News that Evan and Katy (my West-Coast US friends) would be in country in a couple of days sorted out my plans, and I decided to scoot out of Mandalay, returning later, and head to Bagan tomorrow. Bagan is accessible via boat, train and bus. Of those, the quickest is the bus. So I went for that, lest I otherwise spend half my time in Myanmar on the train.
That gave me a day to run and walk around Mandalay. First I ran – round the outskirts of the Royal Palace.
Down to the river, and back.
Even allowing time for breakfast, I was up and out by 9. “Hello, taxi!” rang out around me several times, but I was happy to walk back to the Royal Palace’s East gate, even though I was starting from the South. Foreigners have to go in through the East gate, leaving their passport, paying the 10,000 kyat archaeological site fee if not paid elsewhere, and picking up a visitor pass. Walking in through the gate, “hello, motorbike” is the refrain, aiming to save the long walk to the palace – through a restricted area, which looks mostly residential, but includes some military areas – but I wandered past, with a ‘walking, walking’ refrain and two finger walking demo (because just walking doesn’t count, right?) which was picked up by the military officer sat in front of the motorbikes, who leaned over to explain that I was walking. Helpful, but in English, so an echo rather than a translation.
The Palace doesn’t get a great write up. The original was bombed during WW2, so what’s there is a reconstruction. Accounts vary – as they will continue to here, given the pace of change (conservatives should only visit once – natural change is bewildering for them day-to-day, a second visit here will leave them huffing that it is ruined/too different/a shame) – but I think that you can ignore the ‘it is not well maintained’ in favour of ‘it has recently been refurbished’ (as at Nov 2017). Regardless, it isn’t a great visit, other than to speculate on the activity that once occurred here. Mandalay isn’t an old city, though, and while I try not to venerate age in my relics (curse of a European, with relatively old history compared to many), I found it difficult to be excited by a palace constructed 1857-59, then much more recently reconstructed.
The same entry fee gets you in to other attractions, and just a km or two away is the Shenandaw monastery. Originally it was a part of the palace, but was moved, and not bombed. Somehow, I venerated the age happily. It’s not a huge site, so won’t take long to wander around, but is immediately impressive.
Just round the corner is the Kuthodaw pagoda. Spectacular and gold, though no more so than other pagodas.
The interactions with the locals are the best thing about coming to Myanmar – so often you’ll be greeted with a smile, so it’s well worth learning to put aside any learned British/Northern European instinct to look away from people. And I was asked for just the third time on this trip (one in Malaysia) if someone could have a photo with me.
From the pagoda I wandered on, round the back of the adjacent Sandamuni pagoda. As I passed it and waited at some traffic lights, a great procession of noise passed by. Music blaring, plastic and other items gaudily glittering in the sunlight, participants in military uniforms. Baffling – it seemed like a military celebration of material goods.
I was tired from the walking, and retired to the hostel around 3, to chill out. Mandalay is noisy and busy with traffic, yet still more relaxed than other large cities, helped by having a whacking great palace site (9km round) with a wide moat to give the illusion of space and a walkway all around, and also by having long wide roads to spread everything out.
Tomorrow, to Bagan.