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As per special request, I have broken this trip report into two parts. The first is here:

We will now proceed with the second section, which begins on the road to Mandalay (Mandalay airport, that is):

Mandalay International Airport is located a long distance from the city center and the drive took the better part of an hour. My friend had her hands over her face for most of the ride, as the driver weaved in and out of traffic in typical fashion and it probably seemed as if he were about to hit at least one of every type of conveyance on the road. Near the airport, the road suddenly became the superhighway type, minus the banking and grading. Our guide, Nyi Nyi, who was to accompany us to Inle Lake as planned, told us that this had been built by a “private company,” and was therefore in much better shape than the norm. We passed no other cars while we were on this portion of the trip. A large gold-lettered sign at the entrance to the terminal area reads “Mandalay Internation l Airport.” (One letter has slipped into oblivion). Next to the sign, a few dilapidated horse carts stand, their drivers fast asleep under a nearby tree. How can you not love this country?

The airport is new. The vast halls were empty and there were few opportunities to buy anything more than packaged snacks and drinks in the café area adjacent to the boarding gates. Our flight on Air Bagan, destined for Heho, departed on time, at 8:45am. Almost all of our fellow passengers were German, with the exception of an elderly Pandaw couple who were bound for the Inle Princess Resort. I had snagged a window seat but the view was virtually non existent due to the haze, and it was not until we were no more than 10 minutes out of Heho that I began to notice the landscape below. The green and rolling hills signaled that this was very different country than we had seen along the river.

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