I was going to visit Mingun today to see its main attraction, a large bell, but it would have meant being out all day when I was aware I needed to arrange transport and accommodation for tomorrow. So instead I had a leisurely morning and went out on the hunt for wifi. I actually found a cafe with free wifi but it had a cap on uploads so I wasn’t able to do my blog or upload photos, and I had to eat a dodgy samosa in order to stay there so I’m expecting bad things in the tummy department tomorrow. Everything is arranged for going to Pyin Oo Lwin now though so I can totally relax today.
Since I had to pay the evil $10 tourist tax for Mandalay yesterday (evil because it goes to the government) I may as well get some more use out of it so I attempted to walk to Mandalay Palace and Fort. It would have been a short 5 minute walk but only one entrance is open to foreigners (god knows why.. what’s lurking inside the other three entrances?) so I had to go to the opposite side. I didn’t get far before everyone told me it was miles away so I had to get on a scooter again.
The original Mandalay Palace was burnt down in WWII and the resulting reconstruction was built using allegedly forced labour. All the buildings were empty and I was left wondering when it was last used, as all the signs talked about kings and queens of the past before the palace would have been rebuilt.
I decided to climb a tower that looked like a giant helter skelter, and when I reached the top I started to hear shrieks and thunderous footsteps coming from below. Within moments I was mobbed by a group of excitable primary school children who couldn’t believe their luck on stumbling upon a Westerner. They all tried out their English and insisted I take a photo of them, then in the blink of an eye they disappeared back down the stairs shouting “byeeeee!”
My final stop of the day was Mandalay Hill for sunset. For some unknown reason I had pictured Mandalay Hill in my mind as a large grassy hill, the kind you can sit down on, read a book, have a picnic and generally relax. Quite why I imagined that I don’t know, because in reality it was another covered walkway of steps up to a series of temples and Buddhas. Many steps.
The shrine at the top was one of the more interesting ones though; this one was colourful in a classy way rather than a fluorescent lights kind of way.
My motorbike driver (who turned out to be a maniac on the road) waited for me then drove me to a chapatti stall which I tried to find two nights ago. I sat on a miniature chair in the street and had a feast of curry, rice, chapatti and little side dishes all for about $2.50.
Practical information: The distance around the fort seems a reasonably doable walk on the Lonely Planet map but it’s really not, plus the roads around the fort are really hard to cross on foot. The Mandalay Hill complex is free but there’s a 1000 kyat tax if you have a camera, which I managed to avoid by being oblivious and not noticing the collection table.