Today was the best riding we’ve done so far. We rode on back tracks South of Mandalay, where the ancient capital was based, through small villages and rice paddies being ploughed with oxen. There we pagodas everywhere. Literally you couldn’t go a moment without several in sight.
We stopped a couple of times on the ride. First to see monks alms bowls being made by beating the bottom of 44-gallon drums into shape, then to visit a lovely carved temple that was still in use even though it was a remnant of a time when this area housed the nation’s capital several hundred years ago. We also climbed to the top of some old temples and visited a weaving factory and a dyeing workshop with brightly coloured hanks of silk and cotton drying in the Sun. Each town specialises in a particular thing so the dyeing township was filled with racks of brightly coloured twine beside the river.
The ride itself was bumpy but the villages made it fascinating especially because we were greeted everywhere with big smiles and cries of either ‘hello’ or ‘mengalabar’ depending on how much English the crier had.
At one point we crossed a river on a tiny local ferry with our bikes stacked in the space by the prow as we tried to fend off the un-needed help of the local shouty-man who seemingly couldn’t help both helping and shouting at everyone.
Our initial destination was the longest teak bridge in the World. When the capital and the palaces were moved further north there was a lot of stuff left behind, this included enough teak pillars and wood to create a winding, long bridge over the flood plains. It was unexpectedly packed with local visitors, a long way up, quite rickety, and completely lacking in safety features like a rail – so a scary experience.
We used a much more modern bridge to drive over the river for lunch and a visit to a hill completely covered in monasteries and pagodas. The sheer number was the attraction because we’re getting a bit blasé about gold stupas and buddha statues now.
As we prepared to leave things went downhill and I started being demonstratively sick. The timing wasn’t great as we had a three hours drive ahead of us and a very basic hotel next on the list. Suffice it to say it wasn’t a great drive or night and only got worse when Callum also fell ill. But the great morning made it all worthwhile – at least it seems that way now I’m feeling better again.