The travel time from Mahamuni Paya to U Bein’s Bridge in Amarapura took about 45 minutes or so. And within those minutes I saw how crazy the traffic is or the lack of it. “Anyone can just drive motorbikes here, even young ones” says Olsen, my motorbike driver. No wonder, nobody is really teaching people how to drive here. And as farther we leave the city, the road also seemed to be a blur. Sometimes we would just turn and find a road I wasn’t even sure it was. “How about license?” I asked. Most people don’t have it since its very hard to get and expensive. If people get into trouble they just pay a fee. Despite the chaotic road traffic, I’m somewhat comfortable with his driving skills since he assured me he doesn’t “Drink and Drive”
From Mandalay Hill, we continued on our “US$10 Combo Ticket Free” route in Mandalay. The US$10 Combo Ticket is a government fee that can give access to several tourist sites in Mandalay. I wasn’t keen on spending on it as I’ll use it to pay for my driver instead. There are alternative sites in Mandalay that are equally good but doesn’t need that combo ticket. Like the Sandamuni Paya which is an alternative to the nearby Kuthodaw Paya. Mandalay Hill sometimes has ticket inspectors but an alternative hill is Yankin Paya. Now we’re off to two more impressive sites – a beautiful ‘teak monastery’ and the most important religious site in Mandalay.
The soles of my feet already felt very thick it would probably take a few foot scrub sessions to take out the dead skin and callouses from too much walking. By this time, after entering many temples and sacred grounds for almost a week, I’m already used to removing my footwear before entering temples. For Mandalay Hill, my next place to visit, I had to remove my slippers before climbing the 760-feet high hill. I really don’t mind the climb since after the two gigantic Bobyoki Nat guardian statues is a shaded stair pathway leading to the summit. What amused me was the footwear storage at the foot of the hill with a sign “Footwear not Allowed. Don’t carry shoes” clearly directed at foreigners where they’ll have to pay to store them. I saw a lot of locals carrying their shoes inside plastics so I just decided to clip my slippers to my bag and started the climb.
I arrived at the familiarly busy, Highway Bus Station in Mandalay by 6am. I was wide awake, having been able to sleep during the bus ride due to exhaustion. I waded through the crowd of touts by the bus entrance and immediately tried to look for motorbike ride to town. A guy with cleanly pressed white long-sleeved shirt wearing a red longyi hailed if I needed a ride. He seemed decent enough and his English quite good so I hired him to take me to downtown. I’m glad I’m back in Mandalay.
The motorized long boat roared through the lake waters coming from the boat landing site. It seemed funny that I have the whole boat all to myself as I sit in the middle chair. Each chair has umbrellas for passengers to use. I only have 2 hours to spare on my tour around the Inle Lake but Monterey, my boatman and guide said it would be enough to explore the top portion of the lake. We will visit a couple of villages, tomato farms and a small factory where they make cheroot, a local cylindrical cigar.
I realized I haven’t eaten breakfast since I was too caught up trying to work around some obstacles after arriving in Inle Lake. So with the Balloon Festival happening in the next town of Taunggyi, all the accommodations in Inle Lake were all fully booked. Prices have also somewhat shot up like the accommodations and tours the town offers. Good thing the food prices haven’t changed. I got a very tasty Fried Rice Chicken for 2000 kyat for brunch before exploring this little town north of Inle Lake.
If only I could say “stop!” while our mini-bus rode through the rolling terrain of Kalaw State at the break of dawn. I wanted to halt the mini-bus not because my legs and feet remained immobile for hours. My legs were cramped in a corner, just behind the front seats of a full, air-cooled mini-bus headed to Inle Lake, but the scenery at Kalaw state and the rest of the Shan hills vast expanse were draped in a mysterious mist billowing overland. The morning sun cast beams of light in the mist resulting to a dramatic diffusion of light and shadows over the hilly plateau. It was one of the most magnificent sights I’ve seen on the road.