11 August 2017 - partly cloudy, 32°C
There was not time for sunrise shooting this morning as we had a flight to catch. So after having breakfast at 6:30am we finished packing our bags, checked out of the Pas Cher Hotel at 7:30 and walked to Siphon Taksin station, and caught the BTS to Siam then switched line and through to Paya Thai. We then bought tickets and jumped on the airport train.
We arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport at 9am, did the obligatory check in, immigration etc then walked through airside into another high end shopping mall. After checking the board for our gate number we started walking in that direction ( there are 2 directions to walk once you come through customs ), but after walking for a few minutes I glanced at the departures board again and found that they had changed our gate number, so we started walking back the other way.
After walking for about 20 minutes we found our gate and grabbed a drink at the nearby Starbucks ( the expensive flights obviously leave from nearer the customs, as the quality of shops reduced the further we walked ). We went down to our gate and waited, and then onto buses at 11:30 and around the terminal to our plane ( which was hooked up to an airbridge, but for some reason we couldn't use it ).
Our plane left late at 12:30 ( instead of the scheduled 12:00 ) due to some late people. Not a bad flight, not much to see until we started to descend in Mandalay and we flew in from the north over Mandalay and the Ayeyarwady River, with gold pagoda popping up through the bush. We landed at 1:30pm local time ( 1/2 hour behind Thai time ), through immigration etc, grabbed our bags and drew some money our of the ATM ( NZ$1 = 1000 Kyats ( pronounced chats )) and then out the front door in to Myanmar.
We were immediately harassed by young guys offering taxi services, so we accepted a 'taxi' for Ky15,000 in what appeared to be his mates car, with no taxi markings. Ah well, lesson learned. Off to Mandalay we went up the main expressway, which was a concrete road and quite bumpy. Whatever the maximum speed limit was our driver didn't go much above 50km/h.
As we hit the outskirts of Mandalay our driver asked for confirmation of where he was heading. After we said "Hotel United" he gave a sigh and started to wind his way through the grid pattern of streets.
Some things we learned about Myanmar traffic during this journey; our car was a right hand drive ( there seems to be a mixture of right and left hand vehicles ) but they drive on the right; they beep their horn to let those about to be over taken know that they are coming; they beep their horn for any reason they can think of; 4 way intersections ( apart from a few with traffic lights ) are uncontrolled and those who go first should make it through ok, but if something is in the way ( car, bike, dog etc ) beep the horn and go around it, and indicators are optional or actually not required. It is all about confidence I think.
After negotiating the traffic we finally arrived at Hotel United ( US$54 for 3 nights ( about Ky73,000 ) incl a/c, breakfast and wifi ). We paid in US dollars because we had some, but they are very fussy about the quality of them and rejected any with marks or rips on them. Up to our room on the 3rd floor.
Went out for a walk along the street; what a shock.. Seemed to be complete chaos, cars and bikes going everywhere, people wandering across the road in front of cars, dust, dirt, rubbish, and dogs everywhere. ( I am not making a judgement on whether the way things are here is right or wrong, just saying what we saw). Crossing the street for us timid white folk was a bit daunting, but we finally figured it out.
We bought 6 bottles of water for Ky1200 ( Liz accidentally gave the woman Ky12,000 and she looked shocked and told us that it was too much). As we carried on walking it looked like schools were out as groups of kids and young monks were walking around and catching truck buses ( like a pickup truck with seats in the back ). After bumping into a couple of Dutch girls and swapping stories we walked back past the hotel and walked to the moat around the Royal Fort, then back towards the hotel. We stopped into a shopping mall ( and bumped into the Dutch girls again ) and bought some supplies, then back to the hotel at 4:30pm.
We then tried to book the boat trip to Bagan, but found that, as it was low season, it wasn't running every day, and more importantly not on the day we wanted to use it. So we booked an 'express' bus instead ( Ky9,000 each ) which should take about 5 hours to cover the 170kms. Hmm, doesn't sound express.
We headed out again at 6 and wandered to the moat again to shoot the sunset looking up at Mandalay Hill and it's pagoda, then back to a restaurant on the side of the road for tea ( 2 dishes + 2 beers, Ky6,600 ) which was very nice, then back to the mall for an ice-cream, and back to the hotel at 8pm.
One of the hardest things to get used to is the speed with which it gets dark in the tropics. It goes from light enough to see by to needing a torch within 10 minutes, and is completely dark within about 20 minutes of sun down.
Off to play tourists again tomorrow with a bit of temple bashing on the plans.