Yes, I know Bangkok isn’t in Myanmar! Our connection in Bangkok from Hong Kong to Mandalay was too short and we missed our flight. Quite disappointing, but we rallied and stayed the night at a hotel previously recommended by our Bhutan tour guide. There, we enjoyed our first real street food, and I had an excellent massage.
In Mandalay, we ate a dinner of traditional Burmese salads and curries, and as you heard from Ruby, the next day we took a cooking class to learn how to make those dishes. It was more than just a cooking class; it was a full-day adventure that gave us a local’s view of Mandalay. Our guide took us to a market to shop for ingredients, then we stopped at a tea shop for ‘second breakfast’. Tea shops are the center of Burmese culture, but hard for a foreigner to navigate alone because English is rare. With our guide along, we were able to sample everything (with an explanation).
Next we were taken to a beautiful indoor/outdoor cooking pavilion and each made six delicious Burmese dishes ourselves. It was way too much food, and so good we stuffed ourselves until we had to stop. Luckily, then it was naptime!
Later in the afternoon, we took a bicycle ride around the countryside. Ruby intrepidly handled a bike that was too big for her as we rode past fields and villages. We then ended our day atop a scenic hill at an interesting monastery watching the sunset.
As we had heard, Mandalay is hot and dusty. Whenever we returned to our sweet air-conditioned room (a 4-person hostel dorm reserved just for us), it was a visceral relief.
So, our third and final day in Mandalay was mostly a “business day” where we relaxed in our room and caught up on photos, email, blogging, etc. In the evening, we watched some of an elaborate fountain show in the moat surrounding the royal palace. There were many different types of jets, colored lights, and synchronized music. Ruby was rapt.
We ended our visit with a Moustache Brothers show. It’s hard to explain the Moustache Brothers, but if you’ve seen the Moisture Festival in Seattle or hung out with a circus family, it would have felt familiar. This family-run show consisted of an MC (one of the Brothers) joking and ranting about the previous military regime, interspersed with pieces of Burmese dance (some serious, some comic). The vaudevillian feel was mixed with a sense of horror about the treatment of the Burmese people over the last decades. The Moustache Brothers themselves were imprisoned for six years for joking about the government.
Things in Myanmar seem to be improving politically now. Our guide felt comfortable talking about Aung San Suu Kyi in a tea shop (former hotbed of government informers), and at a temple we saw her on the cover of several publications for sale.