It’s your typical Myanmar over night bus ride, with relentless bumpy roads, terrifying scenes and music blasting at 3 in the morning. Nonetheless we get to Mandalay physically unharmed (mentally scarred, however). We down the steps, pale and quivering, and enter another crazy scene at the bus station. As far as bus stations go, this is the maddest, even at 3 or 4 in the morning we are swamped by a sea of beetle-chewing taxi drivers while buses are racing in and out of the station at reckless speed.
Our stay in Mandalay is a quick one, a full day and night, then we head north in the morning. But we manage to organize a meeting with one of the language schools in town for our arrival.
They have arranged a pick up from the bus station, but our arrival was early. After a little wait at a local tea shop, we decide to find our own way to a hotel.
Trying to organize a ride while surrounded by a dozen taxi drivers is ironically difficult. They’re fighting for our business, none speak English, and we’re pronouncing the name of the hotel, we learn later, completely wrong. We think we get the message across and enter a taxi.
After a long sleep, we wake in the afternoon for our scheduled meeting, and see Mandalay in a whole new light. It’s an incredibly hot, bustling city with people on the move. But it’s backdrop to this city that truly makes it stand out. Old colonial style buildings and cathedrals, derelict and dilapidated, remind us of the city that once rose to power but is now long forgotten. There are reminders all over town of the former British presence, not only in the architecture, but in the locals’ form of English.
We take in the sights, sounds and smells of downtown and then head to our meeting with the director of the Mandalay branch of NELC language centre. We’re met with a surprising young lady named Angelina, age 24, the director and a teacher at the school. She sheds some valuable light on the practicalities of teaching in Myanmar, both as a local and as a foreigner. Basically the meeting was more of a casual conversation than a formal meeting.
She already knows that we’re interested in doing some research on local schools, so she hooks up a meeting with a monastic school in the area that has a couple of foreign volunteer teachers. We meet briefly with the principle monk and some of the teachers, and organize another one for next week.
Before we hit the sack, we drink a couple of beers with a German traveler who’s spent the past month traveling Myanmar. We tell him about our plan to go to Hsipaw, but have no clue as to what we can do there. He had been to Hsipaw a few weeks earlier and mentions how he rented a motorcycle in town and drove to a small mountain village a day’s drive away.
That sounds like our kind of adventure. It excites us even more when he mention how he was stopped in the mountains by a soldier and almost arrested because it’s illegal for foreigners to operate a motorcycle in Myanmar. I have a feeling that this could be the most exciting part of our trip.
We never get the Germans name, but he was a great guy and had it not have been for him, we would not have known about the awesome opportunity that lies in Hsipaw.
One night in Mandalay and we head north towards the Shan state and closer to the Chinese border.