You know what’s ridiculous? It’s four westerners in cycling gear sitting on trishaws being pedalled about town by two locals in street clothes. And that’s exactly how we started our day being taken to meet up with our bikes.
We rode thirty kilometres through the roads around Mandalay this morning. We first visited the only remaining building from the royal palace, all the others having been destroyed in WW2. The remaining building only survived because it was moved to a monastery prior to the war. It’s a lovely wooden building and particularly significant because the government rebuilt the palace buildings with concrete in the 1990s so this one building is the only thing that gives a real sense of how magnificent the original palace must have been.
We rode on to visit a temple that boasts the largest book in the World. The individual pages are on stone slabs so it does depend a bit on your definition of book.
On we rode through farms and small villages. The little roads were quite busy with motorcycles and what the locals call the ‘Chinese Buffalo’. It’s basically a small truck driven by a basic motor stuck out the front where the buffalo used to be in times past. Lots of people said ‘hello’ in either English of Burmese as we passed and gave us a big smile. The bright red teeth of the betel nut chewers is still confronting even when accompanied by a cheery wave.
Today is a full Moon festival so many people are not working. A lot of them were washing in the rivers as we rode past and seeing people standing in muddy water wrapped in a cloth for privacy and pouring water over their head from a bucket is a sobering reflection on how lucky we are to be able to return to a hotel with a pool and a shower.
We stopped after 20km for a visit to a local tea shop. Over the last 20 years tea shops have become the heart of the Myanmar communities. They sell much more than tea and are where people meet and do business on a daily basis. People don’t visit each others’ houses they meet in the tea shop. We had a great meal including the rather bland local delicacy which is a sort of noodle with rice powder.
Much of the remainder of the ride was on bigger roads but even though there was a lot of traffic it felt quite safe – partly because nothing was moving very fast and partly because everyone is used to dodging and weaving around obstacles.
After a quick swim back at the hotel and lunch in a local restaurant, we went to take a look at the royal palace. The palace is an island of 4 square kilometres surrounded by a wide moat and walls. Most of the grounds are used by the military and closed off, but one gate is open and through it you can walk to the palace reconstruction right in the centre of the island. It was interesting enough to see the palace but hard to get inspired when you knew it was rebuilt in 1993 out of concrete. The best bit was the watchtower with a staircase spiralling up the outside to a platform with a lovely view over the palace and the surrounding city.