|After the long but leisurely cruise up the Irrawady River, we arrived into the city of Mandalay. This is the second largest city in Myanmar. Unlike Yangon, they allow motorbikes to be driven on the streets so the traffic was busy but not nearly as congested as in Yangon where only cars are allowed. We met our guide early in the morning and went to our first pagoda of the morning--up 2000 metres up to Mandalay Hill. Again many locals practicing their prayers to Lord Buddha. From the top, we were able to get a good view of the city, bordered by some mountains (to us in BC, they were more like gentle hills), a golf course, the river and of course a few more pagodas. This city also unlike Yangon consists mostly of low rise buildings or single family houses. The growth has been confined to spreading out as opposed to building up.
Another tidbit of information regarding Myanmar, there are 8 distinct ethnic groups and within these groups there are 135 tribes. We learned that another source of conflict in Rakhine is that the Rohingyas (Bangladesh origin) want to establish separate state for themselves. It seems like this conflict is far from over.
Once upon a time, as in the case of many countries in Asia, the lands were ruled by kings and in Myanmar, the royal palace surrounded by a formidable wall (2 square kilometres) was built in Mandalay by their much beloved King Mindon (second last king of the country) in the late 1850s. He had 9 wives and over 100 children. One of his younger wives killed many of his other children so that her daughter and son in law could then ascend the throne after the death of King Mindo. Sadly, this new king and queen were not ruling in interest of the people. Their arrogance caused them to dismiss the strength of the British army so when it came to war, guess who lost? The royal family then fled to India. Good riddance according to the local peoples. The military took over all the land within the walls and now is occupied by them. Other structures he built have been restored and converted to attractions for the public.
We visited two other pagodas in the city--one being very significant called the Mahumuni Pagoda. This one housed what is believed to be either the second or the oldest Buddha image in the country...a mere 2500 years old. It is quite sacred to the people and was very busy attended by locals for prayer. If it hasn't been obvious yet...Buddhism is so entrenched into their daily lives. So far even with Western influences from social media and television, it has not affected how devoted they are to their their faith, despite the fact that EVERYONE has a cellphone!
Another highlight of Mandalay was we went to see the World's Biggest Book. No, it was not on paper but on 729 marble slabs (double sided by the way) with each "page" inscribed with a Buddhist teaching. Of course each slab was housed in its own little pagoda. While there, we witnessed a pre-bridal photo session. So beautiful!
Finally, our day ended with a few visits to handicraft workshops--wooden carvings, silk weaving, puppet making and gold leaf production. Glad to know that not everything is made in China!
Then it was time to leave for Chiang Mai, Thailand as a stopever to Laos. Sunny couldn't believe how big the city has grown in 25 years! It was obvious that a 18 hour stop in this city would not be enough but given this short time, we wanted to take advantage of this stopover by visiting the Maesa Elephant Camp with an attached elehant nursery. This camp was started by Chuchart Kalam Phichit to protect elephants which had transitioned from military use to labour use. His intention was to provide a better quality of life for these majestic animals given how exploited they were. Yes, it is a tourist attraction but these elephants are well cared for once they are brought to the camp or born into it. They usually live their life out with one master who sleep by them nearby and take care of their living needs. As well, we were able to visit the elephant nursery. There were 4 baby elephants with their moms kept in the nursery. They are apart from the rest of the 70 elephants until the babies reach at least 2 years old. It was very apparent to us how smart these gentle giants are!!!
We arrived into Luang Prabang, Laos yesterday afternoon. A bit of learning for us: the country is called Laos (pronouncing the s), the people are called Lao. This little land locked country is just under the size of the UK at 237,000 square kilometres. It is home to approx. 6.5 million people only. The country only opened to tourism in 1999. Luang Prabang is an UNESCO designated site earned for both Culture and Resources.