It was another early wakeup call as we move on north up the Ayerarwady River to Mandalay. It was only a 30 minute flight, but then another 45 minute drive to get from the airport into Mandalay. Mandalay is the cultural capital of Myanmar and is dominated by monument strewn Mandalay Hill. Mandalay is the byword for everything that's exotic about Myanmar-from gilded pagodas to secretive walled places filled with precious stones and courtiers dressed in elaborate, heavily bejeweled costumes. Mandalay has a population of over 1 million and there are about 700 monasteries.
Our first stop was in the craftsman's quarter, where the same skills and methods were being used as their forefathers did and were working mostly on religious sculptures. We saw Buddha figures being hewn from marble by stone masons. Another sections was full of wood carvers. We stopped and watched Gold Leaf being made that is used to gild the Buddhas. The process is long and complicated but interesting to watch. We also visited the Jade Market. Much Jade is mined in northern Myanmar and it is not cheap. Some of the pieces we saw were over a million U.S dollars. On the way to the hotel we stopped at Mahamiuni Paya, home of a highly venerated Buddha image - one of the most sacred in Burma. Over the centuries, devout Buddhists have been applying gold leaf to this Buddha. The gold surface is estimated to be about 6" thick, two tons worth. Placing gold leaf on a Buddha image brings you great merit. In the evening we took a small, old, local bus ride up Mandalay Hill to see the city and the sunset. The second day we took a one hour boat ride up river to Mingum to see the world's largest ringing bell - 90 tons and also ruins of what was to be the largest pagoda. First the king died before it was completed and what was completed was damaged by an earthquake. It was to have been over 400 ft high. In Mandalay we visited a wooden Pagoda and one that has a large number of small pagodas protecting each book of Buddha writings. One "must see" is the U Bein Footbridge over the shallow Thaung Thaman Lake. It is constructed of teak and has withstood the elements for more than two centuries. We saw a lot, but there was much more to see and do. We enjoy the food, but do not know with what or how it is made. It is the same way with much of what we see - the why, the way, and the when it was created.