• Day164

    Day 163: Three City Tour

    November 26, 2016 in Myanmar ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Slightly more relaxing day today! We booked ourselves a "three city tour" from Mandalay, which is quite a common thing to do apparently. There are several smaller towns outside the main city which have a few interesting sights, so we booked ourselves a private taxi and driver for the day and off we went.

    First stop was a factory where they were making Buddha statues out of a white stone, some with angle grinders, others with hammer & chisel. Looked a lot like hard work! Also visited a silk factory where people were operating ancient-looking looms to weave silk, and another row of workers stitching patterns and colours into the newly-made fabric. Again it looked like hard work, but we weren't super tempted to buy.

    Next up was a monastery with a couple of thousand monks, most of them young. Monks are a very common sight here in Myanmar, and they seem a lot less aloof than Thai or Laotian monks who just come off like robots. The monks here all seem to have smartphones and are often in family groups, rather than just groups of monks.

    The attraction here was that the monks all queue up in the main "street" of their monastery (it's a campus, not a building) for their lunch meal at 10:30 where they receive their rations. I actually felt really uncomfortable during all of this, as it was clearly a huge tourist attraction and there were hundreds of people lining the street like Mardi Gras, taking endless photos of the monks. I know they're very dehumanised with the shaved heads and the robes, and so it's very easy to think of them as "monks" and not "humans", but they are still people with thoughts and emotions and it's pretty uncomfortable to see them treated like zoo animals.

    I don't know, maybe they're OK with it as I guess it brings in donations and stuff for the monastery, which probably operates on charity. I didn't actually talk to them about it, and our driver only had fairly limited English so I couldn't ask him either. He understood us well enough, but understanding a thoughtful question in English was definitely beyond him.

    Anyway. Onwards to another area, where there was several temples and pagodas on top of a tall hill with a view back towards Mandalay. We also had to cross the Ayurawaddy River to get here, with two enormous bridges - one built in the last few years, and one built in the 1950s. Definitely temple fatigued by now, and thankfully only a few to go.

    Lunch stop was a tourist restaurant with semi-high prices, but the food was good enough and the coffee surprisingly decent. Best coffee I've had in weeks, if not months - can't really even remember the last time I had a good cappuccino! Most of the coffee here is just American-style brewed dishwater.

    Couple more temples and a monastery for kids (this was really just a polite term for orphanage), before our final stop - the U Bein Bridge. It's the world's largest and longest teak bridge, and stretches for around a kilometre or so across some wetlands. Admittedly I don't know how many other all-teak bridges are competing for the honour, but there you go.

    It was a nice little spot, but it seemed like every single tourist in the Mandalay area was here to watch the sunset. Endless busloads, carloads, motorbikes, boats, everyone crowding around to take hundreds of photos of the sun setting behind the bridge. I took a couple of photos (being careful to crop out the piles of garbage lying around), then actually watched the sun setting, unlike almost everyone else who was absorbed in clicking away.

    Once the sun disappeared it was back to the car for the traffic jam back to Mandalay, along with everyone else. Went back to the same dinner spot as last night, since the food was good and cheap. Far less busy tonight which we thought was a little odd as it was Saturday, but oh well. More space for us, and fewer smokers to bother us!

    Back to the hotel and an early night - we have a ridiculous start tomorrow at 3:30am to catch a 4am train!
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