Apr 10, 2014

Mandalay, the last royal capital in Myanmar

Rudyard Kipling wrote, “The Road to Mandalay where the flying
fish play…” Kipling was never in Mandalay and there are no flying fish as it is not on the sea but it is located inland on the Irrawaddy River.  It was the last home of the royal family of Myanmar.  Air Asia now has a direct flight from Bangkok so we decided to revisit because our last visit was seven years ago and it was only for a few hours.  Air Asia offers a free shuttle from the airport into the city which is nearly an hour away.  

Myanmar has become an extremely popular destination in the last two years so hotel rooms are at a premium. I booked early but was on a waiting list for the Ayarwaddy River View Hotel until a few weeks before our arrival. The hotel’s big draw was the rooftop dining room where we watched the sun set followed by Burmese bamboo xylophone music and a puppet show.

One day we hired a taxi to take us to the Royal Palace and had the
driver wait for us which was a good thing as the royal palace is in a huge walled area surrounded by a moat and we probably would not have been able to get a taxi back to the hotel. I read the book “The Glass Palace” which is about the last days of the Burmese kingdom. When the British soldiers arrived at the palace in 1885 the king begged for his life while the queen did not but walked defiantly to the Irrawaddy
where a steamship took them to exile in India. The British turned the area into a fort and much of the palace was destroyed in allied bombing during WW II.  The palace was rebuilt in the 1990s.  Even so it was still interesting with many of the signs written in English.  One of the interesting aspects of travel in this part of the world is that we sometimes become the attraction (let’s face it we look different) so sometimes people want to take our picture. Such was the case with some Buddhists monks at the palace. We reciprocated by taking pictures of them.

Another day we went to Mandalay Hill with many pagodas.  It has
been a popular pilgrimage site for Buddhist people for more than two hundred years.  The devoted walk up the many steps to the top.  I, however, was pleased to see an escalator. There are many beautiful shrines.  I had a flashback to my teaching days as I watched teachers herding their gaggle of students and teaching them the proper way to kneel and pay respect to Buddha.  It took a bit of doing but soon they were all kneeling in a proper manner and then they recited a lovely chant.  

One evening we went to the Mustache Brothers comedy show. The brothers served six years in labor camps for the critical comments they made about the government at a 1996 performance at the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, the world-famous prodemocracy leader. As part of the deal for their early release they are under house arrest and only allowed to perform for foreigners. The show takes place in the garage of their house and includes the wife of one of the brothers who does traditional dances, a couple other family members, and the amazing four-year-old granddaughter who know all the dances.