This was the first leg of my trip. I was finally on my way to a country described as one of the most welcoming and beautiful in all of South-East Asia. I was in Myanmar or should I call it Burma, either way – I’d arrived.
Walking into the Mandalay arrivals hall I was greeted by enthusiastic taxi touts, I was wary and went to take out some cash to bide some time and figure out what I wanted to do. I decided to go for the taxi as the price seemed very reasonable. I passed my cash over to the enthusiastic young english speaker and then was passed on to 3 or 4 different people with everyone taking a cut of the money. I was a little worried, would I get to the taxi and be asked to pay again? Would they claim we hadn’t paid enough? little did I know I had nothing to fear, the honesty and kindness the Burmese people showed me was second to none.
When taking taxis in a foreign land there is always the concern that they have absolutely no idea where you want to go. He was smiling and nodding but there’s always a worry in the back of your head that says you’re going to end up half an hour in the wrong direction with no idea where to find your hotel. This wasn’t helped by the sheer size of Mandalay itself – it’s huge and the streets run for far longer than you’d imagine. It’s a truly vast city. I felt ashamed for doubting my driver’s skills as I arrived at the hotel and made my way in with two bell boys helping me with my bag.
The hotel was pretty basic and I had to expect it really, it was one of the cheapest I could find but the staff were friendly and really wanted to help me get to know the city. I decided to walk myself lost.
The first thing I noticed was how different each building was, everyone had clearly set out to design their house in a certain way and each was beautiful in that it showed the character of the owner. I was struck by the diversity of everyone’s home, so far gone from the uniform nature of the Bangkok skyline I’d become accustomed to in the days before my visit.
I was travelling in the run up to the first elections held for decades and the city was full of hope and smiles. I couldn’t comprehend the love that was being passed through so many smiling happy faces.
A friend I was with, who was a bit more travel hardened than I, tried to work out what they wanted from us, surely there must be some kind of ulterior motive? Yet I never had the slightest inkling that anything was false, or that there was any underlying motive for their kindness, the people of Mandalay were full of love and it showed!
The traffic is wild! It takes a little while to get into the flow of the city. Meandering through parked bikes, diving around market stalls, all the while switching my attention to traffic firing towards me in all directions. You’re at the mercy of the city and it’s invigorating. There’s music in city life, navigating through the traffic is your dance and Mandalay plays a relentless rhythm.
My first trip to the city only lasted one night but I managed to catch a sunset at the U-Bein Bridge. Much like the rest of my experience in the country, I was shocked at how spiritual it felt. Watching the sunset and taking a few minutes to myself, connecting with the calm water, I was in awe.
In just 24 hours the city had taken me for a ride, in the best possible sense. I was ashamed of the prejudice I brought with me, but was ultimately left weak by the beauty I found in nature and my fellow human beings. What a way to start my trip in a country that continually took my breath away. I would be returning soon enough but until then, onto my next stop, Bagan.