Myanmar’s second biggest city, Mandalay, felt slightly less modern than Yangon. The streets were chaotic and stop signs could be added to every city block intersection. Although my inability to walk limited our activities, Nick and I still felt like we left seeing the sites of the city. Like in most Asian cities, we enjoyed the local markets, ate street food and took in the sights around us. Nick didn’t even get sick after eating pig parts from a communal boiling pot. And, he wasn’t charged, as the locals were so impressed by his appetite!
In the evening, we saw a popular comedy act by the Mustache Brothers. These brothers are best known for their criticizing voices against the government in a nation silenced by fear. 2 members of the comedy trio served 6 years of hard labor after joking about the government in 1996 during a performance in Aung San Suu Kyi’s house. Par Par Lay (who is now diseased) stated, “You used to call a thief a thief; now you call him a government servant.” Since their release, the brothers have been banned from performing in their native language, Burmese, and from performing anywhere but in their home theatre. This comedy show and cultural performance was an interesting and entertaining experience.
On our second day in Mandalay, Nick and I drove 11 km out of the city to explore U Bein’s Bridge, the world’s longest teak bridge, 1.2 km long and 200 years old. We continued south to stupa-covered hilltops overlooking the Ayeyarwady River. With over 500 stupas and monasteries, Sagaing felt like a small temple town with windy backroads and rewarding views. From Sagaing, we headed back to Mandalay to see the unique Starving Buddha.
For sunset, we headed to a lookout point 2 km from the city center and our guesthouse. We looked to the left and saw where the sun just dipped below the hills. We looked to our right and saw a river village, something we’d never expect to see so close to the city.
As, we took in the view, a local man pointed to a boat on the river. He simply said, “Buddhist.” We watched the boat, but didn’t exactly know what we were watching. Next, the man pointed to my foot, acted out crutching and we thought he too hurt his foot. We said, “Ah, yes” and pointed to his foot. He left eagerly. After sitting for 30 minutes the river began to glow and although we didn’t understand the meaning, we learned that every full moon a Buddhist boat lines the river with candles. As we sat observing, the local man returned, out of breath, after running to his home to fetch tiger balm. He reached for my leg and without and hesitation started to massage my swollen ankle. As I watched candles sparkle on the river, I sat in awe, reflecting the kindness of the Myanmar people.