Sadly, our time in Bangkok had to end. I got up early, packed, obtained coffee (and a waffle) at Holly’s, and rejoined the others to take a cab to the airport. We were all booked for Royal Silk (Business) Class and therefore invited to visit Thai Airways International’s Royal Silk Lounge, where we enjoyed pork and chicken buns prior to boarding.
On the A320, Royal Silk Class has four rows in a 3×3 configuration, with extended leg and shoulder room. The travel agency sat us all at window seats and thankfully nobody sat next to any of us, so we had plenty of space to sprawl out for the 1:20 flight to Mandalay, Myanmar. Surprisingly, most of the people on the flight appeared to be Caucasian tourists. Even more surprising was the chicken and noodles meal we were fed on such a short flight.
The landing was smooth, though the runway was not. We were unloaded on the Tarmac and bussed to the terminal. Not knowing what to expect, we were greeted with a fairly clean, relatively modern (built in 2000) terminal, where we made our way through customs and retrieved our bags from the baggage claim. Our guide, Mr. Win, a native of Mandalay, showed us to the large van and went over the itinerary and basic Myanmar facts as the driver took us into town.
Looking out the window on our ride to the restaurant, I noticed what seemed to be a fairly dry, but green, climate, numerous mopeds, small shacks along the rivers and streams, and a fair amount of garbage in the streets. It was obvious that we were in a developing country and it reminded me of the Dominican Republic, but with wider streets. It turns out that, since the Myanmar military released control to the civil government in 2010, the country has experienced rapid economic growth. The country is fairly financially stable for the first time in decades.
Our guide ordered us some outstanding dishes at Renaissance Cafe and Restaurant, an outdoor roadside establishmen that seemed to be very popular with bus-loads of other tourists leaving the airport. We enjoyed roasted pork in a black bean sauce, yellow curry chicken with potatoes and onions, vegetables, rice, lentil soup, fruit, and Mandalay beer. Very delicious.
Afterwards, we stopped at U Bein bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world and over 100 years old. Though humid, it was a nice day to enjoy the lake, take pictures, and conquer fears of falling through tall, railing-less, rickety bridges. Before getting back in the van to continue our way to the hotel, Mr. Win walked us through a local monastery, explaining the ways of the monks.
Eventually the streets became wider and busier as we made our way into Mandalay proper. Adam and I checked into our room at the Mandalay Hill Resort and Hotel and enjoyed some WiFi before we met back up with the group in the lobby. Mr. Win brought us to the Shwe Nandaw Kyaung temple of the Golden Palace Monastery, which required shoe removal to explore. Continuing on, we walked barefoot through the Kuthodaw Pagoda grounds, also home of 729 stupas. These Buddhist monuments each contain a stone tablet transcribed by monks with a page of text from the Tipitaka, a book of Buddha’s teachings. It took them only 8 years to complete the transcriptions and they are considered the world’s largest book. Having been recently made a World Heritage Site, it was very full of tourists from a variety of countries.
When we finally escaped the sea of tour buses, Mr. Win took us up to the top of Mandalay Hill, where we battled even more tourists to take the escalator (barefoot!) to the top of the temple to enjoy a mild sunset. Tired from our journey and the day’s activities, we returned to the hotel for a few more beers before collapsing for the evening.