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Tag Archives: Mandalay

Mandalay Palace: “I paid $10 for that?!”

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Considering that I paid $10 for the entire town of Bagan filled with plains and plains of temple ruins, it seems absolutely ludicrous that I paid the same amount to visit some silly palace in the middle of some silly protected fortress, putting money right into the governments pocket. Firstly, we hadn’t properly done advance research and learned that it had been completely rebuilt in 1995, possibly with the use of forced labour.

Secondly I had crazily assumed, because of the detailed roads on our tourist map, that the entire area inside the moat would be one giant preserved palace camp ground. However, as we sadly learned, tourists can only enter from [ONE] entrance, and once you’ve been walking all day to FIND that entrance, interest and excitement starts to wane. Once across the moat and the entrance fee is paid, tourists then learn that they can only walk down the main path, and around the old palace grounds. Exploring is forbidden and based on the heavy army presence, I would guess strongly enforced. Also, once across the moat, photos are frowned upon until you reach the palace grounds and it is likely assumed that everything you’ve seen, every army family or naked baby playing with a mangy dog is erased from your memory. “Restricted Area” signs blocked many side roads and military guards kept us in check, so onwards we headed to our allowed destination.

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While the buildings and pathways were stunning, that’s really all there was. More than 2/3 of the buildings in the little lost city stood completely empty and without much ceremony about what was once inside. While the thrones where partially there, 3/7 where in their original places, the purpose of the surrounding rooms was only given away by their names.

DSC02735My favourite place on the whole compound was the watchtower, which just so happened to be one of the original buildings that wasn’t destroyed during WWII. After climbing the 50 steps up around the circular building the rooftop gave way to a perfect view of the whole compound and the back of the 7 tiered spire. It was while standing at the top, watching a couple monks meandering around the grounds with their families that I actually got a sense of history from the whole place. The buildings, despite being rebuilt, truly had a sense of history and ancient life that I could almost close my eyes and imagine scenes unfolding underneath me. I could see people lazily meandering down the paths, or taking their time washing in the bath house under the noon time sun.

It was upon discovering the Archaeological museum that we realized where all the replicas that should have been adorning rooms and buildings around the compound had gone. The museum was “easily” accessible at the very back of the “foreigner area” with the entrance facing what appear to be the gates at the back of the compound. If one were to pay the $10 to enter the palace grounds, they better not miss the two room museum filled with dressed palanquins of the royal families and their cabinet.

 

Bagan to Mandalay via the Irrawaddy River

I think I got my sea legs quite early on, as a young girl the most exciting part of the 8 hour drive to my grandparents was the 45 minute ferry from South Baymouth to Tobermory along Lake Huron on the MS. Chi-Cheemaun. So when Eira said that I could plan our trip through Burma but her only requirement was a day long float down the Irrawaddy river, I was only too happy to oblige.

Sunrise on the bow of a boat. Couldn't be happier.

Sunrise on the bow of a boat. Couldn’t be happier.

After waking at an ungodly 4 am, that was supposed to be 4:30 + snooze thanks to my phone  alarm clock still set on Thai time, (Burma is 1/2 hr behind) we set off for the jetty. I thought that “jetty’ “dock” and “pier” were interchangeable, but what we pulled up to was a boat literally anchored beside the shoreline with a wooden plank for crossing.

Villagers waving at our boat

Villagers waving at our boat

So after precariously balancing from shore to boat, we set off into the sunrise seated firmly on the bow of the boat watching fishing villages rise and get ready for the day all along the shore. As the day progressed and the heat began to rear it’s ugly head, and more and more fisherman happily waved as we passed, we readied ourselves for a long, hot day of little more than lounging, reading and catching up on writing.

Typical home along the river

Typical home along the river

However, tensions are rising along the river, something that we were oblivious about while we merrily sailed down it. The government is starting production of 7 major dams that will allow them to export electricity to China. While this is something that may be good for the economy, the fact of the matter is that it’s causing fighting and hostility between builders and displaced community members all along the river. Not to mention environmentalists concerned about the damage that will be done to the ecosystem when the flow of the river is controlled due to China’s electricity requirements, as well as the possible fate of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. I learned about this after seeing a t-shirt stating “Save the Irrawaddy,” and am glad that we had the opportunity to peacefully sail down the river despite a possibly doomed future.

To read more about the proposed project, the Kachin Development Networking Group keeps an updated list of all developments surrounding the proposed dam sites and villagers reactions.

Recently I’ve been staring at the sky…

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More often than not a camera simply cannot capture the beauty of a moment. Half the time I don’t even bother reaching for my camera, but this time I was lucky. Floating down the Irrawaddy river as we approached Mandalay, the setting sun peaked through the clouds. After a day of reading and writing on the bow of a boat, the perfect breathtaking finale to a peaceful day.

I almost kept this for myself, for a private memory of a lovely reminder how magical the sky can be.

Random Myanmar (Burma), from the road

Despite keeping a constant paperback journal, keeping the world up to date has been just as hard as I imagined it would be.

Internet is spotty in places, electricity randomly cuts out and rooms are double what I budgeted for. Money panic attacks are starting to set in. What that really means is less beer and souveniers.

The people are the smiliest i’ve met and simply walking around on Mandalay Hill this afternoon, I had my picture taken with 3 monks and 4 seperate random people. Also, at least half a dozen women giggled and told me I’m beautiful. This country is good for my ego. I think Myanmar is going to give Thailand a run for its money on who actually deserves the title, “land of smiles.”