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Nov. 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving! We flew from Bagan to Mandalay this morning - a 30 minute flight. This is the second largest city in Myanmar with 5 million people. Unlike Yangon, people are allowed to ride motorbikes and motorcycles in the city so there are far fewer cars and therefore less traffic congestion. You can see whole families riding on a motorbike - babies upfront with dad, and mom riding side saddle in back - zipping in and out around busses and cars. And everyone drives with their horns.

Mandalay was established in 1856 by King Mingun. In 1885, the British troops came in and sent the king and queen into exile to India. Mandalay is on a direct route through the mountains to China and many of the businesses in Mandalay are owned by the Chinese. Also, human trafficking is a big problem because of the closeness to China. Many young girls are lured away from their rural villages with promises of better, higher paying jobs only to find that their job is as a prostitute in China or Thailand.


Our first stop was to see the Mahamuni Buddha, a huge sitting golden Buddha which is considered the most sacred shrine in Mandalay. It was erected in 1718 but it has become fatter and fatter each year with the addition of more and more gold leaf. Unfortunately, we couldn't see the body of the Buddha as it was covered with a brown robe like a monk. Today was Full Moon Day, one of the 12 major holidays celebrated by the Burmese people. On this day, donations are made to the monks, including new robes, umbrellas, sandals, pots and pans, as well as money. And this is a day when everyone pays their respect to Buddha. So it seemed like all of Mandalay was visiting the Golden Buddha. On the plus side, we learned alot about Buddhist practices and Full Moon Day. In fact our guide followed the traditions and gave a gift of a robe, umbrella and sandals to a monk she encountered on the property.

We then visited a gold leaf workshop where sheets of gold are beaten into gossamer thin pieces. Placing gold leaf on a Buddha image is supposed to bring great merit to the faithful, so there is a steady growth of gold layers on Buddha statues throughout Myanmar.

All but one of the 114 buildings on the palace grounds was destroyed during WWII. The only thing that remains is the huge moat that surrounded the palace. The one remaining building was moved and reassembled. It is made of teak with intricate carvings inside and out. The carvings inside depict the life of the last Buddha in great detail.

After lunch we checked into our hotel, the Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel. This is another beautiful hotel, very oriental in design, and the bed is much more comfortable than in Bagan.

We then headed to Mandalay Hill for a panoramic sunset view. To get to the top, we piled into the back of a pickup truck (which is the standard taxi service for the locals.) It was like Mr. Toad's wild ride as the road was windy and bumpy and our driver was in a big hurry. Once we arrived at the end of the road, we took off our shoes and socks as this is also a pagoda. It is a very ornate building and due to the holiday, there were alot of people visiting the site. Since our guide Bunny had given gifts to a monk, she followed the local practice and rang a bell three times to show that a good deed had been done.

Although dinner was not included in today's itinerary, Bunny arranged for all of us to eat together at a local restaurant to celebrate our Thanksgiving and her Full Moon Day. We didn't have turkey or pumpkin pie but Bunny gave us all a package of candy made from pumpkin. What a nice gesture (and it was yummy).


Nov. 27

After breakfast, we boarded the bus for a visit to the world's largest book in the Kuthodaw Pagoda. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pages of the book are carved in stone and each page is inside of a stupa or shrine. There are 730 pages and stupas in all. If stacked on top of each other, they would be as high as a 5 story building. It took seven years between 1860-1868 to complete the carving of the book. It contains the teachings of Buddhism. There was a small scale replica depiction of the whole site, which included a pagoda and other shrines.



We then boarded a boat for a ride up the Irrawaddy River to the village of Mingun. It was a really pleasant ride, almost cool. We passed local fishermen hauling in nets and women washing clothes in the river.

We walked around the village to get a glimpse of the local culture and to view one of the world's largest ringing bells. Cast in 1808, it is still uncracked and weighs in at 90 tons. It is said that people ring this bell after performing a good deed so they can share with others the merit they earned. Burmese Buddhists consider this one of the world's sweetest sounds.


Our last stop in Mandalay was to the longest wooden bridge in Burma. The U Bein footbridge stretches 3/4 of a mile over the shallow Thang Thaman Lake. It is constructed of teak planks and has withstood the elements for more than two centuries. We walked a little ways over the bridge but it was so crowded we soon gave up and went down below to watch the sunset.


This was our last day in Myanmar. Tomorrow we say goodby to our wonderful guide, Bunny, and fly to Bangkok, Thailand for the start of the main tour. We really enjoyed our time in Myanmar and are so glad we decided to do the pre-trip.


To view more photos from our trip to Mandalay, please go to Mandalay Photo Gallery. To read about the next location visited, go to Bangkok.

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