The next morning we got up to enjoy breakfast at the hotel and promptly got ready to explore Mandalay. The Lonely Planet had a recommended walking path that we glimpsed at as a reference, but followed about 5% of it. The general direction was towards the river, and we aimed to see a few things on the way, but mostly to just get the feeling of the place. As per usual we opted for smaller, less busy looking streets, where you mostly find locals in their essence.
We were marveled at the amount of the old architecture sprawled around town. Most constructions are pretty well preserved, giving you an idea of what this place looked like over 100 years ago. Everywhere we went we were greeted by big smiles and ‘Minglabar!” (Hello in Burmese) We found a local eatery where we enjoyed a yummy noodle soup for less than 1USD.
We passed a few monasteries on the way (Who would have figured?), and one specially stood up because it was made out of solid teak wood and very beautiful. At a smaller one, a monk stopped us to make some conversation using the few words he knew.
After wandering aimlessly for a few hours, we reached the canal to find ourselves right next to the mini U-Bein bridge, constructed out of teak as well.
We crossed it to find two pigs playing on the other end, causing quite a commotion. We walked until we reached the mighty Irrawaddy river. A nice looking cafe was waiting for us there, and we went in for a coffee. They were out though, so we opted for a beer instead. We sat and chatted for a bit, overlooking the poor community of houses and people that live just by the river.
Once the beer was finished, we decided to go walking among them. In other countries you might choose to stay out of the slums but there, it looked inviting. The houses around us were made with whatever material was available to them: bamboo, wood, corrugated iron, tarpaulins, plastic signs etc. Some of the vehicles parked around the place were feats of engineering, and have possibly been running for over 50 years. There were kids playing all around the place and, happy to see us there, some would follow us for a while.
We found two groups of men playing takraw – a mix between football and volleyball. The first were younger, the latter much more experienced. They were both fun to watch regardless and it was cool to see them in their element and showing some mad skills.
It was really interesting for me to watch two kids playing “flip a card”. It took a while for me to understand the rules of the game, but the crazy thing was, if one of them actually ‘won’ and therefore had all the cards in his possession, he would just split it in half so they could start over again. Basically, it was all about the game, winning not being at all the goal, and I really liked that idea…
We walked around the place until the sun disappeared over the horizon.
After it got dark we started our walk back. On the way we passed a display of colorful lanterns, that had paintings with speech bubbles on them. We also went past a few strange LED filled places, even some with Xmas like decor. Other than that, the street was quiet apart for some traffic. By the time we returned we were more than ready to eat, and once we got that out of the way, ready to pass out for the day – we had walked for about 5-6 hours and were dead tired!
The next day we rested and took it easy. We had a bus to catch at 2pm, so we checked out and walked to the station. When we were almost there, two girls called out to me from a bike. I recognized them because they worked at the hotel, and they had my travel wallet in their hands, which I had hidden a bit too well and left behind in our room. I hadn’t even noticed it was missing, so it was a strange and overwhelming feeling to have it returned to me so promptly. This Burmese people certainly have their hospitality skills way up there – specially compared to the rest of SE Asia so far…