Thursday, May 31, 2012

Myanmar / Thailand Trip Recap (5)

Day 6 - Mandalay

We left Bagan in the morning and boarded a plane to Mandalay.  (Air Mandalay operate a daily route from Yangon - Bagan - Mandalay - Heho - Yangon.  Our departure time gets later and later with each city we visit.)  Instead of a 10+ hours bus ride through the mountains, we arrived in Mandalay after 45 minutes.

Our guide is already waiting for us at the airport.  He can almost pass as the twin for Mark Dacascos (Iron Chef America's Chairman)!  While we were in the car admiring the area and raved about how delicious the local mangoes were, he pulled out 2 mangoes and gave them to us!  WOW!  How nice of him!

almost the size of my hand
Maybe it's due to the city's former prosperity and / or colonial influences, everything in Mandalay seems very modern even compared to Yangon, including the roads.  Our guide told us the speed limit on the highway is 100km/h, but there is no monitoring and traffic is sparse.  So, you can go as fast as you want.  However, drive at your own risk as the punishment for any accident resulting into death of another person with land you in a Burmese jail - for life.  (not sure if the same law applies to foreigners but can you live with yourself after killing or even injuring another person?)

going 100 km per hour
rice fields in the hot season and sunflower fields in the cool season
they rode like this all the way to down, which is almost another hour or so
Our first stop of the day is the Mahagandhayon Monastery, one of the largest teaching monasteries in the town of Amarapura.  There are approximately 1,400 monks living and learning the teachings of Budda here.  Tourists gather here to observe "lunch time for monks" and believes come here to donate.  That day, we were very lucky to not only observe but participate in the lunch line.  It was an amazing experience to participate in a custom so highly revered by the locals.

cats we met at the monastery
 curious? me too :)
novice monks
temporary monks - his family is here to donate to the monastery by feeding 1000+
Since 90% of the population is Buddists, monks are highly revered in the country and it's amazing to see how religion is infused with the everyday lives.  It is not unusual to see monks doing their alms rounds in the local communities early morning and  Burmese considered it a great honor to donate to monks.  In addition, every man in the country will shave their heads and become a short-term monk at least twice in their lives.  It is also common to see females with recently shaved heads who has just return from being a short-term nun.  Unlike Chinese monks, Burmese monks are allowed to eat meat and secularize at will.  However, they are not allowed to eat solid food after noon (liquids such as juice, coffee are allowed).  

how to cook for 1000+ people
segregation of duties apply here as well...
what the tourist are all here for... *blush*

After we left the monastery, we went to see the U Bein Bridge, a 1.2 km wooden footbridge (longest teak bridge in the world) built by the mayor U Bein salvaging the unwanted teak columns from the old palace during the move to Mandalay.  Another popular tourist destination and you can find so many amazing photographs of the bridge online. 

napping is good for you

she sure knows where to enjoy quality DND time

Finally, lunch time for the hungry tourists!  We went for traditional Burmese food again.

After lunch, we visited a few of the local craft shops and went to the Mandalay Royal Palace.  It's a replica since the original was destroyed during WWII and much of the valuables were looted by the Brits during the colonial period.  The palace grounds, aside of the palace replica,  is now occupied by the militia and entry is strictly prohibited and monitored.  Again, my guide warned me not to take pictures if I see any soldiers and the military posts.  The palace area is very secluded to the point it was eerie.  There were no other travelers inside and almost no sound.  It's a completely different experience from visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing.

handmade silk sarong
cheat sheet for intricate patterns

No day is completed in Myanmar without visiting yet another temple.  More commonly known as the "World's Biggest Book", or the Kuthodaw Pagoda, this is a beautiful temple with the main stupa modelled after the Shwezigon Pagoda we just saw in Bagan.  But the temple's main draw is the 730 stone-inscription caves, each containing a marble slab inscribed on both sides with a page of text from the Tipitaka, the entire Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism.  This copy of the Tipitaka is known to be the most complete and accurate version as it was built by King Mindon, who has gathered all the scholars and senior monks to discuss and interpret the book.


We ended the day viewing the beautiful sunset on Mandalay hill.  Since we tarried too long in town, even with the "Initial D" style driving from our driver, we barely missed the sunset but got a fun ride instead.

sunset @ Mandalay hill - the field is covered with temples
supermarket dinner
It's one of those days when you really started to ponder about the rise and fall of an empire, impacts of wars, clashes of different cultures, and what people would do in the name of religion.  "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  Our world will be a much better place if more people would just learn to respect, understand, and tolerate.


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