Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

We finally made it to Myanmar. Minnesota may have 10,000 lakes, but Myanmar must have well over 100,000 pagodas. We started our month in Myanmar with 3 days in Mandalay. The weather in February is perfect. High 80, low 60, and low humidity. It feels really nice to not be sweaty for a change.

After reading that Myanmar was selected as a top travel destination in 2016, I expected way more tourists, especially since we are here what is supposed to be the high season. But we hear that tourism is down about 50% this year, mostly due to bad press over the Rohingya troubles.

I first visited Myanmar in May, 1987, back when it was still called Burma. It was, by far, the most broken country I had never seen. There was basically no manufacturing, and no imported goods. Tourists could only visit 4 cities then on a 1 week visa. There were almost no cars, only bicycles and some really sad buses. I was very curious to see how things have changed. And it has changed a lot!

There are many new roads, new airports, new hotels/restaurants, and you can now buy most everything. There are some peculiarities tho, such as they drive on right, using mostly cars with steering wheel on the right too. In Mandalay there are surprisingly few taxis, so its a bit tricky getting around town. You pretty much need to just hire a driver for the day (only about $35 for a full day).

We did an excellent street food tour (which might have made us sick), and went to most of the major pagodas in the area. My favorite Burmese food so far is Mohinga, a fish-based noodle soup. Overall I like the food, but it can often be too greasy and/or salty. The combination of smoke, haze and pollution made visibility bad, but the sites were still impressive. A surprising number of the temples are quite new, or recently rebuilt.

I went on a Burmese history kick, and read a bunch of historical fiction to try to better understand this country, whose history is both fascinating and fucked up. I particularly enjoyed “Twilight over Burma”, “The Glass Palace”, and “The Trouser People”. I also watched several episodes of the show ‘101 East‘ that focused on Myanmar.

We stayed in the house of a young couple who both got scholarships to universities in Virginia, and returned to Myanmar to work in Dad’s businesses (a water bottling company and a noodle restaurant). They were very interesting to chat with about Myanmar’s history and politics.

Mandalay photos are here.

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