I would not recommend this part of this trip to anyone. The plan was to spend 2 days on the Irrawady to Mandalay. 2 reasons – our ‘cruise ship’ turned out to be a cargo boat, and secondly – it was BAKING HOT (yes, Burma has been hot). So yes, this might also be my fault – bad choice of trip and timing, but never again. So the tour company obviously tried to romanticise it by throwing in sentences like leisurely going up the Irrawady and sleeping on the upper deck underneath the stars. Far from. Check out the inside.. luxury!
So the boat was pretty rubbish, but I did meet some travellers later who also did a cruise (on a much nicer boat – but different time of the year and they loved it.) One man’s poison.. The only redeeming factor? The food. We got to Mandalay to – thankfully – a decent hotel which helped enormously.
Where am I staying?
Hotel Marvel, on top of one of the main train stations in Mandalay. The rooms were lovely and cool – both in choice of colour and temperature. Don’t ask me about walking distances to the nearest attractions – you’re having a laugh!
- Grubbiness factor? Zero, zilch, nada.
- Bed = 9/10. Perfect bed, perfect pillows – I slept like a baby, but that might be because of the lack of sleep the previous night.
- Shower= 10/10. Lovely hot water, amazing showers and lovely toiletries. Best one so far.
What did I eat… On the boat
Lunches were simple but stunningly good. And so much variety. Soup to start off with – looked like river water but tasted sensational. Full of vegetable goodness. I had tofu with bean sprouts, morning glory and this white bean mushy dhal kind of thing. With rice and a soy chilli sauce – whoa. Really really good, hearty and delicious. There was chicken and fish for the omnis. Dessert? These amazing sesame, peanut cookies which I could it!!!! I cleared the whole plate. Crumbly, nutty, moreish – we couldn’t stop eating them.
The next day? Vermicelli and carrot soup (yummo) and veggie fried rice, jam packed with vegetables. I also got to try another Burmese dish – green tea leaf salad. On paper, just my kind of dish – green tea leaf, peanuts, garlic, chilli. Unfortunately everything was deep fried and it was one oily mess. I didn’t like it at all.
Dinner was good, a green fest – rice with green beans, spinach and aubergine. The aubergine wasn’t as nice as the salad I had the other day – so left it alone. Not nice. I also tried the local beer – Myanmar – I needed something to cool down. Nice and light, but pretty sweet.
What did I eat… In the hotel
Breakfast in the hotel was a massive carnivorous spread. They had a vegetarian section full of French toast and waffles and pancakes. But they also had cereal. Cornflakes. And bran flakes. And SOY MILK. And cashew nuts. And dried fruit. And I had two bowls. After all the rice and veggies for breakfast, having a simple bowl of cereal (in an air conditioned room) was pure bliss. It has definitely made me even more grateful! I also had green tea and fresh, supersweet papaya and watermelon.
Now. I’m sure Mandalay is a nice city and there is a lot to eat, but in that heat, I wasn’t going anywhere. So the rest of my meals (thankfully I was only there for one night) were in the comfort of the hotel. Dinner – Thai green curry with rice. Creamy and spicy and luscious.
Lunch? A delicious tofu and veggie fry with rice – and a massive portion at that. Super delicious with a punchy chilli kick. That was good thing as out guide told us to fill up on lunch as it was likely we wouldn’t be able to eat the food that was available on the overnight train to Yangon.
What did I do?
There wasn’t much to do while cruising on the Irrawady. The scenery was dry, apart from a bridge or two or a temple or six. We literally sat around fanning ourselves trying to find a cool spot. The painful monotony was broken by meals and me reviewing my ankles – or should I say cankles. I have a decent pair of ankles if I say so myself but they had disappeared completely. What did I expect in that heat! I’ll spare you a picture of them. There was also virtually no wildlife around – though we did have a lot of luck playing spot the cow/buffalo/goat.
The evening is was as it had cooled down, and I was looking forward to sleeping under a mosquito net under the stars. Sheets were crisp and clean, the bed, rather, mattress comfy. Sadly I didn’t take into account that some of my fellow passengers were snorers – serious ones at that. If I share a room with snoring friends/families/partners they know what will happen to them it they snore – a sharp kick. But I couldn’t extend that gesture to my fellow travels. Lets just say it was a looooong night.
We did disembark to go see a typical Burmese pottery village. This I loved – it was like stepping back in time. A real eye opener that made me feel even more grateful for what I have and the things I experience.
We also nipped into Mingun – a town with a number of attractions. The second largest bell in the world at 90 tonnes, the stunningly mesmerising white wavy Mya Thein Tea pagoda, and my favourite – the unfinished pagoda. This was a spectacularly colossal structure – awe inspiring and mind boggling. It was built because of a case of mine will be bigger than yours – Kings I tell you. I absolutely loved this place – it was perfectly unfinished.
The sunsets (top pic) and sunrises (bottom pic) were also spectacular – calming and peaceful and oh so beautiful.
As for Mandalay, the thing worth seeing was the U Bein bridge – the longest teak bridge in the world. 1.7 km long with 6 rest houses at selected intervals. I didn’t do the whole stretch – too hot, yes, how ever did you guess?! But what I did do is steal ice from the drinks vendors on the bridge, stick it down my top, walk to a rest house and people watch. I could have sat there for the whole day. So many interesting characters – rude boys checking out pretty girls, family days out, nuns, monks – loved it.
So this has been another whinge post, and I think the combination of cooler weather and a nicer cruise boat would have made me think differently. Saying that I still enjoyed it – the pottery village, the unfinished pagoda and the U Bein bridge were highlights…