Today begins our trip into the serious "never been there or done that" part of this adventure; we start our six night stay in Burma, aka Myanmar. We are supposed to be checked in for the flight by 10AM so we are up at 7AM. We are leaving most of our luggage, including Jack and his new buddy Taz, in storage here at the Shangri-La hotel. Carolyn got the repacking done by last evening so we just have a carry on to check and a bag with the minimum of electronics/cameras. We have an early breakfast and head for the airport in that comfortable Mercedes Benz. At the airport we are met by a uniformed, female employee of the hotel who walks us through flight check-in and secures Carolyn a wheelchair. The wheelchair guy squires us through passport control and walks us to the Bangkok Air Lounge where we wait for the flight. At boarding time another employee returns and takes us to a van that then takes us out to the airplane where, as is becoming usual, we have to climb stairs up into the craft. Why don’t they use the empty skybridges?
We, along with two other families who need extra time, are first on the plane and seated in the first two rows...hey wait a minute Carolyn had booked aisle seats in row 16...guess our seat got changed. We are now row 2 E & F. The plane is full but we luck out with a child in the aisle seat and on some flights these are first class seats where they don’t fill the middle seat so there seems to be a bit more leg room. The flight is only an hour and 45 minutes and they serve a nice, hot lunch! The flight is uneventful, the best kind, and we arrive at Mandalay International Airport on schedule. However, the approach is a little disorienting as Dick’s mental image of Burma is jungle; remember the movie "Merrill’s Marauders?" This place looks like we are landing in Odessa or Midland after a bad drought! Where is the jungle?!
It is a fairly new airport with eight skybridges all lined up across the building with no planes at any of them. And, you guessed it, we roll right on past the skybridges and park about a football field from the terminal and wait for the stairs and bus to roll up. Those of us in the first two rows have been asked to wait. It takes four trips for the bus to get everyone off except us. We then deplane and there is a guy with a wheelchair waiting for Carolyn and another guy holding an umbrella. As soon as Carolyn is seated they start off. The bus is there waiting for Dick and the other family members, but Dick decides to walk with Carolyn minus the umbrella. The two guys pushing the wheelchairs practically run all the way to the terminal. It is extremely hot, but it is also very dry and dusty. Dick finds a weather station on his phone later and we find out it is 102!
Remember the eight skybridges? When we land there are four planes scattered around the four corners of the airport away from the terminal, including a 747, all with stairs and buses. Dick looks at the skybridges and either they have never been used or at least it has been a long time. There are birds nesting in the doorways, more than one has a flat tire or two and there is all kinds of runway equipment using the structures as carports!
OK, welcome to Myanmar!! The porter takes Carolyn through immigration with Dick right behind. We have our electronic visas and have no problem except that it takes the agents a long time to process each passenger. We were last off the plane and were last in line to clear immigration, but it still takes another 20 minutes for the luggage to show up on the carousel; one piece at a time. By this time we have acquired another porter, the one for Carolyn and now one with a luggage cart! Dick retrieves our one carry-on sized bag and the porter puts it on the cart along with the hand bag. We breeze though customs and our driver is waiting for us as we exit the secure area.
Great...things seem to be working. The driver is Win and seems to speak some English though Tin, with Myanmar Shalom Travel, had said that most drivers don’t speak much English, but would have a copy of the program and would know what we wanted. Win takes over directing the porters. Dick stops to exchange $200US into the local currency, 214,000 kyats, and our little parade, with Win in the lead, Carolyn with her porter pushing her chair, the other porter with the big luggage cart with the two small bags and Dick bringing up the rear, head to the car. The porters load the car and we are off. All this service for just $4US. It is just past 3PM and 102 degrees!
The car is a clean ,late model Toyota and once we get Win to turn up the fan on the AC we are good. He tells Carolyn the plan for the afternoon, she agrees and we are off on our latest adventure.
A city of 1,000,000, second largest city in Myanmar, Mandalay is know as a royal city as it was the home to the last capital of the kingdom of Burma from 1861-65 before the British overthrew the king. Also in the general area are other previous capitals: Sagaing, Inwwa and Amarapura. Our first stop will be the hilly area across the river from Mandalay known Sagaing, capitol of the Sagaing Kingdom in the 14th century.
The airport is in the middle of nowhere, but our stops are spread out between the airport and the center of Mandalay. The highway is a new looking, four lane divided highway with very little traffic. We head to the Ayeyarwady River and cross on the old bridge, built by the British in 1934, with a train track in the middle and a lane on each side for cars. Win pulls over for us to get a picture of the new bridge. The Ayeyarwady River is a muddy, shallow, wide river at this point. On our way to Sagaing, we pass through several lively village like areas; lots of food and other little stands and plenty of motorized vehicles of all descriptions.
As we pull in the parking area, there is a party in full swing. The area around the lake is littered with every kind of plastic you can imagine and there must be 15 large buses filled with Burmese and tourists. Dick is not impressed, but Carolyn can’t wait to get out on the lake. Dick thinks she is crazy and at first flat refuses when he see the boats! However, Carolyn finds the guy in charge of the boatmen and Dick agrees to $10US for a trip on the lake with an old man. At least he was not bailing water out of his boat like many others offering their services!
It turns out to be a nice experience and the sunset pictures are really worth the effort. The boatman tries hard to get us to good spots. Some people had the right idea...they have beers and snacks to enjoy as they float around waiting for the sun to go down. It is a nice sunset though the sun sets behind a cloud bank before reaching he horizon. Again, Win is patiently waiting as we pull up to the shore. It was an experience getting Carolyn in the boat and getting out is no better! We are officially done at this point. Hot tired and dusty and ready to move on to the hotel.