HCMC Dining Guide

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Mandalay Mosquito Massacre

The morning bus from Bagan to Mandalay afforded the first daytime glimpses of Myanmar's countryside. It was dry, as the monsoon rains hadn't made their way this far north yet. Extreme poverty was obvious, with oxen turning water wells outside of thatch-roof hovels and dirty children scampering around. The overwhelmingly flat terrain was broken up here and there by ranges of low hills. Our route went through Meiktila, the site of communal violence between local Muslims and Buddhists this March that forced the government to declare a state of emergency and left at least 20 dead. Large parts of the town haven't been rebuilt, and blocks of burned-out buildings offered testament to Myanmar's simmering ethnic tensions.

After six hours we arrived at Mandalay's main bus station, which resembled a flooded landfill more than a bus station. A rustbucket of a taxi (the vast majority of cars in Myanmar are at least 15-20 years old) took us into the city center, and we weren't impressed. Yangon had been fairly cosmopolitan, but Mandalay was dirty, crowded and partially flooded. Our hotel was near the main market, where the streets bustled with commerce and were covered in garbage and flyblown buckets of chicken meat. Anthony and I immediately decided that one night would be sufficient here, and then went for a walk.

One of Mandalay's most significant sites is the old palace, which housed the Burmese monarchy until it was abolished by the British. A broad moat surrounds the palace, behind which sit brick walls and towers. Most of the buildings within the grounds were destroyed during World War II, and the government used forced labor to rebuild it a couple of decades ago. We didn't have any interest in seeing the inside.
We quickly became bored, and the sarcastic video I posted a couple of weeks ago was born.

Dinner was good though.
Even though our hotel cost $20 a night it had no a/c and no hot water, with only a weak fan offering relief from the summer heat. The windows had screens, but they were unable to keep mosquitoes out. A vicious battle between man and insect ensued, and I quickly realized that I am very good at killing mosquitoes. Within minutes there were at least 15 splattered on the wall or on my hands. The room seemed to clear eventually and we were able to get some sleep.
the market area
The following morning we took a pickup to Mandalay hill, which overlooks the city and has a series of temples climbing up its sides.

The Irrawaddy River

The Shan hills in the distance
After sweating our way up and down the hill we decided to visit the zoo to kill some more time before our evening bus out of the city. The zoo seemed nice at first, but it became gradually more depressing as we walked along. Many of the animal enclosures were tiny and made of concrete. The bears were terribly underweight, and we even saw a couple of monks blowing cigarette smoke into the faces of monkeys. (How does that fit with Buddhism?) We also saw a 5-foot snake slither across the sidewalk in front us, a discomforting sight in a country with one of the highest rates of snakebites in the world. I'm not sure why I expected this zoo to be any better than the others I've seen in Asia, as animals are mistreated almost everywhere on this continent.

I realize I may have been a bit harsh on Mandalay, but compared to Yangon, Bagan and especially Ha Giang it was a dump. It's just another city, and I'm starting to realize that cities aren't necessarily the best places to travel to. One thing I will say is that the people were lovely, as they are everywhere in Myanmar. Honest, helpful and warm - I hope that never changes. We were now on our way to Kalaw, a town in the Shan hills famous for its trekking routes that turned into the highlight of the trip. 

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