Saturday 18 February – Mandalay

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The 53 km ride mercifully began early before it got too hot. We crossed town with the morning traffic, mainly motorcycles and an assortment of large and small trucks driven in quite an orderly fashion weaving in and out of each other and manoeuvring through the many uncontrolled intersections without incident. Didn’t feel unsafe although at one left hand turn Mr Win inserted himself and the van into a line of traffic to allow us to cross the flow.

After 11km or so riding alongside the river, we reached the UBien bridge across the Irrawaddy – it has some claim to fame – the longest teak bridge in Asia?
As with the other tourist destinations souvenir sellers and beggars lined the bridge including a woman with a cage full of sparrows and she invited us to pay to release one. On another stall we were grossed out by a plate of spatchcocked field mice and dried fish delicacies. Each to his own!

As the day got hotter we had another “if only the kids could see us now” moment – a previous one was the dusty road to Mandalay – as we cycled across the Irrawaddy on a bridge with shades of the Auckland Harbour Bridge and were impressed with the breadth of the river and the assortment of craft.

The best in category winners continued as we visited a huge pavlova – a white pagoda – some memorial to a lost wife, a 90 ton bell and an unfinished stupa – possibly the ‘largest pile of bricks in the world’ said our day’s briefing. We are in awe of the grandiosity of some of the completed or aborted schemes of previous moguls considering the poverty around them.

Like the colonial wannabes that we are, we enjoyed a slow ride on our own river craft, in reclining deck chairs, downstream back to Mandalay. It was f@#$^^#@ hot and we had a dip in the f#@$^$# freezing hotel pool followed by a shower to ‘warm up’! We ate Thai and the chocolate we finally found was inedible.

Everywhere we have been, but particularly here in Mandalay…….where “there are more monks than anywhere else” we have seen numerous shaved-head monks in their flowing robes of marone, red, orange and variations, clutching begging bowls in one hand and cell phones and I pads in the other. Anybody can become a monk at any age and for as little or as long as they wish as long as they obey the Buddhist precepts. This pathway is also available to females but there are many fewer and they dress in fetching pale pink  – as we drove in to Mandalay, we passed a line of pink nuns carrying baskets on their heads, gliding along the road. I wonder if this an option for children of poor families who have too many mouths to feed. They are respected but probably not revered.

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