Mandalay – the Royal Palace, Shwenandaw monastery and Kuthodaw Pagoda

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.

Outside the Royal Palace
Outside the Royal Palace. The moat is original, the rest is not (bombed in the war and since rebuilt – recently refurbished, too, so not quite as dull as some guides suggest).

Down to the river, and back.

Urban gym
Later in the afternoon, I played with the urban gym equipment for a while. I’d run and walked past this. Feeling virtuous.

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.

Foreigner gate, Royal Palace
Foreigner gate, Royal Palace – with sign about crush those who hurt the state.

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.

Royal Palace
Royal Palace
Glass bed
There are some interesting exhibits in the Queen’s meeting room, at the far end of the site. This glass bed was a gift from the French.
Accordion book
Accordion book.
Helter skelter
Helter skelter (actually just a staircase).

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.

Kuthodaw Pagoda
Kuthodaw Pagoda.
Me and my mate
He asked me for a photo – only the third in three weeks – and I was quick enough to ask for one back.

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.

Kuthodaw Pagoda
Kuthodaw pagoda. I believe it’s also covered by the 10k entry fee, though I wasn’t asked for my ticket – I was ready to present it at a counter, but the bloke wandered off to do some paperwork with a friend.
Kuthodaw Pagoda
Kuthodaw Pagoda.

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.

Parade
Some kind of parade was waved through the traffic lights. Frankly, it looked a bit crap – military officers and gaudy stuff.

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.

A tale of two journeys, Mawlamyine-Bago and Bago-Mandalay

People playing football on the sand
This is where Google thinks the night market is in Mawlamyine – continue further North (or just don’t come this far South).

Not a complicated tale – two journeys, two days. I have lost track of what day it is, and amuse myself by working out how long I have been in this country, counting back or forward from whichever point of reference I can think of. I remember where I’ve stayed and for how long, my watch tells me what the date is, and I can just about combine the two to work out where I am. All that by way of telling you that when I say ‘on Friday, I…’, that simple statement took a bit of work.

On Friday, I reversed my trip from a few days (four nights, anyway, I remember that) before and hopped on an early morning train from Mawlamyine to Bago. The train leaves at 8am, so I took the chance to have a day off running, and walked to the station. That’s nearly 3km, and the hill-with-pagodas is in the way, so I left before 7 to make sure I had time to buy a ticket. It felt early when I got up and left, but it was light and there were people everywhere. Heading for the temples, mostly. The locals are obviously more suited to the temperatures here, but even so, they get up and about their business early while it’s cooler – so far as I can tell, Friday isn’t a special day to be heading to temples, but boy, was it busy, so the narrow roads were a riot of colour, honking traffic, and cars, people and scooters just about getting along. I picked the shortest-looking route on the map, not following the main road I’d taken on the way there; that took me straight up the side of the hill. On steps, but still – I passed plenty of people who had stopped for a breather because it was a long way up. If I have a favourite thing in Myanmar, it’s the happy smiles – either you are greeted with them, or people beam them at you as you smile at them. Completely fantastic, particularly when your thighs are starting to complain halfway up some steep (did I mention the steepness?) steps. We shared a laugh or two about walking up the side of a hill. I sort of expected to stand out more as an oddity (why is the Westerner not in a taxi?), until one lady swung her arms and said ‘Hiking?’ to me – yes, that’ll do, that’s what I’m up to. Up early for a hike. Once up the top, the road taking me on to the station was a gentle downward slope. Yes, I had climbed further than I needed to. But also received more smiles than I would otherwise have had, so what the hoo.

Old and new buildings, cheek by jowl
Old and new on the waterfront in Mawlamyine. Likely to become only a more common sight in years to come.

That was the action of the day, anyway. Quick tip – in Bago station, the ticket desks on the left as you look in are for future travel, those on the right are for today. I was sold a ticket for Yangon, but at an extra 1,000/1,100 (today seemed to be the latter), it really makes very little difference. And that was it. 7 and a bit hours later, we were in Bago – early, which foxed an American. He’d been told 3.30 for his train, due to leave at 3.24. It might have gone on time, but it was in at 3.10, and I suspect it left early. He had duff info and missed it, at any rate, and was taken in to see the station master for his pu… to see if they could help. They could not, and he strolled off to catch a bus.

I saw all of that because I was hanging about. There were trains onward to Mandalay at 4.44 and 6.48, and I was up for either (while also thinking that one more night in town would be a better idea, before doing the 13 hour trip the next day). The latter might even have a sleeper carriage. But the station was full of people lying around waiting for the ticket office to open. So I grabbed lunch (1,500 kyats, opposite/to the left of the station as you come out, a by-now-usual ‘pick your meat, you’ll get a small dish of that and we’ll bring you rice, salad and various dips).

Sunset in Mawlamyine
Sunset – from Thursday evening in Mawlamyine, I didn’t take any pictures on the train.

Eventually a local wandered up to me and talked about tickets etc., before taking me in to the station master’s office. There, I found out that all the upper class tickets were sold for today, sleepers only available in Yangon. But I could make a reservation for tomorrow, and got myself booked on the 7.45 train – come back tomorrow to pay, just walk back into the office for that. All of that certainty was reassuring and valuable. I would have one more night in Bago.

I’ve been unsure as to what the deal is with the various helpful people I’ve encountered. Some, pointing out the right carriage and so on, are clearly just helping. But at Yangon, a youngster in t-shirt and shorts took my ticket, took me to my seat and refused a tip. When I was at Bago before, a gent with betel-stained teeth ‘helped’ me to the ticket counter, where I bought my ticket. I didn’t offer him anything, but maybe I could have. This time, though, he’d been genuinely useful – I could have waited a while. So I gave him 500 kyats. He smiled, laughed a little, and said ‘this is very cheap money’. Yes, it is. Shamed, I gave him another 1,000, he checked I knew a hotel to go to, and we shook hands. Phew.

Bedsheet has the word Diamond, twice.
Equus fans, the San Francisco guesthouse in Bago.

The next day I was on the train – this time post run, as early mornings are becoming more normal, so I’d got up at 5.30 and run through Bago as monks walked the streets to pick up the food the devoted offer them every morning (or every morning they can remember the schedule, if what the owner at the hostel in Yangon said is any guide). And it was 13 hours. A journey of several parts – the early morning, cool but warming temperatures, and eating the food I’d brought, then snoozing. The middle of the day, heating up, leaning away from the seat to ease the sweat and reading. And later on, once the hawkers had left us to it, as it became almost cold with windows and doors open, fans on, the moon shining bright off to my right and me, enjoying being almost cold but frankly, ready for the journey to be over.

A bridge over a river, as the light fades from the day
Two bridges in Bago. Pictured is the main highway. I’m standing on a smaller, wooden bridge, where it is much more peaceful (though used by scooters). Not shown – a banging street party behind me. I wandered into it, lured by the music, but turned down their offer of food.

Eventually it was, we were a handful of minutes late coming in to Mandalay just after 9pm, and I said no to a few taxi drivers to walk to my hostel. Honestly, it’s not far, just leave me to it. I feel a small guilt in depriving them of business, but it was a mile or so, and I’m not convinced that I should become artificially lazy/navigationally confused just to prop up an economy. Mandalay seemed immediately welcoming, wide, open streets, a mixture of tall and short buildings, and easy to navigate. I took myself off to the hostel’s roof terrace before tiredness put me in bed around 11.

Four nights in Mawlamyine

Mawlamyine seemed easy; moving around is straightforward, there are long open stretches to run along without having to cross busy roads all the time, and a couple of relatively relaxed places to watch the sunset or enjoy some shade. Relatively, in that honking traffic is not that far away, but the honking is intermittent and I found it easy to ignore.

IMG_20171031_144850549
Cinderella Hotel.

I ended up staying four nights, as the cast around me in the dorm changed. An American girl barely left her sanctuary in the corner for three days, while a French girl cast around for someone to join her in the taxi ride to the border, as her visa was ending the next day. I joined a Dutchman, JJ, for dinner on Wednesday night. He had spent two months in Bago working on irrigation research – the Netherlands leads the world in agricultural research, something I’d only just read about in National Geographic, producing amazing amounts of food for such a small nation, and they also export the knowledge, leading to JJ being here. I’d caught him on the cusp of some travel, about to head to Thailand before having to write up the data he’d collected from rain gauges and the like. The restaurant we headed to, Bone Gyi, on the front, was good. I learnt that when drinking Myanmar beer from a bottle, you should peel off the inside of the cap, because some of them carry prizes. Perhaps we were particularly lucky, but we had five bottles, won two of them for free and got 500 kyats back.

Almost as fascinating to me as his educational history – as a physicist, he had many options, and picked agriculture rather than, say, investment banking – was that he is one of 10. 10! No, his parents weren’t Catholics. Evangelicals. “Does that mean a lot of kids?” I asked, still pursuing the religious stereotype line, only this time trying to learn something. “In their church, yes.”

The waterfront is the obvious highlight of the town, with a stretch of tree-lined and shaded pavement, a market towards the North (visible to the right if you look as you come into town on the bridge) and colonial buildings to the South. Unlike Bago, at least here something has been made of the waterfront – in Bago there is a river, but all the action ignores it, going along the highstreet. But then, there’s very little tax base for local government to ignite the riverfront into something bigger and better. There are also a couple of nice parks.

Thanlwin garden, next to Ocean shopping centre.
Thanlwin garden, next to Ocean shopping centre.
Viewpoint/Kyike ThanLan Pagoda
Lift (elevator) to the viewpoint – on the right. Give a (as you like) donation to use it.

One morning I wandered up to the viewpoint. It’s also where the KyikeThanLan pagoda is, but it is known as the viewpoint. I wasn’t sure whether to go up, with a lift seeming lazy, but curiosity got the better of me. Nice ride up. And I would do some serious step action on the way to the railway station on Friday morning.

Tomb of the Rebel Princess
Tomb of the rebel princess. There was no escape for the princess this time.

On the map I’d spotted the tomb of the rebel princess, so I had to see that for the cheap joke potential:

I had no more info, but obviously these days claiming that ‘I no no more’ while writing on an internet-enabled device is a little perverse. So, wikipedia has more about the rebel princess, Myat Phaya Galay. Though not much more – she was called rebel by the British, for demanding the return of their stuff. Once there might have been a reason for the Brits to keep it but now, with a perfectly good and secure national museum, that only some of the royal regalia has been returned is (leaving the national museum to display row of ‘Royal sceptre – replica’), as is so much of Britain’s relations with overseas, a disgrace. Or, in case I am being too gentle and you want to hear my real feelings, a total fucking disgrace. Let’s not get on to locking asylum seekers and their children up in jail while the idiot section of the population continues to claim that ‘we’re a soft touch’ because they’re told no different, eh?

Phew, that might have got political, but I think we’re safe now.

I also went to the Mon State Cultural museum. 5,000 kyats to enter, which seemed a lot – I had by this point slipped into my frugal state, which is affected by the size of banknotes. Given the biggest I have are 10k, with 1k being the most useful, 5k seems a lot. But it’s £2.80.

Mon cultural centre/museum.
Mon cultural centre/museum.

The museum is nicely curated, with a good variety of exhibits. There are some perfectly readable captions but not that much more in English, so an hour will allow you to see most things. Rather like the National Museum in Yangon, to read people talking about the low lighting might make you think it’s going to be dark, but it’s mostly reasonably well lit. Just not the level of fluorescent lighting to which Westerners have become used.

In general, this was just a nice town to wander about, make use of the quieter spots and to wonder at how it will change over the coming years.

I liked Mawlamyine, though only laziness led to me staying for a fourth night – really, three would do very well, unless you’re touring around the surrounding districts to see other sights. I was happy being able to stretch my legs – I went over both the main bridges out of the city – and sit by the water, reading, but did feel I’d been lazy enough by the 3rd night.

Bago-Mawlamyine by train

Another travel day, Monday. I had a last run in Bago. It really is an unlovely place; the pagodas and temples are pretty, the small shopping centre an oasis, but the river, which might one day be some sort of social centre, is undeveloped, so essentially it is a busy road with buildings either side. Still, one busy road feels easier to handle than a whole city of them, and I don’t regret having a couple of nights here having escaped Yangon so quickly. Last night, my hosts brought my washing, followed soon after by some home-made honey juice, in case I wasn’t feeling at home enough.

My room, Bago
My room, San Francisco guest house, Bago.

But I was. Sat in a light and spacious twin room, the Korean film ‘Train to Busan’ on the laptop, and master of my own time.

Handwritten ticket
Handwritten ticket, for the 9.00 train to Mawlamyine (and beyond, down to Ye).

I bought my ticket on the day, getting to the station with 50 minutes to spare in case I found it extra difficult. It’s not, though, and a local took me to the right counter anyway. Later, there was a rush from locals for tickets – it seemed as though I, and a few others, were okay to buy tickets early, others had to wait. ‘Warmly welcome and assist tourists’, indeed. 3,150 kyats for Bago to Mawlamyine. Waiting for the train was simple – access to the platforms was locked, and the train was due to pull in at the near platform. When we were allowed on, an old monk walked up to me with great dignity, shook my hand and chatted away. I have no idea what he said, but followed him down the platform and hopped on where he said, which worked out just fine. (In case you don’t know it, by the way, The Man in Seat 61 is the fount all much wisdom for train travels around the world. It helped me first with travelling from the UK to Ireland, then UK to Russia, Thailand to Malaysia and continues to help. Not least the timetables, which otherwise I can’t read here.)

In motion, with door open
In motion, with the door open, something about safety, etc.
Temples/Stupas hove into view
Temples/Stupas hove into view.
Selling food, balanced on the head
People walk through selling food, usually balanced on their head.
Wooden houses
Wooden houses.
Local houses
Local houses.
Kids waving at the train
Kids waving – they do this, though sometimes it seems almost a reflex, as they wave at the carriage passing, while looking down the train and therefore missing me waving back. I suppose I should be leaning out to make sure they spot me.
Water buffalo
Water buffalo. Later on I spotted some slick with water, looking blissed as they emerged from a stream. ‘Stream’ probably sounds a bit small to take buffalo, but there were some very narrow watery spots used for navigation by boats, so possibly they are manmade and, although looking like a long puddle, are actually reasonably deep.
Small local station
Small local station – request stops, I think. If the train doesn’t stop, there will be a member of staff with a green flag to wave the train through.
Bridge into Mawlamyine
View from the bridge into Mawlamyine.
Mawlamyine from the bridge.
Mawlamyine from the bridge.
Mawlamyine from the bridge.
Mawlamyine from the bridge.
They don’t know, but they’ve been told
They don’t know, but they’ve been told.

Although we’d got to the first stop a good 30 minutes late, we pulled into Mawlamyine almost on time (4.50pm) and I wandered from the station to the Cinderella hotel, who had space in their dorm for me to chill out in for a bit before walking down to the riverfront. Mawlamyine is a bit more walkable than other cities – it’s the 3rd or 4th biggest depending on where you get your info, with a little over 300,000 inhabitants, but they seem to be pretty spread out, so there is space enough on most streets for people and vehicles.

Sunday in Bago – sights to the East

On Sunday I had a slower day, just walking round the sights the other way, before retiring to the Icon shopping centre to cool down for lunch.

Music on a hand-pushed cart, Bago
Every so often, with the first around 6am, a boombox van like this will roll through town, blaring out some tunes. This one, to everyone’s relief, had non-distorted speakers.
Bago reservoir
The reservoir has a few shaded spots, especially in the morning, and is one of the few places to just sit in the town centre.
Palace gate, plenty of litter
What looks like the main gate to Kambazathadi palace is not well maintained.
Kambazathadi palace, main gates
The actual main gates, a little further East. Entry 10,000 kyats (government run).
Pencil parts, drying in the sun
What looked like parts of pencils, drying in the sun. I am not sure I got that right, but that’s what they looked like.
Shwemawdaw Pagoda
Shwemawdaw Pagoda. This is apparently the go-to sight in Bago. I contented myself with the view from outside.
Shwemawdaw Pagoda
Another view of the Pagoda, giving a better idea of the buzzy scene outside.
Procession through town
What looks like a festival procession, coming through town. This may have been because it was Sunday, but I saw something similar from the train the next day.

 

Bago, Myanmar

I arrived at Bago around 1pm. The guest house is just a short walk away, though it does involve crossing Bago’s main road, which is a pain. Still, I ducked in, they had a room available and I ducked out of the sun for an hour or so.

After that I went for a wander. From the station, the sights, pagodas, a palace and temples, are West and East, and I figured I’d go West, get off the main road and explore. Maybe I’d even find the restaurant the guesthouse owner recommended (I did not).

Lion sculptures flank a gate
Off the main road, sights abound.
Statue
The grunge is more charming, I think, than the recently re-painted temples, which are indicative of putting too much money into gold paint and not enough into education.
Four Buddha image
Four Buddha image.
Gilded gate
Gilded gate. By now I was a bit hungry, and very hot.
Mittaya Ananda pagoda
Mittaya Ananda pagoda.
Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha. My Yangon guide, Steven, told me that Buddha only ever rested for 30 mins or so. But that rest is captured.
Mahazedi Paya
Road to Mahazedi Paya. I found a snack and pressed on.
Mahazedi Paya
Mahazedi Paya.
Children playing, Mahazedi Paya
Something joyful about children playing near the site of special religious significance.
Steep sided Paya
Steep sided, the Paya.
Temple inside Mahazedi Paya
Hot now, I wandered into the Paya grounds – remembering to remove my shoes. Everyone I passed smiled at me, and that cheered me up completely. I sat in the shade of trees round the back, filled with joy – doubtless tiredness from the walk contributed to my slightly teary joy, but it was an intense feeling that made me realise how hot and bothered I had been. It now being after 9 at home, I also answered the question ‘here or work?’ pretty vehemently on one side.
Monks feeding birds
To my right, two monks were buying bird feed, one alternately scattering and holding it in his hands to bring the birds in close, the other filming/photographing with his phone.
Temple plaza
Somehow I have managed to catch this area without people. A group of 3 children had been running past repeatedly to get me to wave at them – one had to be pushed by her brothers first, but soon got over her shyness to join them in creeping up behind me to play peekaboo behind my bench.
Snake statues
Snakes.
Snake and Buddha closeup
Snake and Buddha closeup.
Elephant and generals
Elephant and generals (I think).
Main Paya - gates open now, to climb it
Look closely, and you’ll see two people up on the gold section. The gates were closed when I arrived, but were now open.
Looms for weaving religious offerings
Looms; for weaving garments to be left for the Buddha. Yangon guide had said they work till 4pm, then have to stop, and the garments have to be finished by then each day
Sign - women not allowed to climb the pagoda
Even if I had been with a female friend, I’d have had to leave them behind. They could still have mocked me from here, though.
View from top of Paya
I climbed to the top. As ever, the thought of doing it was fine, the reality was that part way up I was scared.
Sight from top of Paya
A local came running up, and paused for breath next to me. That kicked in my competitive side and, because my legs felt fine, I climbed quickly to the top.
View from top of Paya
At the top, I felt wobbly legged and very odd, and sat down immediately, took these three photos, and walked back down, not letting myself think too much. Both hands on the railing to my left. Squeaky bum time.
The side of the Paya
Does it look steep to you?
Me, having walked back down
It looks steep to me. I think you can see I look a bit tired here. My legs are wobbling a bit, and the ‘oh shiiii’ feeling hasn’t quite gone from my stomach.
Walking back to Bago, smoke rises over a house, filtering the sunset
Walking back to Bago, smoke rises over a house, filtering the sunset.
Bago house.
Bago house.
Typical shop front
On some streets, every house front is a shop front. This one is fairly typical.
Buzzing bikes in the twilight
Buzzing bikes in the twilight.
Locals eating to the left, people travelling on the road
Locals eating to the left, people travelling on the road.
Temple
I walked back on the Ma Zin road, parallel to the one I’d used earlier. Many more people here, most of whom wanted to say ‘hello!’, ‘Hey you!’ or just smile and wave.
Temple entrance
A different temple on the way home.
Thatched houses
Charming houses. I’m sure people will be happier the sooner they can build something sturdier – I hope not to romanticise the beautiful but poor scenes if I come back.
Snooker table, Bago
Trick shots on a full size snooker table (1 of 2 I saw).

 

Yangon – National Museum and Shwedagon Pagoda

A photo blog of Friday. Breakfast at the Shwe Yo Vintage hostel was excellent (noodles, soup, cake), setting me up for the day, and the day itself was sunny (and therefore boiling hot), so/but I walked to the National Museum at 10, (it opens at 10, I was about 3km away), headed back to the hostel at 1, and back to the Pagoda for 4ish, so as to see it by day and by night. Walking was hot, crossing the busy roads is a pain, but otherwise it’s highly recommended.

Side street
My hostel’s street. Cars park diagonally – quick reverse for them all.
Statue and exhibits in the National Museum
National museum – known for being dark, but not all of it is underlit.
Old, hollow, tree-trunk
Temple piece. Ground floor of the museum is nice and cool.
Myanmar flag back from space
Myanmar flag back from space. I saw the Laos one in their National Museum in Luang Prabang the day before.
Picture detail. King in the middle, general to his left. The others are advisors.
Picture detail. King in the middle, general to his left. The others are advisors.
Myanmar tribal costumes
Costumes from different tribes – these fascinated me. Keep your weight down and the gents’ tops would look excellent.
National Museum, Myanmar
National Museum, Myanmar.
Decorated pavements
Now walking to Shwedagon Pagoda. Beautiful pavements. However, after rain, every decorated piece is an ice (rain) rink. Didn’t quite fall.
IMG_20171027_161512303-1024x576
Viewpoint, Happy World amusement park – or at least, the park outside it.
Temples, Shwedagon Pagoda
Outside the central pillar, temples upon temples.
Buddhas with decorations
Buddhas look old… except for the digital decorations.
The main pagoda, gleaming as sun sets
The Pagoda as sun sets. By now the guide I had accrued had moved on from telling me about temples, to the importance of education.
Temples at sunset
Stunning as it lights up. The guide had wandered up to me as I sheltered from the rain, and just started to tell me about things. I’d turned one bloke down as I came in – and they respect a no – but Steven was engaging and I stuck with him.
Jade Buddha behind glass
Jade Buddha. Steven was with me for two hours in the end – at least an hour of that berating ill educated compatriots, and the amount they spend on religion, rather than education. I like an anarchist.
Distant view of a diamond atop the Pagoda
From a few spots, the 74 (?) carat diamond at the top of the Pagoda glints, and the colour changes as you move. Steven may have been keen on education, but he knew his stuff.
Gold Buddhas in a row
Recently repainted Buddhas. All the Buddhas are repainted regularly – “Too much money”, said Steven, keen to throw in “$1000”, “$750” as we looked at medium and larger Buddhas.
Gleaming gold pagoda by night
Fully night-time now, the Pagoda in the dark.
Escalators at the West Entrance to the Pagoda
I left, and walked back. I entered by the South-East entrance, which has steps all the way up. The West entrance (carry your shoes in a bag to allow you to exit where you like) has escalators.

Train ride in Myanmar, Yangon to Bago

Initially, travel out of Yangon seemed a bit difficult – which for me, means I don’t feel like I can organise it all on my own, and am going to have to rely on other people, here because I was feeling hemmed in by buildings and traffic. The central station, though, is 3km from my hostel, and trains leave to Bago, en route to Mandalay and Moulmein, through the day. I figured I’d get out of Yangon with a short hop, so wandered to the station for the 11.00 train.

Buying a ticket was entertaining. The station building is divided into two – the colonnades mark where. The part on the right contains the ticket desks. One in the centre has a nice, prominent ‘Welcome tourists’, which reads as an instruction to staff. It didn’t mean that was where I bought my ticket, though. Instead, I was waved over to another window on the side of this half (left as you look at it here). The bloke there didn’t seem that interested, as people came and went from the queue in front of him, but I picked up a vibe that he was doing special tickets, not for (most) locals, and that seemed to work out. He sold me my ticket, anyway. 1,000 kyats to Bago.

Yangon Railway station
Yangon Railway station, crumbling but impressive.
Two youngsters on the green seats of the train
These two joined me for a while. Possibly because their brother had sold me a bottle of water for 4x the price and they wondered what other money I might drop.
Platform with electronic display and train in the background
Balloon sculpture maker on the platform at Yangon.
Looking down the side of the train, through the open window
View from the wide open window (it’s either open or metal shutters).

The ride is famously bumpy, but the seats are soft and comfortable and I enjoyed it. I’ll try a longer one and see if I feel the same.

People sleeping on the train
Not uncomfortable on this train. The conductor (right) sleeps in upper class seats.
Wooden huts seen from the train window
Wooden huts seen from the train window.
Nuns in pink at a brief stop
Nuns in pink at a brief stop.
Mock tudor signal box, Bago, courtesy of the Brits
Mock tudor signal box, Bago, courtesy of the Brits.
Train carriage relief murals decorate the bridge at Bago
Bridge over the tracks, Bago, venerating the train.

Two hours or so later (this journey is only 40-50km!) I was in Bago just after 1, and walked to the San Francisco guesthouse. Wikitravel advises you get out of Bago as soon as possible. It is just a small city, but with the main Yangon-Mandalay highway running through it, the main road (which I seem to have to cross to go anywhere) is constantly busy and a riot of traffic and horn noises. Adding to that are regular speaker cars (better phrase for that, anyone?) which come through blaring music.

But big cities do my head in a bit, and this feels much better. I stayed an extra night.

Bewildered but sated

Bewildered but sated
Bangi, Malaysia

Bangi, Malaysia

I hardly slept last night. Trying to download a new os for both my computer and iPad kept me up too late, past the time I was sleepy, and then my ankle conspired to keep me thinking.

I wasn’t upset, then, to be up and stretching around 10, though didn’t leave till 11. The idea today was to pick up my race number for Sunday and book a bus ticket to Singapore for the afternoon following, exploring wherever those tasks took me and perhaps adding some shops. I had no idea where the registration instructions referred to – t-299, 3rd floor The Gardens, Mid valley. Um. But a google map search showed the latter as a shopping mall a couple of miles away. I set off in blazing sunshine, but when I found myself near a monorail I took the chance to ride that. Or, at least, I did when I realised the station wasn’t under construction. Above me was a metal grid with litter on, surely to have a monorail built on top? Ah, the rails are either side of the grid, which is just preventing droppage onto the street. Oops, I understand now. Single journey, buy a token, follow the sign and I was at KL Sentral station.

There, I was confused again. I could see the underground (LRT), but that is just three lines (one the monorail) and none of them are the ones I wanted. No map, other than the one of the station, offering departure areas for four different types of train. Wifi helped me, I got a map and worked out I wanted a kommuter line. A pass would be good, and more research suggested the touch ‘n go card would do me. I found their base, bought and finally went. Having checked the map I found my platform and all was going well until as the train arrived I checked my map. By now I’d forgotten that I had already checked the map at the station and was confused-the destination was a station I had not heard of, and it wasn’t on my map. Do I get on, or not?

I did. Turns out the line has had two stations added since my map was updated. I suspect the same is true of other lines and the other end of this one, as none of the train destinations I could see seemed to match up, giving me the weird feeling that I might be stood in a different KL than my map showed. I hopped off two stations later and was at the Mid Valley mall. I figured I should head for the ‘mega mall’ and was right – inside I saw signs for the gardens. I was arrowing in. One final attempt to trip me saw a Toys ‘r us sign pointing left, but I continued right to the gardens. Number collection started at 12, I was there 45 minutes after the start and could get that out of the way first.

I became a traitor to my nation. Arriving on the third floor, I realised the t-299 was the lot number for the 2xu store; the queue in front of me could only be for race numbers. I joined in. It took about an hour, but I was terribly terribly un-English about it. Not once did I whinge about the time taken and, to make me unrecognisable from my compatriots, I didn’t use my total lack of knowledge of what they were doing to make several suggestions of what “you’d think they would do” to speed it up. Perhaps I have become international.

With number and bonus 2xu running vest in hand I walked along the mall, unsure why i wasn’t heading back to the first, then realising when I spotted that my unconscious had sniffed out a Lego store. Sadly Lego is international enough that it wasn’t very exciting, and I moved on, to lunch in the garden restaurant – £4, and eating well in malls is a welcome Asian staple.

Heading back I followed the sign to the kommuter line but missed a turn at the end, exploring the north block of mid valley for a few minutes before heading back over the road and finding the turn I had missed. Kuala Lumpur station was better for me than Sentral, though it took me ages to find an exit. I bleeped out on the middle platform, having walked most of the length of it, then walked most of the length of platform 1 before finding steps up to a walkway which took me, finally, away from the station and, usefully, across several roads.

Job one done. I dropped my kit off, then walked to the bus station. Up a ramp and I was in a small shopping area, then in amongst waiting areas for platforms. Ticket office upstairs, so I went up, and found myself in the car park. Okay, middle steps. Now I was in amongst shops and not much else. I went down again and checked for more signs. Definitely upstairs. Back away from the platforms, into a more air conditioned area and back up those steps, the only option left. Behind where you emerge is the ticket area, it’s not really as hard to find as I made it. Lots of bus companies have their own booths, most a bit grubby. I had decided on the Transnacional booth, a bit bigger than the others and surely going to Singapore; others hadn’t mentioned it. But one of the pleasures of a cheap country is knowing that you can be sold to without being ripped off, so I checked that she called it a luxury bus and allowed a young lady to sell me a ticket. 50 ringit, under £10. I was assuming it would be cheaper there than through the hostel, but have no way of knowing. There are enough companies there that you can probably compare and play them off, but good luck to them if they’ve made a couple of quid from me. 5 hour bus ride, cheap, and cheaper than is quoted on the web when I did a search and found a page listing some of the bus companies.

So I’d been bewildered several times, but achieved my goals. To celebrate I wandered back to Petaling street and picked up some hooky Star Wars ‘Lego’, the only such I’d seen, managing to avoid the ladies selling facials. They have a picture board, at which I glanced and got the wrong idea and so I confused the first, telling her I wasn’t hungry, but the second (of 6 sitting together) also got up and got her sign up before I got past. I realised this wasn’t food, now; perhaps they were keen on me because the big spot that appeared overnight looked like a gift, but I moved on. Dinner was in a small ‘restoran’, really a canteen, which always appeals. I could even serve myself, which would be dangerous if I’d run today, but as it was they did okay. Both there and at the non lego place I tried to overpay – the former had 11 on my bill, then he rang up 14 and realised his mistake when I offered 24, and at the latter I gave him 26 and walked away, having confused a 20 for a 10. He called me back, very honest.

Lovely successful day. I let myself off a sense of bewilderment, at least as regards transport and navigating road crossings, with the thought that it takes time to get to grips with cities, usually, and I have shifted cities fairly often. I am gradually losing my instinctive ‘not for me’ reaction to any offers, that crept in in Cambodia, in favour of actually listening and trusting not everyone wants to sell something. Taxi drivers take a ‘no thanks’ immediately, and yesterday the man who said “can I help you” was perfectly happy to point me in the direction of Chinatown, and the one who laughed and said something wasn’t offering a lift, just commented that he too loved Penang, as my t shirt said. Lots of friendly people, and it is much nicer to wander around saying hello to every hello and sharing the odd moment.

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