|I took a quick flight from Inle Lake to Mandalay which avoided a long bumpy bus ride. Mandalay is the second largest city in Burma, and the last royal capital in the country. I planned to walk around my first day, but I ran into a nice bicycle trishaw driver who showed me the city. The driver was a retired teacher and around 65 years old. He knew all about Mandalay, but I felt a little funny sitting in my padded seat while this older man broke a sweat peddling me around the city.
During the day I was able to see traditional gold leaf, laquerware, and textile factories. Then after dinner (see below) I went to see a show by the Moustache Brothers. This troupe performs traditional a-nyeint pwe shows which include folk opera, dance, music, and jokes. Unfortunately, the generals running Burma don't have much of a sense of humor. In 1996, two of the brothers were arrested for making political jokes, and they spent five years in prison. Amazingly, they are back together and doing shows for tourists out of their home which (they hope) avoids the government ban on their performances.
Here is a good article on Burma from the NY Times travel section: Treading Lightly on the Road to Mandalay This piece gives a good overview of traveling in Burma, including a paragraph on the Moustache Brothers, and the underlying issues that make the country unique.
After checking out Mandalay for a day, I took a suggestion from my travel guide and tried a roadside barbeque restaurant. By midnight I knew something was wrong, and a couple hours later I had chills and felt terrible, so I asked the hotel to call a doctor for me.
Dr. Muang Muang Gyi showed up at 3am. He was fluent in English, and I got the impression these middle of the night calls were the majority of his practice. He examined me patiently, diagnosed gastroenteritis (aka food poisoning), and gave me five (5) different medicines! One for my fever, one viral antibiotic, one bacterial antibiotic, one medicine for diarrhea, and one more for something else! The total doctor bill was only $60.
I spent the next 36 hours in bed, and then it was time to depart. Since my stomach was still not fully settled, I was glad to have booked a river boat to take me down the Ayeyarwady to Bagan.
Bagan sits East of the Ayeyarwady River, and is dotted with around 3,000 remaining temples. Many of the temples were built during the period from around 1050 to 1300 AD. While the ancient architecture is impressive, the draw of Bagan is not any particular site or building. What hits you is the sheer volume of temples, so that when you look in any direction, you see hundreds of stone, brick and gold peaks trailing off to the horizon. I tried to capture that view in a couple photos, and while I don't think I was successful, I hope you get a sense of what I mean.
Next stop is Chin State, and I will be traveling back in time another century or two!