Arriving in Mandalay; tired but excited, I saw only one big road leading from the airport to the city, some 30km away. With little knowledge or inclination in support, I opted for the easy route, found a large taxi and was aided by an army of eager teens, bundling box into boot.
We trundled along the highway. Tents perched either side; a sign of the basic conditions in which many Myanmar people live their lives. Behind the shacks and stalls, vast pagodas, covered in gold. The juxtaposition of poverty and devotion immediately striking.
Mandalay felt non-descript. Busy, motorbike-laden, but not to the extent of Hanoi. No obvious beauty. A place yet to be heavily influenced by the west. Few brands. The city’s major road first lit by streetlights in 2017.
Hours later, energy restored and bike rebuilt, I set out to discover the real Mandalay, curious to discover what lay beneath the covers.
The centres of Mandalay and Yangon seem worlds apart. Barely related. Mandalay, a distant cousin last seen at a wedding 50 years ago. Fires lit openly on street curbs. The sheer darkness at night. Few street food options. But the most welcoming people. Kids playing with makeshift toys, footfall nets, mixing amongst traffic, monks, hawkers and hounds.
What makes Mandalay such a great place to be on day 1? The food is better in Bangkok. The architecture more splendid in Penang. But the overwhelming smiles and interactions with people here are unlike any other I’ve experienced