Anthony and Erica on the road to Mandalay 2006 travel blog

Erica and our trishaw driver at the foot of Mandalay Hill -...

The gorgeous old teak temple

Roof detail on the teak temple

Cool temple interior

Strolling monks in the red monk district

Gangster's bikes at the Jade Market!

Nuns collecting alms at the Jade Market

New recruits for the Moustache Brothers

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A variety of Mandalay traffic

I wasn't keen on 12 hours on a ferry, and Erica couldn't face 12 hours on a crowded local bus on bad roads, so for the sake of $35 each we flew. Another fitful night's sleep, too drafty with the air-conditioning, murder without it. And another mad taxi ride to the airport. I am fairly certain all third-world taxi drivers are amphetamine abusers.

At first sight, after driving through a lot of flooded rice paddies from the airport, the city of Mandalay was a bit brain damage; bedlam, and not very attractive, nor was our hotel. On the advice of some guy who seemed to know what he was talking about, we got a trishaw, which is like a rickshaw, but two passengers not just one. That's me facing forward, able to see the approaching traffic and junctions, and Erica facing backwards, peacefully waving to children, oblivious to the danger. Luckily for our driver, it is pretty flat here. Whilst not the quickest way of getting around, we saw a lot more this way, and it was interesting talking to our driver about the situation here. Unsuprisingly, we have yet to hear a good word for the military rulers.

There is an interesting hierarchy at junctions, where big engines over-rule small ones (i.e. cars avoid lorries, unsuprisingly), but perhaps suprisingly, most give way to trishaws and horses and carts, presumably out of respect for how hard it is for them to build up momentum again if they stop. For me, that says a lot about the Burmese character: practical, thoughtful and considerate, but still willing to go full pelt at the crossroads.

Our guy took us to Mandalay Hill, which we toiled up, sweating profusely to the amusement of the locals. Cool on top, as it is the only hill in the middle of a huge flood-plain, but not that photogenic, though interesting nevertheless. After, in the now blazing heat, off we go to visit an old monastery, made of teak, even better than the one we saw in Bagan, absolutely gorgeous. It also changed our view of the city - which had been based on the downtown area where our hotel is. Round the monastery was cool and chilled - though busy and crowded - even more monks and nuns than usual.

As I said before, Erica has a sense of adventure, and was obviously missing the inevitable Tarantino component of our trips. So now at her behest, we went to the Jade Market, which was full of about two thousand Burmese gangsters trying to sell each other gems and jewels, play pool and various gambling games, drink, and generally hang about looking iffey. It was interesting.

Unscathed and back at the hotel, we got the low down on how powercuts are rotated around the city, so we could look forward to having no air-conditioning in our stifling small room. To avoid as much of this as possible we went off to see the Moustache Brothers for a bit of stand-up. Us and about 15 other tourists piled into their front room to watch their act, luckily for us in English, and colloquial English at that, so in fact we were probably the only people there who understood the jokes. The background is this: several years ago, the Brothers took the piss out of the ruling Generals, and the two on the outside of their pic with us got seven years hard labour each for it. Amnesty International did a campaign on them (mentioned in the film About a Boy) and they were eventually freed, but banned from working. They get round this by inviting people to their house to watch them 'rehearse'. Also, I imagine the exposure to and association of foreigners increases their safety (whilst perhaps decreasing ours!). It was interesting - fun and very serious at the same time.

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