There is one flight from Bangkok to Mandalay everyday. Lately, that one flight has been completely full. Myanmar, which is also called Burma, is just opening to the western world and tourism.
It’s a short flight from Bangkok, less than two hours, to Mandalay. The route passes over multiple mountain ranges and so has the tendency to be a bit turbulent; our flight certainly was. There is one shuttle to town. It’s run by AirAsia, who also operates the flight. It takes about an hour and drops everyone in one spot by the corner of the moat.
Some of the streets are paved in the city, and some aren’t. The restaurants serve vegetarian food almost exclusively. People in Myanmar are Buddhist, truly and strictly to the oldest form, Theravada Buddhism. Among other things, this usually means people must eat a vegetarian diet.
Three star hotels stand to facilitate the many tourists now visiting with generators outside of each to keep the power on through the rolling blackouts. In the last three years, a sim card for a cell phone decreased in cost from $1500 to just under $2. Men wear longyi, a sarong of sorts and chew a deep red dyed chewing tobacco which stains the ground when they spit. Both men and women have painted faces. Thanaka is a bark, scraped and ground to a paste, and then painted onto the face to cool and protect from the sun. It’s not uncommon to see it painted on in streaks and patterns.
Overnight a monsoon rolled in. It devastated parts of China but in Mandalay things kept going. To get from our hotel to the bus we had to wade through more than a foot of water. The levels were still rising. From the bus we watched the markets continue to operate on plastic tables and move up to the stoops of buildings. People continued to drive motorbikes and sometimes push them forward with their feet when the engines wouldn’t go. This is life in urban Myanmar; infrastructure, sparse as it is, can’t keep up with the forward motion of the people there. Limited access to clean water, education, healthcare, to all of the basics doesn’t stop them from persisting and pressing the status quo forward.