A transit truck picked me up just before 5:30 am to take me to the main bus that would ultimately bring me to Mandalay. The bus got delayed multiple times due to traffic sending our final arrival of 11:30 am further and further back to one o’clock. Luckily I managed to get on the free transit ride into the city before navigating my way towards my desired guesthouse. Lately I have been using an offline mapping app called maps.me which had been extremely helpful in getting around as it has a wealth of street names, restaurants, accommodations, points of interest, etc. listed in these small, pocket corner cities. The more I use these handy devices, the more I wonder how people traveled back in the day, even ten years ago. On the way to the guesthouse I passed a variety of markets all filled with a disarray of produce and otherwise as well as a chaos of human interaction. Cars, vans, and motorbikes weaved amongst each other and hit standstills before passing through the most narrow of corridors to progress forward or backward. It was pure and utter chaos and the locals stared at me as if I walked into some otherworldly universe unlike their own, which I most certainly had. After finding the guesthouse, I lucked into a cheap room that they just so happened to have, possibly due to my perceived apprehension over paying for their original lowest room on offer. Either way, I scored a room to my own on the top floor with a couple mattresses on the floor and a shrine lofted on an altar with Buddha images, incense sticks, and possibly tea offerings. I met a couple blokes downstairs in the lobby who were going to Mandalay Hill, a destination on my to do list in Mandalay, so we split a taxi fee to the base of the hill. One guy, Vim, was a 31 year old Brit with Indian descent and Seb, a 24 year old Australian was unlike any Aussie I have ever met in terms of how focused he is on the meditative side of life and the deeper layers (he is a former Engineering student as well that gave it up for photography). We took the long walk up the many flights of stairs barefoot, since each level of the hill going up had some sort of shrine or giant Buddha image. The hill was quite quiet, a place to take your time in getting all the way up to enjoy the serenity with some conversation and meditation. Eventually we reached the last staircase to the summit where an onslaught of tourist buses arrived on the double since it was nearing sunset, the prime moment of the day for a view. The view was not overly special since the skyline was clouded by an overly present haze that sucked out the light and oxygen, a seemingly intolerable situation for locals but one they deal with on an unhealthy daily basis. The main shrine that crowned Mandalay Hill was a new change of pace as many of the walls and hallways were lined with a mixture of broken glass cut into different small shapes creating a funky house of mirrors and the brightest yellows, reds, blues, greens, etc. like a carnival. Back at the bottom of the hill we boarded a share taxi but this time of the motorbike variety. Seb lucked into his own while Vim squeezed in between the driver and me. The traffic in Mandalay is a hell-storm that requires the utmost focus to avoid getting yourself killed yet blind ambition to cut through the most narrow of gaps that preach salvation. We arrived safely with Vim and I getting quite close over the course of the ride. After which we ate up some street food served to us by a cheery rotund Burmese boy that seemed to be running the show for his family’s stand. Seb had had a long day so he ended his night while Vim and I went on a nearby walking tour. First stop brought us to a golden lit temple that seemed to act as a park for the locals who came to the area to sit down, relax, and socialize since it is one of the few places to convene outside of the muck and mire of Mandalay filth. Also, we found the site has nightly movie screenings on a stand up board drive-in movie style as a Bollywood movie filled the surrounding airwaves. After getting lost in search of our shoes, we wanted to look for the night market. A random man peeking behind his storefront gate told us it closes normally at ten o’clock, a familiar theme to the many things that die early in the night in Myanmar, regardless of whether it be village or big city. The man turned out to be a doctor with some working knowledge of the English language so we chatted out of curiosity of each other. I never got the opportunity to ask but I wish knew whether the man has ever left his country borders due to his regard as a doctor of medicine. Back at the guesthouse’s lobby, I told Vim of my plan to rent a motorbike to tour the surrounding areas of Mandalay as a full on day trip. Originally he planned on leaving tomorrow but I managed to convince him to split the motorbike and gas fees for a thrilling day on the road. After booking a bus ticket to Kalaw for the following morning (not willing to deal with a night bus again for the time being that would arrive at 4 in the morning) where I would be able to hike to Inle Lake, a prime tourist destination, I prepared myself to go to sleep. Since my room was so cheap for doing it solo, I had to use the communal toilet and bathroom on the main floor. My senses got exposed to a new kind of funk, one that had a certain malodorous quality similar to rotten, fermented eggs and a dash of death. The shower room was most potent as it had a large and deep rectangular bath home to a murky cesspool of undesirables. Since it had the only ledge in sight, I had no choice but to precariously balance my toiletry bag there while I squeamish images filled my mind of me pulling out my belongings. Once outside of that closet of death and despair, I was able to sleep calmly after I took the long, awkward walk through the lobby and up the four flights of stairs with only the given pink towel wrapped around my hairy body. With Buddha watching over me inside my room and a fan spinning purposefully, the night called me to sleep.
Breaking Burma Day 97: A Delayed Return to Mandalay