Burma Up North: The Road to Mandalay…

img_1773…sounds romantic and all, but it isn’t so much, really, just asphalt and gravel, like anywhere else. Fortunately there are other options, like the train, plane, or boat. I’d like to say that the boat ride to get here from Bagan makes it all worthwhile—but it doesn’t, not really, though admittedly it is more comfortable than pot-holed roads and betel-chewing Burmese drivers…

At any given moment the average Burmese working stiff is working a wad of chew that would make a Cincinnati Red pitcher green with envy. But don’t startle him or he may accidentally unload a dollop of spittle your direction that just might ruin your day. At least they don’t drive like the maniacs in Thailand. Burma is chilled by comparison—and the roads simply won’t allow it…

img_1744But the river trip really has nothing much to see, not until you get to Sagaing, and that’s an easy day-trip from Mandalay, anyway. It’s not like there are loads of cool river villages and towns to view along the way. There just aren’t. So I’d say the river trip is optional—at best. Burma is not cheap, anyway, so save your money for something more worthwhile, like paying your entry fee to selected sites, like the archaeological zone at Bagan or the human zoo at Inle Lake—free sarcasm available upon request…

But I don’t think Mandalay deserves the bum rap that it sometimes gets. Sure, it’s a big busy city, but I’ve seen worse. At least it’s walk-able, something you’d have difficulty saying about Bangkok, Jakarta, or many other places in SE Asia, or the world, either, for that matter. And what it lacks in charm, it makes up in open space, including a massive palace complex and a commanding hill-as-pilgrimage-site like only Burma really knows how to do it—okay, so maybe China, too…

What I don’t like so much about Mandalay is that the quality of refreshing innocence available elsewhere seems to be singularly lacking here. And of course, that’s most easily measurable amongst the taxi drivers. Whereas in Yangon the first price quoted is pretty accurate and honest, God bless them, in Mandalay that doesn’t hold true, and in fact they can be as rape-atious as anywhere in the world. They beat me on the price from the boat landing to my hotel, so I was on guard after that…

img_1777After the long walk to Mandalay Hill AND a long confusing walk up to the top, I somehow managed to come down a different path, despite my best efforts. So that kind of disorientation is always a good time to hail a taxi, so I proffered offers to the local moto-boys. The first one asked 30,000 kyat (about $25), at which I sggested he needed psychological help, and responded with an offer of 3000, which I figured to be about right, walking away to make my point…

…which is what you have to be willing to do, of course, if you want the right price. Anyway, I walked over, so I figured I could walk back, so that helps. Another bike-boy came up and did the trip for 2500. It also helps if you know the name of landmarks in the local tongue, correctly pronounced and with the right tones. The main market is zeigyo, pronounced zay-joe not ziggy-o. Don’t f*ck with me, m*otherf*cker…

So yes, Mandalay is guilty of the same crimes as Paris and the same samsara pitfalls as Kathmandu, but it ain’t all that bad, really. But no, Mandalay is not a place to fall in love with, more like a place to bide your time, a place for life to happen while you make other plans…

img_1779Those plans could include excursions in any direction, though Shan state to the east is the big lure for me, with close relations to ethnic Tais in Thailand and Laos and China, too, the Far east of the state arguably more ‘Thai’ than Burmese, and an open question for me as to whether and how well I might be able to communicate, what with my knowledge of standard Thai, Laotian and northern Thai dialect…

The Burmese and Thai language have little or nothing in common, unlike Khmer and Thai, unless you count the similarities between the Thai and Burmese words for two-wheeled conveyances, ‘mo-to-cy’ in Thai and ‘mo-to-by’ in Burmese, apparently deriving from a common Sanskrit root (cue laughter)…

Oh well, I guess it’ll have to wait, unless my meditation retreat in Yangon falls through, something Burma has become known for, apparently, though not the inspiration for this trip. But that’s where I’ll go after a brief stop at Inle Lake, and that’s worth more to me than all the travel in the world. Mindlessness or mindfulness? Tough choice, yeah, right…

 

 

 

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