In order to get to our Myanmar flight we needed to leave Bangkok during rush hour, the taxis would have been very expensive so the only budget option was to take the sky train to a station close to the airport and then a taxi from there. But once we were about to leave, we saw this other backpacker waiting for a taxi so we asked him if he wanted to share, he said yes so we last minute took a comfy taxi for half the price!
Our Air Asia flight was late and cramped as usual but the moment we arrived at Mandalay, Myanmar we just had a smile on our faces. The vibe, the people…. Everybody is just nice and welcoming. It might have been that we just came from rude Thailand but this place is charming. Also it happened to be the day when Myanamar first civilian president in decades took the oath so people were really happy as progress will come (Myanmar had a military ruling for many years). Fun fact: Myanmar previous name was Burma, but in 1989 the ruling military junta decided to officially change the name.
We were supposed to take a free Air Asia shuttle bus to the city center that is about 35 km away, but that bus never showed up (hello 3rd world!!). There were around 15 tourists on our flight so we decided to group with some of them and share a taxi at $2 a person. The drive to the hotel was nice; there is absolutely nothing around but temples, a very bizarre sight.
The hotel staff welcomed us with fresh juice, smiles, a map with good restaurants circled in it and our room key ready. We walked to the #2 best Mandalay restaurant and what a culinary experience we had. On the way there we got intercepted by this nice taxi driver that offered his services to us, we couldn’t resist the laziness of an air-con car instead of walking on a 110 degrees weather, and as you can see in the next photo, the streets here are more like obstacle courses full with booby traps… not really walkable.
We came to Myanmar afraid of the food thanks to Anthony Bourdain not liking it in one of his shows, but we were pleasantly surprised. We order a tamarind salad, spicy red chicken curry, fried mushrooms and the local beer named “Myanmar” (very creative). What we were not aware of is that here they bring you a bunch of free small plates to compliment your main dishes.
We don’t know what all of them were, but we got mushroom curry, white bean curry, marinated artichoke (maybe), potato curry, vegetable plate with spicy fish sauce (Eitan’s worst nightmare in Asia is fish sauce that is used almost in every dish), bamboo shoots soup and for dessert we got fermented tea leaves and roasted nuts. It was incredible and it came up to less than $10. An interesting fact about Burmese cuisine is that it’s very oily; they use the oil to kill all bacteria in the food, so they recommend removing the first oil layer of your food before eating.
Our taxi driver waited for us to eat and after Eitan expressed interest in buying a Longyi (a sarong-like lower-body garment worn by men and women across the land, he took us to a local store so Eitan can buy one. You can see them making them here by very skilled women.
The had a lot of prices depending on the quality, cotton or other fabrics, thicker or thinner, patterns. Of course Eitan with his refined taste in these skirts liked the more expensive one so after trying it with the help of our taxi driver and learning how to tie it down Eitan is now a proud owner of Longyi.
We stopped first at these lion statues in front of Chinthe, the entrance to Mandalay Hill where we will watch the sunset. These lions are the Mandalay symbol.
We then drove all the way up Mandalay hill (only 800 ft) where there is a stunning temple called Sutaungpyei Pagoda from where you can see the sunset. The temple was unique and beautiful, very colorful and with the sunset lighting it just looked magical.
The temple has incredibly detailed and colorful murals all over.
We walked around, took some pictures of the monks and waited for the sun to disappear over Mandalay’s horizon.
We then headed back to the hotel to chill a little but before we headed to the Chinese restaurant to eat. The guidebook recommends eating Burmese food during lunch and Chinese at dinner because as the curry leftovers made during lunch will be sitting there for hours until dinner and that could potentially make us sick. The Chinese food was good but nothing spectacular but the waiters were all young kids that were very courteous and friendly.
Tomorrow we leave for Bagan, the city of of the 3000 temples!
Bonus Pic Of The Day: One of Myanmar’s favorite local dishes is the Fried Vegetarian Jew with Peanut (Item #14), that’s right! here they don’t like Jews who don’t eat meat so they fry them. We tried to order it but unfortunately our waiter sadly told us that Jew season is over. I guess we cannot be called cannibals just yet.
On a serious note, a Jew (vegetable) is nutritious leafy vegetable with a long history and a variety of names. First cultivated in Egypt, it is sometimes known as Egyptian spinach, as well as Jews mallow for its role as a food staple in ancient Jewish culture.
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So, are all these temples used or are they just tourist attractions?