THE RETURN TO MANDALAY or
BYE BYE BURMA
28 Day Expense Report Included at the End
I am outside Mr. Kid’s Hsipaw guesthouse at 5:30 am and the bus is right on time. The bus trip is surprisingly fast. I sleep the first 2 hours. We arrive in Mandalay at 10:30 am, earlier than I expected. Taking a scooter taxi from the bus station to the AD1 guesthouse I must look a sight. The driver has my large backpack between himself and the handlebars, while I wear my day pack and camera bag hanging onto the seat by fingertips.
Checking in, I find a fairly basic room but clean with a private BR (hot shower)–a big step up from the last Mandalay dump and about the same price. The staff is warm and friendly Free wifi and a rooftop breakfast are included. They arrange a shared taxi to the airport for me the following morning with a civilized 10:15 am pickup.
With the benefit of time on my side I want to check out the two attractions I had hoped to see last time here. I take a moto-taxi to the bottom of Mandalay Hill and do the 45 minute barefoot walk up 1,729 steps to the top, enjoying the views and shooting photographs. It is a somewhat laborious and sweaty climb and I see very few tourists on the way up; although, there are a few stations with the usual vendors looking quite bored.
When I get to the top I discover there are lots of tourists. Apparently, there is a modern elevator from a parking lot where the jumbo tourist buses park. As this is a most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site, it somehow seems unproper to me to cheat your way up. I am glad I walked and yes sometimes ignorance is bliss.
As sunset nears, the edges become packed with tourists. I decide I have seen enough sunsets and do not want to fight the crowds for a little peek. I head down 20 minutes or so before the sunset. About halfway down and all alone, I get a surprise and am treated to the most unique and magical sunset view through a garden and over the Irrawaddy! Who says there is no such thing as karma?
In the evening I take another moto to see the Moustache Brothers perform. Two of the three brothers served six years of hard labor for making jokes about the regime during a performance at the home of Aung San Suu Kyi in 1996. Pressure from Amnesty International, Suu Kyi (herself under house arrest for 15 years and currently a member of the parliament) and such American heavy-weight comedians as Bill Maher finally resulted in their release.
Currently under house arrest, they still perform in the garage of their house with their wives and a couple of grown children. Combining song, dance, video, cardboard signs and political commentary, some of the humor is a bit obscure and hard to understand for Westerners as only one brother speaks some English. But I feel like I am witnessing a small part of history. An appropriate ending to my month in Burma.
My 12:50 pm Air Asia flight to Bangkok the following day is smooth and I am back at New Siam II almost before I know it. Talk about culture shock. In Myanmar, they roll up the sidewalks and turn the lights out after 7:00 pm (if there is even electricity that day). Here, I go out for a drink and dinner at 9:00 pm and get a massage after that. I have landed back in the present time and all the convenience that encompasses. As I drift off into a deep sleep, there is only one thought. Ta-ta and mingalaba. I cannot wait to return to Burma!
Expense Report for My Month in Burma (28 days in USD)
Entertainment (incl. tours): $158.52
Total: $ 1,145.02
Daily Average: $ 40.89
- Not included-Air Asia flight Bangkok to Yangon- $104.16
- Not included – Air Asia flight Mandalay to Bangkok – $152.00
- Included – Air Asia internal flight Inle to Mandalay
- When I left Bangkok I figured expenses would be higher than in Thailand so I budgeted $50/day. As you can see, I came in 20% under. I left Thailand with $2,500 in brand new crisp $100 bills (these are absolutely necessary for travel in Myanmar). I returned to Thailand with over $1,000 unspent. I liked that. btw, Burma is probably the safest place on earth to walk around with cash (see my travel tips).