Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A few quick tips on Mandalay

I think I hate Mandalay. 

It's noisy, traffic-filled, dirty, and most of the time it seems to be dusty, hot and very windy. 

When it rains hard, as it does sometimes in the wet season, the streets all flood. The sidewalks / pedestrian pavements are raised a few inches above the roads, and so are more likely to be dry - but guess what? You can't walk on them because idiots keep parking their motorbikes across them. So you end up having to step out into the streets into the filthy floodwater, which is probably contaminated with god knows what (various neighbourhoods smell like sewage after it rains, and there's dog and cats everywhere so loads of faeces, and piles of rotting garbage are common) nor do you know how deep it is. So your boots / shoes / sandals will get contaminated, too!

This is the worst place I've been in Burma for squalor, dirt, garbage, and child beggars. There are several families living alongside the overpass to the train station, living, eating and shitting on the pavements next to the passing traffic. I walk past them as I go to and from my hotel. It's rather upsetting.

The moat around Mandalay Palace. Wide concrete pavements and plenty of trees alongside the moat
make this a popular area for local picnics. Unfortunately there's lots of traffic.
There are also very few shops or cafes along these streets, so bring plenty of water.

Rant over - if you're still planning to go here, a few tips:

Assuming you're going to be staying in the centre, which is quite a spread out area (from around 22nd to 34th streets), try and avoid a hotel on any of the main north-south streets (78th and 84th are the busiest, but all of them seem to have some traffic). The smaller east-west streets seem to be quieter.

Also avoid the train station (the first train out in the morning, the 4am to Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw, blows its horn REALLY loudly as it departs).

Mandalay Hill
If you want to climb Mandalay Hill, you don't HAVE to leave your shoes at the manned shoe stand at the base of the hill. Yes, they have a big sign up in English and Burmese saying it's disrespectful to carry your shoes, so please leave them at the base. But you'll notice pretty much every single local carries their shoes - the sign is simply to make money, as you can't get your shoes back from the shoe stand without paying 200 kyat. If you'd rather leave your shoes, by all means - just don't be fooled into thinking you have to or else you'll be rude.

Mandalay Hill doesn't look very high when you approach, but the route to the top goes a long way back from the road, as well as up. When it's 40 degrees celcius, believe me, those steps seem to go on forever. Luckily, there are plenty of vendors selling cold drinks on the way up. There are also several cafes, although they all appeared closed when I climbed it (on a weekday).

View from Mandalay hill: the foreground is a resort and the zoo, then the moat, then the Mandalay
Palace complex (which you can only enter with a $10 tourist ticket). The rest of the central
area is mostly lacking in greenery, so here's where you come to get your green fix.

If you're looking for groceries / supplies, you've got a couple of options. There's a big wet market on 86th (between 28th and 26th), as well as a large, well-stocked supermarket in the basement of the Diamond Plaza mall (78th and 33rd).

The best sights are out of town - next time, we'll explore Amarapura and Sagaing Hill.

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