Sunday, February 15: After zipping up the switchbacks of Mandalay Hill on the back of the motorbike, my driver deposits me, along with crowds of Western tourists, at the Su Taung Pyai Pagoda. We’ve all come to see the sunset looking over Mandalay.
I have to say that the sunset itself is not that great, as the air is hazy and there’s not much to see of Mandalay except a dry dusty plain. However, I do find the glittery pagoda in the waning light quite wonderful. I also adore seeing all the monks out and about in force.
In the distance, I can see numerous pagodas and the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River as the sun sinks on the horizon.
Su Taung Pyi Pagoda means wish-granting pagoda. It was built by King Anawratha in 414 Myanmar Era. It was patronized and renovated by successive KonBaung Kings. Mandalay Hill has been a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists for two centuries.
There’s a breeze on the hill, and I love seeing the monks in conversation and the weary travelers taking a break against the columns of the pagoda.
I love the endless archways with with Burmese script, the shiny floors and the colorful inlaid mirrors on the columns.
Two girls strike up a conversation with me, asking me where I’m from, what I’m doing here. I think they just want to practice their English, as apparently many of the monks also want to do at this spot.
One of the girls is wearing the traditional clothing worn by women in Myanmar, the longyi, pronounced “long-ji.” In Burma, longyis worn by males are called paso, while those worn by females are called htamain. The styles are different between men and women, as the pattern is usually a small plaid for the men and floral or striped for the women. The women often wear a matching blouse that covers the shoulders. The fabric of the htamain is a long rectangle of cloth wrapped around the waist with the end tucked into the waist, not knotted. Mostly, they are ankle length.
Once the sun has set, suddenly all the tourists dissipate, and I have almost the entire pagoda to myself. I stroll around and take photos in the waning light, enjoying the peace and quiet.
One of the last to leave the pagoda, I find my motor taxi driver waiting patiently. He takes me back down the hill, back and forth along the switchbacks. I love riding on motorbikes in Asia!! It’s so thrilling! He returns me to my hotel.
I talk with one of the hotel staff women about arranging a tour for tomorrow. Then, I walk around the corner about two blocks to an open air restaurant called Unique Myanmar. There are a couple of large tour groups there, and of course I’m a solo traveler; I think restauranteurs don’t like to deal with people who don’t fill a table for two. They deliver me a basket of curly tofu crackers with a sweet sauce, and I order prawn curry topped with a beer. All for $12. The atmosphere is wonderful, although I am quickly forgotten by the waiter and have to go in search of my bill.
I love arriving in a new country and tasting the local cuisine for the first time. It’s a lovely end to my first day in Myanmar. So far, I’m loving the laid-back vibe of this country that is so different from China.