A place that totally encapsulates Mandalay’s chaos is down by the river. On the banks of the Irrawaddy there is always a hectic buzz of activity as the boats load and unload their cargo. On one end is the timber dock where there’s a maze of felled logs laid down creating towering walls of wood. Burma is the world’s biggest exporter of teak, representing up to 75% of the global market. It’s predominantly shipped to China and India. According to Eleven News, Burma exported 371,000 metric tonnes of teak and 1,789,400 metric tonnes of hardwood in 2011-2012. Mandalay serves as a stop off point on the long journey of the logs.
Walking southwards down the bank you’ll come across big, colourful metal barrels filled with an unidentifiable tar-like substance which emits a rancid smell. A little further along there are boats unloading baskets of sand and ladies in traditional longyis with sandalwood painted faces to ward off the sun, carrying these heavy loads on their heads up the bank. Each one walks only for a few yards until the next lady takes over for the next few steps, the loading on and off their heads seeming harder work than just one lady taking them the whole way ….. Regardless it serves as a lovely display of teamwork!
I came across a pair of siblings; the older brother pushing a worn rubber tyre along the ridge of the steep bank with the little sister running along behind sinking into the sand in a desperate attempt to catch-up and push the tyre herself, something brother wasn’t going to let her do. Interspersed along the bank are groups of children playing cane ball, chickens with clusters of chicks running around rubbish heaps, a few pigs freely roaming around. Animals as well as children wander casually up and down the banks, the occasional pig had even crossed the road and was strolling around the market opposite the bank, without anyone appearing to worry about their safety or whereabouts. Security is one positive of living under a military junta for the last four decades. As soon as the children saw I had a camera they would come running over in frenzied excitement and start posing, pushing each other out so they could be in the foreground of the picture. The high-pitched shrill of pleasure that the small LCD screen of the camera produced when showing the children a picture of themselves was quite magical.
Bathing in the shallows of the water are people washing their clothes, their dishes, their hair, themselves. The Burmese seemed to have mastered the knack of washing themselves in public without exposing a thing. As they submerge themselves deeper in the water they strategically lift their longyis to keep them dry and as they emerge the longyi is carefully lowered back down, resulting in a clean body and a dry longyi.
There are a plethora of pagodas and monasteries in Mandalay and neighbouring Sagaing. So many that they could all start merging into one… so you’d be forgiven for only choosing a few; one not to miss is the Shwe In Bin teak monastery. Here you can watch the monks silently meditate as you wonder round this sandy, palm tree laden paradise. If you are feeling a little pagodad out I suggest you spend the day poolside. There are a few hotels in Mandalay that let non-guests use their pool for a fee; The City Hotel bang in the centre of town will welcome you for $5 for the day. You’ll spend the day in a tropical oasis in the hazy heat of Mandalay surrounded by verdant palms and carved elephants which drink out of the pool.

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