropped her off back at the hotel and she had a down day. Then Ansel and I continued our pagoda tour.

I’ll apologize right up front. I did not keep track of the names of all of the pagodas. I’m simply going to post the photos.

Inside most of the bigger pagodas are statues of Buddha.

One pagoda is still safe enough to climb and get a view of the incredible landscape.

Pagodas through an arch.

In this case, we climbed a monastery beside the pagoda, and then got a good shot of the pagoda. Note the bamboo scaffolding while repairs are made to the tower.

View from the top of the monastery.

The bougainvillea helps add interest to yet another pagoda.

Sometimes they were in clusters like this, and sometimes a lone pagoda beside the road.

Look at this exceptional architecture.

It’s just before the hot season here. I don’t know if these flowers bloom year round, but it was nice to see so much colour.

I loved scenes like this. Looking out across the land where so many beautiful towers rise up.

It’s hard to convey just how incredible it is to have pagodas in every direction. Our driver said to close our eyes and point, and we would be pointing at a pagoda. I often walked past several smaller ones to get to the one Ansel wanted me to see. They are in unexpectedly good shape for their age and being in an earthquake zone. They are gorgeous: that orange red brick, particularly in the morning and evening light against a blue sky.

I am most struck by the outer architecture of the pagodas, but several caught my interest for other qualities. In particular, I loved the murals painted inside many of them. Once Ansel found out I loved the murals, he took me to a few more very good ones with exceptional paintings inside.

The Old Gate to Old Bagan city.

Before entering any pagoda or temple, you remove your shoes.

These lovely ladies agreed to have their photo taken.

I love the attitude on this face!

Impressive large Buddha

Some were enormous inside

I couldn’t get enough of the murals.

A few pagodas had murals of great detail.

Some images, like this one, were repeated often. There was still quite a variety, owing to the different artists, maybe?

Inside this pagoda, this huge mural is covered from floor to ceiling in activity. People of all sorts are acting out some legend(s) possibly. I stood and gaped a long time.

This boat scene made me think immediately of the murals on the tombs in Egypt that also depict boats.

Here’s a nice simple elephant that I particularly like.

One pagoda had carvings instead of murals. There was damage in this one and I talked with a crew of people doing some work on a crack inside.

This is Payn Payn, one of the three resident kitties where I stopped for a beer.

At lunchtime my driver took me to a lovely little café with delicious and affordable food. (Who am I kidding? Everything is affordable here.) Later in the day, after several pagodas in the hot sun, he found me a super tiny café so I could chill with a Myanmar beer. While I drank the beer I played with one of the cats lounging around. An older woman came out from the back and brought me some fried bread after I had been sitting there awhile, complimentary.

There are hopeful vendors at every big pagoda, hoping to catch your eye. The people selling handmade goods in Myanmar have been the most laid back I have ever known in a country I am visiting. Until Bagan, they barely called out to us. Here they may be the most aggressive in the country, because they will actually call out to you, and some will follow you. Compared to other countries, it’s still very manageable and they give up quickly and leave you alone.

The street scenes in between pagodas are often this beautiful.

Visitors are allowed to ring the bells found at some sites.

I had my new friend P step in to add a little perspective for this ginormous reclining Buddha.

I thought this sign was a total crack up. Signs in English are rare, but appreciated. I read this one twice and I’m still pretty sure I don’t know what’s going on. {click the image to get a larger version}

Something about that magical morning and evening sunshine makes these places even more spectacular.

At one pagoda, I stopped to watch a man work on his sand painting. He began explaining what he was doing, and how he made the sand paintings. It’s pretty cool: he glues river sand to cotton fabric, then paints over the top. It’s a neat look. He began explaining a few of his paintings, spending the most time explaining the days of the week calendar (includes Morning Wednesday – elephant with tusk, and Evening Wednesday – elephant without tusk). I decided I wanted to buy the week calendar. Unfortunately, I did not have enough money on me. He let me take the painting with me and pay only a part of the cost, and I came back a few hours later with the rest.

The artist had assured me that the sand painting can only be found in Bagan. When I got back to the car I asked my driver if that was true. He said it was. He said there are two crafts unique to Bagan. The other is lacquered bamboo. Ansel took me to a workshop where women were busy scratching designs into black lacquered bowls. A man explained what they were doing, and also how the lacquered crafts are made. They begin with bamboo. Then they are covered in layers of thick black sap from a tree I can’t remember the name of. If I remember correctly, the sap is baked on in layers. Then the patterns are either painted or etched onto the final layer. I really enjoyed the stop and when he ushered me into the showroom as I was expecting, I was happy to go look for what I wanted: a ramen bowl. I found one that looked the most like what the women had been working on. I also found a square box I liked and negotiated them down almost 30% on the price, since the original price was way over my budget.

Women etch designs into lacquered bamboo bowls.

Seven stages from bamboo to finished lacquered product.

Finally it was 40 minutes to sunset and Ansel took me to a mound of some sort to watch the sun go down. To my chagrin it was packed with people and more poured in after I arrived. *sigh* But the tourists were picking up the “love” vibe from the locals, and it was actually very pleasant with much chatter back and forth between people who didn’t know each other but were sharing a moment.

The sunset over the pagodas was spectacular.

Lake behind the mound where we watched the sunset.

The Londoner standing behind me said this scene was worth his whole trip to Myanmar.

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