After yesterday’s whirlwind tour of Mandalay’s northeast temples and palaces, we had just the Mahamuni Buddha Temple south of our hotel to check out. Then we relaxed until the late afternoon for our evening flight to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
We rented free bikes from the Home Hotel (a nice little perk), they were relatively new one-speed cruisers.
The route to Mahamuni Temple is straight south 2.5 km, easy enough, but the traffic in Mandalay is hard to navigate. Very few intersections have stoplights. In this particular intersection the stoplights are broken so the cars, motorbikes and pedestrians are left to police themselves.
There were few foreign tourists at Mahamuni Temple. We took our time exploring the various buildings on the grounds.
In the vendor area, a local woman prepared a complicated dish-to-order from the ingredients which were all piled on a large platter she balanced on top of her head. Impressive!
In the main temple, women can view the huge gold seated Buddha live from a blurry TV.
Meanwhile, men can line up to touch the Buddha and / or add gold leaf to his body which is already 6-inch deep in gold leaves.
I read about this temple in my Lonely Planet guide, a local grandmother was quoted as saying that nowhere in Buddhist scripture did it promote this gender inequality and she hopes to one day be able to apply gold leaf to the Buddha image herself.
The temple complex has lovely courtyards.
And this adorable, curious baby who kept staring at me as I repeatedly waved at him.
Maurice, always a gracious celebrity, was asked to pose for a couple photos with a group of local men in front of a huge gong.
After visiting the temple, we rode our bikes around to the more residential sections in west Mandalay near the Ayeyarwady River and various canals. Other than the 90+ Fahrenheit heat, this was a pretty pleasant ride. Unlike downtown, these neighborhoods had less stressful intersections. We paused at the entrance to the Jade Market, unfortunately we were told it was closed on this day (Tuesday).
We then biked back to our hotel the long way, more west and north and then back east. We returned our bikes, then set out for lunch. We went to Aung Lin Restaurant, a family run Chinese restaurant a few blocks from our hotel. The owners and the young boys working there were all very nice (they spoke English and Chinese) and the portions were big.
We walked to the nearby Mandalay Railway Station after lunch as Maurice loves train stations. This was in truly poor shape. The tracks, the train cars and inside the building itself were covered in trash and betel nut juice stains. At least a dozen families were camped out in the lower level of the train station. We suspected many of those families were homeless and used it as shelter from the harsh sun.
While walking to the train station, I noticed a bill on the floor, mostly covered by dust. I picked it up, finally, my LUCKY MONEY! I was now the proud owner of 5 kyats, yes, FIVE kyats, the equivalent of 0.4 US cents.
I kept the bill as a souvenir, it was the lowest denomination bill either of us have come across. If we gave it to a homeless family, they would probably just laugh at us.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to get some pastries at Gold Medal Bakery. Then we chilled in the lobby until our taxi arrived to take us to Mandalay International Airport.
The airport is 35 km south of the city. It was built in 1999 and is still the most modern airport in Myanmar. The funny thing is it has the longest runway in Southeast Asia and has the capacity to process 3 million passengers per year. However, it currently only connects 11 domestic and 4 international destinations and in 2012 processed less than 600,000 passengers – for comparison Bangkok’s main international airport (BKK) processes 53 million passengers a year.
We noticed the vast emptiness of the international departure area from check-in counters through to security through to the gates. International sanctions on Myanmar must have really dampened Mandalay Airport’s ambitions to be an important Southeast Asian hub in the last couple decades.
Here is our small Bangkok Airways propeller plane which took us to Chiang Mai.
We took off during the sunset with rural Mandalay province below us.
We arrived after dark in Chiang Mai.
At Chiang Mai airport, we proceeded through to Immigration. We’re entering Thailand for the second time on our yolomimo trip. The immigration officer gave Maurice a hard time.
Officer: This, where is it? (He points at the birth place line on the passport that says “Ramat Gan”)
Maurice: In Israel.
Officer: Israel… And you live in New York? And you are from France?
Officer: Why do you keep moving everywhere like that? (He draws a big triangle with his hand)
Maurice: What can I say… I just live and work in New York.
Officer: What do you do, what’s your occupation?
Maurice: I am engineer.
Officer: An engineer? What kind of engineer?
Maurice: Computer engineer.
Officer: This is the last time you come here? (He points at the previous departure stamp on Maurice’s passport)
Maurice: Yes. I was just in Myanmar for vacation with my fiancée (pointing at me) and now I am back in Thailand for more vacation.
Officer: And you guys were together the whole time? (He points at both of us).
I nod my head.
Officer: OK, you go. (He hand’s back Maurice’s passport and shoos him away).
I went up to grumpy immigration officer next. It took me only twenty seconds.
Officer: Oh you are American Asian?
Officer: OK enjoy your trip.
Last but not least we took a short 4 km taxi ride – Chiang Mai’s walled old city is almost within walking distance to their airport – to our hotel the 3 Sis Bed and Breakfast, here is our obligatory hotel room walkthrough video.
That concluded our awesome week and half in Myanmar – the biggest culture shock thus far – we were back in the relative comfort and familiarity of Thailand and excited to plan day trips and explore Chiang Mai for the next three days.