Our flight left bangkok at 11am and we were soon under way….2 hours to Mandalay. Landing on the dry tarmac strip, the fist thing that hits you as you step off the airplane was the dry hot air. This is one hot country. Passing through immigration was easy and soon we were waiting for our luggage to come off the conveyor belt. Just before security, there was a small currency exchange kiosk and a number of people seemed to be changing dollars for kyat so we decided to convert $90 worth (enough for a couple of days living). The exchange rate was about as good as you could find elsewhere 997.3 / $. We had heard that Air Asia ran a free bus from the airport to the city centre (about an hour away) so as we exited arrivals, we saw it parked outside, made a beeline for it, put the bags in the hold and climbed on….Mmmm, no aircon and lots of Mosquitos!
A couple of people got on the bus to hand out leaflets for their hotels which was good….one of them was called the smart hotel which seemed pretty central so we kept this info for later, when we returned to Mandalay. The road system in Mandalay is pretty simple as it’s based on a grid. Soon we were counting down the roads until we passed the one which our hotel was on. Out of the corner of our eyes, we saw the Gold Yadanar and decided just to get off the bus when it next stopped. With this, we just put our packs on our back and wandered back to the hotel.
Check in was easy and soon we were in our simple but clean (with aircon) room. Fortunately, our hotel was right next to a large shopping mall which had a supermarket underneath it. Soon we were buying supplies for the room (pot noodles, crisps, coke, Melon…..the essentials!). After which, we decided to sort out our boat tickets for the trip down to Bagan.
We found the office of the MGRG company on the internet and got our map out and it looked like a 20 min walk so we headed off. Walking through Mandalay, you soon realise that you are one of a very few tourists / westerners and as such, you are a bit of a curiosity to people. People would stare at us, point, smile and wave. We found the MGRG office and we bought our tickets without any issues.
That night we decided to wander out and see what Mandalay had to offer. Sadly, very little, we only found a couple of local cafes and as such, just plumped for one that looked semi-nice. Fortunately, they had a menu in English (but with no prices). Unfortunately, no one could speak English, so as you do in these situations, we just pointed to the words which were next to the English words for the food that we wanted. Soon, we were drinking a couple of Mandalay beers (5%). Our waiter guy returned and pointed to the sweet & sour part of the menu and said no! We took this to mean that it wasnt on the menu so we pointed to something else. Anyhow, 10 mins passed and our waiter guy brought out 2 plates of pork something. Then 5 mins later, he brought out a plate of beef stir fry and then a bowl of soup….none of which we had ordered. Then 5 mins later, he brought out another large plate of chicken something….by this time, Lisa we were starting to crack up as it seemed that they were just going to bring us everything on the menu. Others in the cafe started to smile and laugh, clearly enjoying all the confusion! We told the waiter guy that there must have been a mistake and that we didn’t order all the food that he was to take it away…..which he did, and then he brought it back to the table after talking to the chef. We didnt know how many more dishes that he was going to bring out and things got a bit heated and uncomfortable so we politely asked for the bill, which arrived. Fortunately, it amounted to only 8100 kyat (£5) so we settled up and left.