Mere Minutes in Mandalay

Ok we just realized we forgot a key story in Bagan so instead of adding it the Bagan section, we thought it was worth it to record it here instead. So pretend we are back in Bagan touring the temples on our e-bikes. Are you there? Cool. (This is what we get for not writing these blog posts the day they occur). So near one of our last e-bike stops we pulled into a temple and these woman ushered us into an area in front of it and said “free parking, free parking” which looking back on it seemed a bit odd because from our entire time in Asia, we only had to pay for parking once for our scooters. Nevertheless free is free so we pulled in and parked. As soon as we walked in the ladies pinned a home-made butterfly on our shirts and said for us to leave our shoes outside. After leaving our shoes outside the temple entrance, we walked away, the ladies said, “remember us, come by our shop after”. Ok, ok. We will, the homemade butterfly pinned to our shirt was a great tactic so that we would stop in once again and they would remember who we were, little did we know how crafty these ladies were when it came to the clever sale. We both agreed that we would take the butterflies off when we left so we could get back to our shoes before being harassed to buy some of their wares. The temple once inside was one of the most beautiful we had seen all day. After we were finished admiring its golden leafed facades we headed back to hop on our e-bikes (sans butterfly pins, cleaver us). As we passed by the shops near the entrance, our ladies were waiting for us. “Hi, hello again, you remember our shop?” We both decided to flatter her and take a look at her shop. There right in front of her trinkets, were our shoes. By far the best sales tactic we had seen all trip happened to also be theivery. Ross was good and said that he already had bought everything that she was selling in the shop; Nat on the other hand caved and bought an anklet to remind her to be more vigilant with sales tactics. 

Ok now onto Mandalay. Due to Natalie’s illness in Bagan, we decided to stay an extra day in Bagan so instead of our regularly scheduled trip time of two full days in Mandalay, we now had a mere five hours to explore the city of Mandalay before our flight out. Before we even arrived to Mandalay the adventure had already begun.We hopped on a bumpy bus that looked like a converted short bus for schools, complete with educational “Magic School Bus” style curtains and sped off towards the city. There was one person on the bus who we nicknamed “Old Yeller” because every time we slowed down or the bus honked its horn, or for any other reason that we couldn’t place, he would stick his head out the folding school bus doors and yell at the people around us. He would also open the sliding doors to spit out the bright red paste accumulating in his mouth, yep, you guessed it… beetle nut. It is a miracle that Natalie slept at all on that bus because with every bump, her head would come flying off Ross’ lap and with every expletive out of “Old Yeller’s” mouth, all she did was flinch in the slightest. This whole trip, Natalie has been the sleeper and Ross has been the gamer – Ross can find wi-fi anywhere to game or find rare Pokémon while Natalie can literally pass out anywhere on any mode of transportation. 

After a good nights sleep in a real hotel (hurray! We love Myanmar prices) and Natalie’s first meal in two days, we decided after much deliberation that the best way to see the town was by car, something we had managed to avoid the whole trip. Our hotel arranged us to meet up with a driver who would take us to the key sights in Mandalay and then would take us to the airport for a flat fee, of about $40 USD. The first stop on our whirlwind tour was a temple that charged $10 USD as an entry fee so we admired it from the outside. Then we headed to “The World’s Largest Book”. Half expecting to see a Harry Potter scale novel sitting behind glass, we headed in. We checked our shoes into a locker outside and took almost two steps on the immaculate tiled floor when a guard stopped to yell at us. Not sure what we were doing wrong, we stopped dead in our tracks. He kept pointing to Natalie’s knees, which were covered by a knee long dress (this was not our first rodeo) we deducted that her dress must have been two centimeters too short and the guard was telling us off for exposing her ‘oh so scandalous’ knees. He kindly offered us a long piece of fabric to tie around Natalie’s waist. It turns out that the Worlds Largest Book is actually not made of paper and certainly not enclosed in a glass box. It is instead inscribed on giant slabs of marble and stone and laid out like a giant temple or immaculately maintained headstones. 

Our second to last stop was a temple that houses a giant golden Buddha, again at the entrance we were both given fabric to hide our scandalous knees and Ross’ sexy ankles. Once inside we learned all about the Buddha’s journey to its current location. It had traveled hundreds of years and survived many wars until it made its final home here in Mandalay. When we entered the temple it became clear that Natalie could only make it so far. Near the viewing platform for the Buddha, there was a very clear sign designating that only men may enter the area near Buddha. While Ross went in to pay his respects through a metal detector towards the golden Buddha, Natalie waited patiently with all of the other ladies. As soon as Ross passed the metal detectors, he was handed a piece of paper with several gold leaf squares attached to it. Unsure what it was for, Ross entered the room housing the holy statute. Seeing a guard at each corner of the room he was nervous to do anything at all. But after observing for a time he realized the gold leaf squares were meant to be applied to the Buddha as all the other men were doing. Ross removed one of the gold leafs and got the attention of one of the guards and pantomimed the action of applying the gold leaf to the Buddha. The guard nodded affirmatively and so Ross eagerly checked for virgin pieces of Buddha’s backside he could affix his leaves to. After showering the back of Buddha with gold Ross left through the exit to look for a bored Natalie.

Our last stop in Mandalay (and Myanmar in total, unless you count the airport) was the a bridge, not just any bridge but one of the longest wooden bridges in the world. We had a total of ten minutes left to see the bridge and head out of there so the the two of us frolicked our way to the center and headed back so we would not miss our flight, or the Bangkok Airways lounge before it. If we had planned a bit better we would have spent more time in Myanmar and we both agreed that our trek was the highlight of the trip so far and the people were by far the kindness, Mingalaba Myanmar, you were beautiful inside and out. 

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