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Ageing Traveller Series

The Ageing Traveller series is written by Rose Howell, who has been traveling the world for over 40 years, beginning with New Zealand and then the ‘Hippy trail’ in the 70’s. Her travels have taken her to; Asia, Middle East, UK, Europe, Africa, South America, USA, Canada, China and the Pacific Islands. In total she has visited 67 countries plus all the states of Australia except Western Australia, and her goal is to make the century club. Her passion for travel is documented on her website www.ageing-hipsters-travel.com.

Click here to find out more about Rose.

Burma October 1976 Part 2: Mandalay

In Mandalay, we stayed at the ‘Mann Shwe Myo Hotel’ which I believe is still there today. Back then it was rather dirty and the rooms tiny and was not good value for money.
At this hotel we found a buyer for our duty free goods, this gave us more than enough money to last our time in Burma.
Chatting to fellow travelers, we were told that Chinese smugglers often stayed there. Nice!!
They would bring a large array of different goods over the mountains from North Thailand into Burma to sell on the black market. Even coca cola was smuggled in.

We met a local Burmese teacher who often went to the hotel in the hope that travelers would sell him books as they were scarce.
One thing we noticed in this country was that English was freely spoken. It was quite surprising to find poorly dressed people, who could speak the language perfectly.

The teacher told us that ‘most people in Burma do have some education, many have degrees, but because of the lack of industry and commerce, jobs are rare, wages are poor and the standard of living is decreasing.’


Kipling was impressed with Mandalay and wrote this poem:

Our first morning in Mandalay was waking at 6am to the sobs of an English girl who had just had her pocket picked at the railway station. She’d lost everything except her passport. A woman kindly gave her some money for the fare back to Rangoon. Her trip was over before it began. Such is the life of a traveler. Lucky for us nothing happened like that. Not on the trip through Burma anyway.
(Recently 2013, I had my bag picked at the Berlin railway station and lost my credit cards and cash, not my passport. It is such a nuisance when it happens)

To see Mandalay, it was by local buses. But their numbers were all in Burmese script, so we wrote the numbers 1-10 in Burmese onto our map.



Burmese 1-10 numbers (Myanmar for kids)

 

The first bus was (6) to the ‘Maha Muni Pagoda’ which contains the most sacred Buddhist shrine in Burma.
According to Wikipedia, ‘Mahamuni Buddhist temple is a major pilgrimage site. Ancient tradition states there are only five likenesses of Buddha made during his life time, two were in India, two in paradise and the fifth is the Mahamuni image.’
A truly beautiful temple. My photo doesn’t do it justice.
There were narrow dimly lit covered alley ways leading into the main chambers. Inside Golden Buddha’s adorned with twinkling colored lights, little candles burning and sending dancing shadows on the wall, robed monks worshipped with the people. Bells twinkled and pigeons (there are always pigeons around) whooshed overhead.



Gold Buddha (Photo by Rose Howell)

 

In the passageways leading to the main chamber were hundreds of little souvenir stores. With hundreds of kyats to spend (first time on our travels we had money to spend), we gazed about and realized that most of the souvenirs were junk. Still, we had to spend the money. So we bought what we felt was the best of a bad lot;

  • small ivory elephant
  • jade bangle
  • wooden carved figure
  • lacquerware jar
  • bone ring
  • several little Buddha’s.

Next stop was the market on a number (1) bus. It was a monstrous bazaar, street after street. A more extensive range of goods here, probably stuff smuggled overland. An hour there and we only saw a fraction of the place.


Market area (Photo by Rose Howell)

Other realisation’s of the shortages was in the way people dressed. Men always wore sarongs, because trousers weren’t available. I could have sold all of my clothes down to my bra on the black market.

When entering a large restaurant with hundreds of tables and the only thing on the menu is tea, coffee, local orange soft drinks (no two drinks tasted the same). When you asked for coffee you got told there is none left (was there any to begin with?) The shops had virtually nothing on their shelves.

Burma as a Socialist Government meant that everything was nationalised. They sent the Chinese and Indian merchants away and that left no one to run the businesses. Thus all the factories and offices shut down. We noticed that there were no new buildings being built. It was as though time had stood still.

 


Gold Pagoda (Photo belongs to Rose Howell)

One thing they did look after within the city were the ‘Buddhist Pagodas’.  They were beautiful.
Even though we were not of the Buddhist religion we were welcomed into these temples.

# Our exploration of the country begins

 


Train travel (Photo belongs to Rose Howell)

With 7 days to see as much of the country as possible, we began our trip on an early morning thirteen hour train trip to Mandalay.

Everyone who arrived on the same day as we did, was forced to take the same route, the same transport, stay in the same hotels. Why? The only way into Burma is to fly and that means everyone starts their sojourn in Rangoon.

The Mandalay/Rangoon express was the only good train in Burma. Not a good idea to travel on the local trains.

We did see a lot of steam trains and I was relieved that we didn’t have to travel on one of those. (In the past we thought it was exciting until you look at your face at the end of a trip and you are covered in black soot.)

Our train was dark and dingy with straight backed all wooden seats and wooden louvered windows. We had to sit opposite the toilet, and every time the door was opened, we caught a glimpse out of the corner of our eyes the result of someone’s inaccuracy.

We kept reminding ourselves we were in ‘Burma’ and what an experience it was going to be.

We passed large stretches of flooded rice paddies and very poorly built houses on stilts. Poverty was so evident in the country side even more so than the city.


Burmese cigar smoker (Photo belongs to Rose Howell)

Sometimes we caught sight of what Kipling describes as ‘whopping great cheroots’ and it was really something. These cigars can measure up to a foot long and nearly an inch thick and to see a woman with one of these whoppers hanging out of her mouth is something to behold. In fact women seem to partake in the habit as easily as the men. 

Women don’t seem to be classed as second class citizens but as equals, they run what little remains of the retail business.



This is the end of part 2. Next month look out for part 3. Pagan.

If you want to find out more about a visit to Myanmar (Burma) then visit their tourist site.

Rose Howell Biography

Rose has been traveling the world for over 40 years, beginning with New Zealand and then the ‘Hippy trail’ in the 70’s. Her travels have taken her to; Asia, Middle East, UK, Europe, Africa, South America, USA, Canada, China and the Pacific Islands. In total she has visited 67 countries plus all the states of Australia except Western Australia, and her goal is to make the century club.
She has taken all kinds of transport and accommodation from budget to luxury. She has travelled through war zones, survived a bus accident in the Andes and visited areas that are no longer available to tourists, such as the Khyber Pass and Bamiyan Statues in Afghanistan.

Rose wants to inspire others to travel and offers free advice to all travellers in particular those who are embarking on their first travel experience. She has a passion for travel and since retiring from an Adult teaching position with TafeSA, has recently resumed clocking up kilometres interstate and overseas.
Her daughters have inherited the travel bug from their parents. The eldest daughter is a travel journalist/documentary maker based in a beautiful area called ‘Byron Bay’ in New South Wales and with her husband, has two globetrotting toddlers who at the age of 5 and 2 also love to travel. Her youngest daughter and fiancé have recently returned from 2 years working and traveling in the UK and Europe. They have only been home a couple of months and are already getting restless. Oh the travel bug!!!!

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