Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Leaving the 'Road to Mandalay'

Wednesday, 2nd November 2011

It's always with some sadness that I leave the 'Road to Mandalay'. When I made my first visit to Myanmar and the 'Road to Mandalay' in March 2008 as part of my 'Round the World 5' tour (see posts), I little realised what a powerful effect Myanmar would have on me.

As always, I'd had a wonderful (and tiring) time on this latest trip. It had been my fifth trip to Burma and my fourth cruise on the 'Road to Mandalay' (it would have been my fifth cruise had not Cyclone Nargis severely damaged the ship). But it was time to leave the sybaritic pleasures of 'Road to Mandalay', say farewell to my friends on the ship and board the coach for Mandalay Airport.

The coach was scheduled to leave at 7.0 a.m. and all the passengers made it on time. We wound our way out of Shwe Kyet Yet, past the now-familiar sights of life by the roadside and took a recently-completed section of dual-carriageway which made our transfer to the airport fairly painless.

'Road to Mandalay' staff checked in baggage and obtained our boarding passes for us, so we only had to make our way through security to the departure hall overlooking the apron. A number of flights were scheduled to leave fairly close together so we had a little wait before boarding a bus for the short trip to our aircraft. A simple snack meal was served on the non-stop journey to Yangon which took an hour and a bit.

Our route to Yangon took us over this new dual carriageway road.

Our turbo-prop aircraft made a straight-in approach at Yangon and had soon parked on the apron. As usual, a bus ferried us the short distance to the Domestic Terminal where I quickly spotted my guide, Nay Lin. He despatched a man with my luggage receipt to retrieve my case and we were soon in the car and on our way into Yangon. Time was allowed for sight-seeing so I picked the places I'd not already been to.

Yangon's huge Reclining Buddha in its massive 'shed'.

First stop was Yangon's famous Reclining Buddha. It's big and it's impressive but what fascinated me was the huge steel-framed building which protects the image from the elements. The heavily-braced industrial structure looks as if it should hold a rolling mill, rather than a delicately-modelled Buddha image.

The 'Royal Barge' in Karaweik Park.

Next stop was Karaweik Park. We had to pay at the gate and then the car drove to a decking-covered viewpoint at the side of a lake. The location had a commanding view of what appeared to be a huge 'Royal Barge' further along the shore. In fact, the barge is actually made of concrete and is built on land but it's spledidly modelled to resemble the type of Royal Barge I'd seen around Lake Inle on a previous visit.

We then made our way to busy Pyay Road and the National Museum which I'd previously seen from the outside but not visited. The National Museum is a large, modern building spread out over a number of floors so, by the time we'd looked at all the exhibits, I was getting rather tired. There is some labelling of the items in English but there is, apparently, no English guide book. Since photography is prohibited, I've no record of the visit, which is a shame because there were some very interesting artefacts on display covering all aspects of Burmese history, culture and life. There weren't many visitors in the museum and only a couple of those were European.

There was a large, privately-owned souvenir shop on the ground floor. I spent some time looking at the books in English and finally purchased a 1995 reprint of 'A Tour in Burma in March and April 1892'. This is a description of religious architecture in Burma by F. O. Oertel, complete with 40 original photographic plates. Although sold as new, the copy was rather battered and I suspect had been waiting for a purchaser for some time!

I was now quite ready to be delivered to my Hotel. As our car passed the Peoples' Park, I spotted a couple of interesting displays. There was a small steel-hulled gunboat, looking rather curious set on blocks above ground level, and a large tank locomotive, painted green and with the Walschaerts motion finished with aluminium paint. I made a mental note to try to have a better look next time.

The usual warm welcome awaited me at the Strand Hotel and, this time, I was in room 103, a front corner site, overlooking the Australian Embassy.

Room 103 at the Strand Hotel

I'd had thoughts of making another journey on Yangon's Circle Line, as I'd first done in 2008 (see post), but after the early start to the day and the exercise I'd already had, I decided I was too tired so I settled instead for Afternoon Tea downstairs. Later, I made another fruitless attempt to use the internet and then, having booked breakfast in my room for the next morning, retired and slept soundly.