Saturday, 22 October 2011

Days 48 & 49: Mandalay Days

On the road to Mandalay
Every mistake I've ever made
Has been rehashed and then replayed
As I got lost along the way

So sang Robbie Williams in his 2001 song "The Road To Mandalay". Fortunately my own experience of the road to Manadalay was a little less fraught, as I took an overnight bus there from Yangon which didn't get lost, and didn't replay all the mistakes I've ever made (the journey was ten hours so I simply didn't have the time).

Nonetheless, it wasn't a hugely restful journey, and because of that, or perhaps because I've been feeling just a smidgeon under the weather, I've not really quite got into the city. True, it's a relief to be somewhere relatively quiet after a string of big cities, but Mandalay still isn't exactly a paragon of peace. It tries to be organised, but despite a very straightforward grid system with all the streets given numbers, it then packs the roads full of chaotic beeping motorbikes. I can see why the Myanmar government, when not busy committing human rights abuses, banned all motorbikes in Yangon - they're just exhausting to be around.

After arriving at around 5am, with barely half an hour's sleep, on Friday morning, Burness and I checked into the ET Hotel (the name, the owner confirmed, is indeed taken from the film) and got a few hours of rest, until the builders next door got going. No matter, we got up, found some breakfast, and took a wander around some nondescript motorbike-strewn streets. Lots of little shops, yawning street dogs, and crumbling pavements, but not much to draw me out of my stupor.

But Mandalay does have more to offer, and fortunately by the power of bicycle we found it. We hired one that afternoon and for the following day, checked out the Lonely Planet, and here's what we found.

This is Mandalay Palace, part of an absolutely colossal square area of land in the middle of Mandalay, surrounded by a moat. Most is inaccessible to foreigners, but the historic palace is open for visiting. It's pretty rubbish though. Just a load of old buildings, many obviously reconstructed, and many totally decrepit. The site has the feel of an abandoned village, and the lack of any explanatory text made it a pretty drab experience. There was one highlight, however.

A big tower, with a helter-skelter-like walkway, that gave great views over the area.

Next up was this:

This, Mandalay proudly boasts, is the largest book in the world. Even if it is, I can't imagine anybody could ever read it, as each page is written on a block of stone and kept inside a small stupa. I'm not sure if the Kindle edition is out. It's called the Kuthadow Pagoda, and is on the quiet outskirts of Mandalay, beyond the palace, and was named one of the Eight Wonders of the Buddhist World. It was built in 1857, and has 729 marble slabs, each in a small stupa surrounding the central golden pagoda, containing the Tripitaka, the Buddhist holy book. Pretty big, eh?


Except this one's bigger, and it's right next door. This is Sundamani temple and it has 1774 marble slabs. Why is it not a Wonder of the Buddhist World?

And then a short jaunt up Mandalay Hill, where Burness was able to take lots of panoramic photos, which always gives him great pleasure. Mandalay Hill was quite fun - the majority of the climb is up stone steps of a covered walkway, with various vendors scattered the distance, most trying to sell water to us. Along the route are various statues and small shrines.

Mandalay is Burma's second city, and is an obvious stop off point for any tourist. It doesn't have any of the three Wonders I've ascribed to Burma, but it does make for an excellent staging point to visit two of them. Hence tomorrow, Burness and I get up at 4am, to take a 5 hour sail down the Ayeyarwady River to our next Wonder: the ancient ruined temple city of Bagan.


  1. Putting that quote at the top of your account really slowed me down reading, as I then had to go to Youtube and listen to the song!

    Still and all, a bit of Robbie is always nice



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