When we arrived in Mandalay we were tired and cranky after being bounced and tossed around on a train for 14 hours. We walked to the first hotel with a/c and crashed for most of the day.
Mandalay feels much more laid-back than Yangon and has more of an urban sprawl. The city is big but doesn’t feel as compact or busy as the Yangon. As usual our first few days were spent biking and walking around, getting a feel for the city.
By exploring this way we were able to try out and find out favourite tea shop. There is a very strong tea culture in Myanmar and mostly men sit around with eachother drinking sweet tea, smoking, eating, and gossiping. A pot of weak Chinese tea sits on every table, while you order small mugs of a much sweeter tea. It’s usually about half condensed milk and half tea, with a spoonful of white sugar for good measure. Tea boys run around the shop serving the customers who make kissy noises to get their attention. This isn’t a rude gesture and is practiced around the country.
Being the only white people in the tea shop and often the only couple we attracted a lot of attention. Most days we would wear traditional longyis – mine embroidered and jesse’s checkered – since it’s important to dress conservatively there. I think it was met with some appreciation, but mostly just amusement. Several people attempted to show Jesse how to properly tie his longyi – it’s an art! For most of the time spent at the teahouse we had at least three people standing around our table without saying a word. Jesse managed to joke around with the tea boys quite a bit and they were very interested in his tattoos and our iphones.
We were finally able to see the comedy routine of The Moustache Brothers. They are famous for their risky commentary of the regime/government in Myanmar. The trio includes U Par Par Lay, U Lu Zaw, and Lu Maw. Two of them have served time in a labour camp for their criticism of the government. They are now under house arrest and perform their show in the front of their house with the help of their families.
On my last day in Mandalay I endured the sweaty bike ride to see the longest bridge in Myanmar, the U Bein Bridge. A picnicking family offered me food and I shared a big ricecracker with small fish in it (not my thing!). I sat and watched the juxtaposition between the tourists that come in busloads and the families that use the area to fish, bath and play in. Besides the people selling things, there’s not much interaction or connection between them!