There’s not much to say about the next two days – they were almost exclusively spent travelling.
After leaving the ship, we took the coach and had a tour of the some of the highlights of Mandalay. It’s an interesting city and seemed to me to be cleaner that Yangon – but that could be because I am just more used to Burma. They have a huge problem with rubbish here – plastic bags have entered their world without any thought of how they are going to get rid of them all. As many of the villages don’t even have sewers or running water, I think the idea of garbage collection is quite far down the list. My guide today told me that she volunteers once a month to collect plastic bags from the streets, as do many of the other people who are concerned about keeping their area beautiful.
Of course, the Mandalay excursions included… a few pagodas!! I am almost (but not quite) embarrassed to say that I actually slept through one of the stops. Nobody bothered to wake me as they got off the coach, because they all recognised that twenty minutes sleep was probably going to be more useful to me than another pagoda. So no more Buddha images today.
Don’t get me wrong, here – I have loved some of them. They are fascinating and an essential part of the culture here. I wouldn’t have missed them, particularly the ones that had some unusual facet, such as thousands of niches each containing an individual Buddha. But I did think that some of them were so similar to each other that we could have managed with seeing a selection based on diversity. A minor quibble – but I’m glad I grabbed a quick nap, because it set me up for the afternoon.
There was nothing formal planned – so three of us decided we were off to the shops. One husband trailed along, but he was a very easy going chap who wandered off and did his own thing, leaving us ladies to hunt for fabric bargains – and of course, I ended up with even more longyis (as predicted). I’m going to have the fabric of one of them made into a dress, though – so I don’t feel so bad about it.
And so to our farewell dinner at the Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel – a very nice hotel, with a great pool that I might have been tempted to dip into had the lure of the market not been greater. Our dinner was in the gardens – only slightly less exciting because it decided to rain – but it was warm, so I didn’t care.
One of my best memories of this hotel was the beautifully lit garden with lots of new friends enjoying themselves – but I have to admit that the little waiter who brought be a gin and tonic to my room as I was getting ready brought a smile to my face when he said ‘Please – have happy gin tonic and nice drink.’ Such lovely people – and all I’ve learned to say is hello and thank you.
Another early start, with a 6.30 departure from the hotel to the airport, which was an experience in itself. Mandalay airport doesn’t believe in signs, it would seem. There was no indication where we should go to check in, and my fear of a $200 bill for excess baggage was unfounded as they didn’t even bother weighing it, and completely ignored the fact that I had a 15 kilo hand luggage bag, plus a separate bag containing computer, iPad, document wallet, etc – probably weighing another 6 kilos.
When we eventually worked out which gate we were leaving from, it seemed that there were at least four flights leaving for Lake Inle all within about 10 minutes of each other. Convinced that it was the same flight with different carriers taking space on it, I leapt to my feet each time tickets were being collected. However, we had all been given a sticky badge to wear, and it became something of a joke as I stood up for each flight and the ticket collector looked at my badge and said ‘no you now’. In fact, there was a cheer when he waved me through! There were no signs, no announcements, and the people collecting the tickets didn’t speak English – so it was all down to the sticky back plastic badges.
I arrived at Heho airport (the airport for the lake) in pouring rain. This is the dry season (of course it is) and very unusual. Tomorrow I have the whole day on the lake in an open boat, so all my friends in Alderney who laughed at my purple rain poncho can apologise now! It’s going to be essential.
But for now, I’ve had a relaxing afternoon reading. The hotel is lovely, but not what I expected. I paid extra for a lake view, and when I arrived I was told that the lake is the other side of the town, but I have a very nice room looking out over the duck pond. Close, I suppose!
But it’s a great room, (the picture is only the bedroom and balcony – there’s a sitting room too) and I had lunch in the restaurant of steamed butterfish in a ginger chilli sauce – which was delicious. Tonight, I am going to have their special taster menu of about twenty dishes! This time, the real, authentic, Burmese food.
Tomorrow, rain or shine, is going to be a highlight. We’re going all round the lake in a boat – floating markets, the lot. But we’re also going to a silk shop again – and they make special fabric from lotus leaves that costs ‘only $100 per metre’ but apparently sells for over $2000 a metre in the US. I might have to think about that!