Myanmar: Mandalay

To some people, the mention of Mandalay can summon all sorts of feelings. Although this is probably specific to people brought up at the end of the colonial era, when the road to Mandalay hinted at all sorts of unspecified adventure and exotic experiences, modern-day Mandalay is sadly very different indeed. I had spent a little time reading about Mandalay and – although there are certainly plenty of historic and cultural sights worth seeing – I knew that i would prefer to be elsewhere in Myanmar. I decided to skip the sightseeing and leave Mandalay as soon as possible. Mandalay was therefore simply a location from which to catch a train to Myitkyina.

The train wasn’t departing until early next morning, so i had the afternoon to look around.  After checking into the new Nylon Hotel, – which i highly recommend, unlike the old Nylon Hotel just around the corner – I caught a taxi to the river. I thought i’d take a few photos with my little compact and try stitching them together. It was surprisingly easy to do in Photoshop and, now i know that, will be something i will try again.


My guide book recommended to take a drink at one of the tourist hotels overlooking the water, and i thought this might be a nice way to waste a couple of hours. Before doing so, I walked past workers unloading boats. There was plenty of ‘shanty town’ type dwellings, and it was clear there isn’t much money to be made in this type of work.


Considering drinks at the hotel would probably cost more that a day’s wages for the workers at the river, I was suddenly not in the mood to follow the guide book’s recommendations. I’ve always been more comfortable with ‘the workers’, and luckily for me i somehow got invited into a local pub. I was suddenly the focal point for everyone, and the table filled up with people to meet the foreigner. Although Mandalay has a constant stream of tourists, i was told that this little local pub received none.

Myanmar is a stark contrast to my experiences in rural Kenya where, as a white visitor, you would be expected to buy (lots of) drinks.  Here, I had to negotiate hard before they would let me buy a round. We drank a locally brewed drink that tasted strongly of honey.  I had a great time with these guys, and i had to promise that i would come back and see them one day. I would quite like that.


It was getting late and i was getting quite drunk. I had a train to catch at 5:15am and so it was definitely time to go. The guys called a motorbike taxi friend to take me back to the hotel. I left Mandalay with great memories, and hadn’t visited a single tourist sight 🙂

1 Comment

  1. Paul Taylor

    I am not against tourist sites – I have been to lot of them. Indeed I would not have wanted to miss the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids. Nevertheless I recognise that the sort of experience that you describe here always resonates. In a strange country nothing beats real contact with the ordinary and everyday there. Pity about the colonial era fantasies, but not a surprise.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *