Romantic and exotic Mandalay? Or…


By
 the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ eastward to the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”

Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay;
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay,
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay

extract from Mandalay by Rudyard Kipling (1919)

My mother enjoys reading poetry, and perhaps it this poem by Rudyard Kipling that evoked a perception of Mandalay being romantic, exotic…  She was interested to know whether it lived up to the perception.

Well Mum, I guess it depends on your idea of romance.

Romantic and exotic?  Yeah, nah...

Romantic and exotic? Yeah, nah…

This was the road I had to walk down to/from the hotel – and skating and sliding my way to the hotel didn’t seem very romantic nor exotic.  Just messy.

I didn’t enjoy Mandalay.  It was hot, muddy, noisy, congested – in fact, there was really nothing that I found redeeming about the city at all.  Perhaps that is partially my fault for not making the effort to get out of the city.  Sorry Mandalay – I know I didn’t give you a fair go, and I’m sure you could have shown me a nicer, calmer more pleasant side if only I had tried.  But I just couldn’t bring myself to make that effort. Maybe another time…

Young nuns collecting alms at the market

Young nuns collecting alms at the market

Onions galore!

Onions galore!

(And that was about the extent of my photography in Mandalay – pathetic!)

A wrap up of Myanmar

Just about everything I had read/heard from previous travellers to Myanmar indicated they had a positive experience, and found Myanmar a wonderful country to travel in.  I think for me, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  If I had been in a different mind-set, and was there at a different time of year, I could have had a better time of it.  Don’t get me wrong – there were definitely good days and experiences, but overall, I struggled at times to enjoy what the country has to offer.

  • I didn’t pick the easiest country to adjust to travelling on my own – although others have found it at easy place to travel solo.
  • It was rainy and muddy!   Myanmar is not a pleasant place to during the muddy rainy season – and I was there at the end of it (hoping for the best).   There are more dirt roads than sealed roads, and they turn to red sandy mud making it difficult and messy to get around.  Even the sealed roads are potholed and lack footpaths so that you’re still walking in mud.  Although there were a few gorgeous blue-sky days, the regular rain became just a tad depressing after a while.
  • I struggled to enjoy Myanmar food.  I did have the odd good curry, but the underlying flavours and smells in the cooking really put me off for some reason.  The curries were quite oily, often with a layer of oil floating on top which helps preserve food that traditionally would have sat around all day, unrefrigerated.
  • Myanmar is noisy!  OK, much of Asia is noisy, but the constant noise here really got to me.  Even the rural areas were noisy.  Cars, buses and trucks constantly toot their horns as they pass you on a road.  And it goes all night long, making it difficult to sleep.  In Inle Lake, they had these horribly. loud tractor-trucks that rumbled along the main roads, and my hotel road, starting at 4.30am on their way to markets presumably.  The noise was constant, and irritating.
  • There are a LOT of temples and pagodas here.  In fact, every sight-seeing activity or tour that you can organise involves a visit to a temple or 3 as they are such a significant part of the culture and daily life of the people here. But after a while, they start to look alike and it’s all becomes very ‘same same, not much different’.
  • Bottom line, I think I was just getting travel-weary.  Being on the move continually gets tiring.  I did try to mitigate that my reducing the number of places that I visited and stayed longer so that I could have some relaxing ‘down’ time.

Many travellers come away from Mynamar saying that the people here are some of the friendliest people in SE Asia.  It was refreshing to be able to walk around and not be constantly hounded by people wanting something to sell you something.  Unlike in Indonesia where we were continually stopped for a chat and photo op, the locals here appeared to be more reserved, shy and even indifferent.  Sometimes I’d get a shy smile and a nod, and very occasionally I’d have someone walk up and ask me where I was from – but mostly I found it difficult to strike up conversations with locals other than hotel staff and travel agents.   Not knowing any of the local language didn’t help matters, of course.  The lovely horse cart driver that I had in Bagan was an exception – he was quite happy to chat away.

I didn’t see all the places that I planned to see in Myanmar, and in the end I cut my travels here short by 10 days.  I was ready to move on, and needed to head somewhere where I knew I could reignite my spark. (And I did!).

I would hate for my comments to put anyone off going to Myanmar.  I know that I really didn’t give it a fair go, and that I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to make the most of my time there.  Bagan and Inle Lake were definite highlights for me and worthy of a visit as are some of the other areas that I didn’t get to, but heard good things about while talking to others.

IMG_0964

 See – it wasn’t ALL bad!  I did have some fun!

So what next?

I’m currently in the Andaman Islands of southern Thailand:  Krabi, Koh Phi Phi (against my better judgement), Koh Lanta and Koh Kradan.  I’m going to fill up my two weeks here with lots of swimming, snorkelling and reading.  Oh yeah, and having my fill of tasty Thai food.

I’m not sure if this part of the trip will warrant a blog post.  It would only make you jealous as you suffer crappy cold weather back in NZ while I’m lazing away in the sun.  We’ll see – maybe I’ll share a few photos – but I don’t think I’ll be doing too much that is news worthy!

Bring on the sunshine and turquoise ocean waters!

About BusyLizzy

Normally I live in NZ but having re-discovered the joys of independent travel over the last few years, I decided it was 'now or never' and am taking some time out to see what the world has to offer.
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2 Responses to Romantic and exotic Mandalay? Or…

  1. Nick says:

    I’m re-reading this after your Tilos blog (many moons into the future) and, despite the mud and crowds, your photos give a great sense of the energy of the place and shots like the last one really show how amazing the place is.

    • BusyLizzy says:

      I just re-read the post myself. Wow – it’s like a blast from the past – it seems so long ago. Comparing Burma and Tilos? It can’t be done. My experiences in each were so different in every way, but I think it’s fair to say that I was pretty relaxed and laid back in Tilos. Maybe not so much in Burma. It would be interesting go back and see how I get on. ONe day, maybe.

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