• Day163

    Day 162: Mandalay by Bike

    November 25, 2016 in Myanmar ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Time to get out and explore! As Mandalay is a very spread-out city, we decided to grab a couple of our hotel's free bikes to get around rather than paying a small fortune for taxis. No motors this time, sadly, just our legs!

    Stop number one was the area of pagodas and shrines around the base of Mandalay Hill, which overlooks the city. To get there, we had to navigate the city's grid of streets and then divert around the edges of the palace district. It's no longer a palace, but it is still an active military base and foreigners are only allowed access via one gate, so you can't cut through.

    It doesn't look that far, but the blocks are larger than they appear, and you have to slow down very carefully at every intersection since they're all four-ways with no traffic lights, and it's basically an everyone-for-themselves system of crossing. And then when we got to the palace (surrounded by a moat of course), each side of the square is actually two kilometres!

    So I was basically exhausted by the time we arrived at the base of Mandalay Hill, having ridden probably 6 kilometres already. We had a look at 3-4 pagodas here, all very impressive as usual with their golden stupas and intricate decorations. One of them had a gigantic Buddha statue probably 15 metres high, carved from a single block of marble - crazy.

    Once we'd finished exploring down here, it was time to tackle the Hill. It's about 280 feet high which doesn't sound like much, but you have to take your shoes off at various points for temples and shrines, and we ended up doing most of it barefooted. Didn't help that we'd already ridden so far! Very few people doing the climb, though there was obviously a road to the top so quite a few people up there. Nice view across the city, though it was quite a hazy morning so we couldn't see that far.

    Long walk back down the hill and it was lunchtime, where we just chose a random noodle cart in a semi-permanent looking structure. We had Shan noodle soup which is a northern Myanmar style of cuisine (Shan are an ethnic group from north-east Myanmar), quite tasty and easy to eat.

    Back on the bikes, we rode around a little bit checking out some more nearby places. A little bit of temple fatigue was setting in though, and we didn't spend a huge amount of time at any of them.

    Rode back down to the palace area and around to the eastern gate, where we went through the very serious-looking security and headed in. It cost a few dollars each to get in, which we ended up regretting as there wasn't much inside. The kingdom itself isn't that old (it only lasted two monarchs before the British arrived), and the original palace buildings burned down due to Allied bombing during WW2. The palace complex was reconstructed "in a similar style" using slightly more modern materials - still a lot of teak wood, but with corrugated tin roofs and so on.

    A bit of a disappointment, though the slightly wobbly viewing tower was a good vantage point to see the rest of the city and palace complex. Heading back out through the east gate, and the long ride around the palace walls, I was starting to really struggle. The act of cycling itself wasn't too bad (although my thighs were tired both from the riding and the long stair climb), but the seat was super uncomfortable and my butt + coccyx were both in agony.

    Stopped for a donut at a bakery we'd seen advertised, and ended up spending a bit of time there having a juice as well as pastries, before finishing the agonising ride back to the hotel. Collapsed and relaxed for a bit before walking to a local restaurant slash beer station a couple of blocks away. Good cheap food and cheap draft beer!
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