24 hours in Mandalay

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At the end of my 10-day trip in Burma, I found myself alone and with only a day to visit Mandalay. What does one do with only 24 hours in Mandalay?

Bike to Mandalay Hill

After checking into to a mediocre room at the Nylon Hotel, I quickly grab a bike for a dollar and head for Mandalay Hill. This means biking around the giant fort walls of the Mandalay Palace in the slow lane, flanking old ladies with their pretty flowered longyis and staying out of the way of dirty city buses.

I figure that I will be able to see the rows of souvenirs stands and then I will know, this is where I go. Instead I pass monasteries, a golf course and then… houses. I had apparently navigated to the road less traveled (shocking, I know) and ended up… lost.

Time for me to get out my map and put on the classic “help me I’m a confused tourist!” face. As if consoling a puppy, a kind woman with an extremely large goiter amassed on the left side of her neck assures me that yes, I’m in the right place. Just a little ways further.
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Found it. I leave my bike with two elder monks and start walking up the seemingly endless steps. There are monks lounging, red robes drying in the wind, skinny dogs and couples discretely making out.

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It is hot as hell. I make it to the top and the views are lovely but it’s really the breeze that I’m loving.

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I wander around the gold and mirrored columns, too tired to take pictures, before sitting down to finish up George Orwell’s Burmese Days.

One of the best things about traveling alone is the random people that come up and talk to you.

For some reason, I just love it. No sooner do I sit down, do two sisters shyly ask if they can bother me to practice their English. They ask me the typical questions taught in English classes; where I’m from (“Oh US, do you know John?”), what music do I like, how many countries I’ve traveled to, etc.

They try to teach me how to say “I love you” in Burmese. I fail miserably.

They giggle as they tell me that Korean movies are their favorite because the boys are the cutest.

I ask them if they’ve ever left Burma and they silently shake their heads.

Mandalay Hill is apparently a great place to watch sunsets but it’s mid-afternoon and it’s hot. So I head down those hellish steps and decide to enjoy my last Burmese sunset from around the fort walls.

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Mandalay is very dark at night. There are no street lights. Which is good because I’m totally an ignorance is bliss kind of girl, so I don’t need to see the thing that crawls across my flip-flop. I don’t need to know if it’s a cockroach or a large spider. Because I honestly don’t know which one I would prefer.

I’m still shaking off gross bug thoughts when I find a bar whose reflective mirrored doors make me wonder if this is my entrance into white slavery. Turns out this is V Cafe / Skybar and there is a wicked rooftop bar and cheap Mandalay Sours. (Thank you Lonely Planet.)

U-Bien-Bridge

U Bein’s Bridge

The next morning I get up before sunrise at 4am to visit U Bein’s Bridge. A private driver in an old Jeep with a broken speedometer takes me there in the dark, past the night markets and slums to the oldest and longest teak wood bridge in the world. The sunrise is muted because of the clouds but it is quiet and peaceful.

At this time of the day, there is only one other traveler, a rather odd German dude who is kind enough to take a photo of me and wish me a good life.

meg-u-bein-bridgeThere are several monks who smile and try to practice their English. One even gives me a very rehearsed “May I ask you, I’ve always wanted to know what does the saying ‘the pot calling the kettle black’ mean?” #buddistpickuplines

I chat with him for a while and we discuss politics (the Lady sold us out!), what is important in life (having a good heart), why monks eat meat (as long as it’s not tiger or elephant it’s ok) and why I must come back to Burma.

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It is the perfect way to end my trip to Burma.

Practical Tips: 1) Book your guesthouse in advance. Royal Guesthouse was highly recommended but when I called 2 days in advance it was already full. 2) Grab the free Air Asia shuttle to Mandalay airport, it is easy, clean and FREE, saving you $10 – $15.

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