Time to get back to finishing off this trip report.
Taunggyi for balloon festival - the festival is over 5 days with animal balloons in the afternoon and fireworks and lantern balloons at night. Very very popular and the city is packed during the festival. It is possible to take a taxi from Nyaunshwe for just the afternoon evening - but I wasn't comfortable going there alone at night, particularly not knowing exactly what to expect.
Took a taxi from Nyaungshwe to Taunggyi early on Nov 8 - stayed at the KBZ FC hotel. I had to book well in advance or at least my travel agent had to as the hotels are full because of the festival. I had hired a private guide for the 1 1/2 days ( total of $37.50 US)that I was there. She was very good - excellent English. Her Name was Nway Nway Ei and her contact info is [email protected] (?.com) She met me at the hotel and I discovered that I hadn't thought about arranging for a car. Nway arranged for a taxi for the 1 1/2 days - 75,000 kyat.
Saw how sticky rice is made then went to a nat shrine. There was a medium in the shine who acts as an intermediary between the individual and the nat. The individual tells the medium what they want the nat to know and then the medium speaks to the nat. So many beliefs and supersitiions - for example when Nway bought a motorcycle she brought it to show the nat and made an offering - to protect against accidents.
Then off to see preparation of some of the balloons that would be flown that night. Saw the fireworks basket - it can cost up to $2000 to make a fireworks balloon. Unfortunately the balloon that we saw being prepared didn't manage to get airborn and crashed and burned. ($2000 down the tubes). The prizes for the competition are quite large. Also saw a colorful lantern balloon that has hundred of little clear Shan paper baskets of different colors with a candle inside. Each lantern is taped on with masking tape.
After lunch we headed off to the fairgrounds. Cost 3000 kyat. It really reminded of just any fair or exhibition at home - stalls selling all sorts or things, food stalls, gambling stalls, rides for kids, ferris wheel. There was alot of gambling going on with alot of money changing hands - most bets seemed to be for at least 1000 kyat per time. Then off to see the animal balloons. The wind was high the different groups were having difficulty getting the balloons up. One just wound up burning up on the ground. There was a fair wait between each balloon going up so we just watched 4 of them. Back to the hotel to have a rest.
Later in the evening went back to to the festival. All the rides and other structures were lit up making it very colorful. There is a separate stand for foreigners but when the balloons went up everybody was out of the stand to see them better. It was windy and cold - and I do mean cold. There were long waits between the various balloons going up and some had alot of trouble to get aloft because of the wind. They were very pretty in the night sky and some really went high and stayed up for a long time. The firework balloons were really quite spectacular - but can be dangerous. The previous evening one of the balloons did not get up but the fireworks went off while it was on the ground so there was some damage (burned some motorcycles) but don't know if anyone got hurt. Stayed till about 11:45pm - was freezing by then.
Next day saw a procession of trucks and floats of people donating gifts to the monasteries. There really was a huge amount of gifts (robes, cooking utensils and other household type good, money etc. The crowds were really large and it took us an hour to get back to the hotel.
Took a share taxi to the airport - 700 kyat.
The international Mandalay airport is an hour out of Mandalay. It is very western - and very empty. The only people were the ones on my flight. Beware of the women in the washroom who want a tip for giving you soap and towels (make sure you have small change - I didn't). Also beware of anyone guiding you to a taxi etc. (another tip of 1000 kyat (no smaller bills) and he wasn't happy with that. The taxi to the hotel was 12000 kyat.
The "highway" from the airport to the main road was really pretty good, but once you come onto the main road to Mandalay it leaves something to be desired. It really gives the impression of the generals trying to impress with the new airport and road - and then you get back to reality.
I found Mandalay to be a very dusty, dirty unprepossessing city. Dust covers everything - the leaves on the trees, buidlings.
First day in Mandalay was a rest day as I was a bit under the weather. The next day I took the boat to Mingun. The tuk tuk for the transfers to the boat and for driving around in the afternoon was 17,000 kyat. Cost of the boat was 5,000 kyat (need your passport to get the ticket). The guy selling the tickets had really excellent English and when I commented to him about that he said that he had learned English from the missionary schools when Myanmar was still under British rule. The boat left Mandalay at 9:00 am and then returned from Mingun at 1:00 pm arriving in Mandalay at 1:30pm. Lounge chairs on the deck - not the fastest means of transportation but interesting to be able to look at the scenery and the life along the river. On our r arrival at Migun we were greeted by a number of "taxis" - ox carts with a roof on them. I know they were taxis because they had signs on them saying so I had read reports of their being alot of touts but really I found that although there were people around wanting to sell things I really wasn't hassled - at least alot less than I expected. Got to see all the sights - there was supposed to be an entrance fee but somehow I managed not to have to pay it. Didn't see the sign for it until I was leaving. Was it worth? It made an interesting 1/2 day and the boat ride was a nice quite interlude.
Next day off to Amanapura and Sagaing - again using the guesthouse tuk tuk (23,000 kyat for the day). In Amanpura did go see the monks eating - the most interesting part though was to see the several thousand monks lined up and filing past. Tons of tourists - so I would take Kathy's advice and skip the 11:00 meal time and go earlier.
Went on to Sagaing. Must admit I wasn't that impressed, maybe because i was hot and tired and didn't spend all that much time there. Lots of stairs to climb up to the top of Sagaing Hill. Was a bit put off when on the way down I came across a monk and his dog who, after asking permission to take his picture with the dog, then asked me for money and when he took out his wallet it looked like it had quite abit of money in it. I guess I just don't think of monks and this type of thing going together.
Back to Amanapura to see the bridge and to take pictures of the sunset. This is definitely a must do if you go to Mandalay - and you must go out on a boat to get those great shots of the bridge.
Joan - Part 4 - Bagan coming soon
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Time to get back to finishing off this trip report.