Finally we were in Mandalay. Founded in 1857 by the penultimate Burmese king, Mindon, it is not an ancient city. It became the capital in 1861 when King Mindon moved his palace there from Amarapura. In 1885 Mandalay was taken by the British and the last King, Thibaw, was exiled. The fall of Mandalay was said to have been caused by the death of King Thibaw’s white elephant. Moral take good care of your elephant.
I taxied from Mandalay’s hot and dusty bus station to the Royal City Hotel that I had bloged by phone. I was warmly welcomed with, ‘You are very beautiful!’ The hotel was five-storeys high and a tiny two rooms wide, with a terrific breezy panoramic roof-top terrace. I loved my corner room with its three wide windows through which the sun shone cheerily. The views included the royal city, so for once the hotel’s name was not merely an allusion. Even so, the room had its little faults. An enamel spittoon detracted somewhat from the ambience, and you needed muscular thumbs to turn on the lights. Also, the air-con made a fiendish racket and there was no cold water. This amazed the staff when I told them It was usually the other way around, with travellers always searching for the elusive hot water. Here I had to speed through the shower before I got scalded.
Burma World Map Photo Gallery
At the hotel reception desk I had been heartened to find that for the first time in this country I wasn’t asked for payment up front. This euphoria didn’t last long. It was deflated as soon as I got to my room and read the notice on the back of the door. It said that I would be charged for anything that went missing and a long list of the entire contents of the room followed. And I had thought they trusted me! Was I likely to trundle out with the bar fridge in my bag or a bed or two under my skirt?
I checked out the view of the town from the rooftop. Apart from the royal city walls and the golden dome of a mosque, it was uninspiring, mostly motley-sized worn and weary white concrete block buildings in various stages of decay.
I talked to a German woman up there for a while, and then I went looking for food. None was available at the hotel apart from breakfast, so I walked to a nearby cafe the reception staff recommended, only to be told that it had now closed for a month. Ramadan had just started so I wondered if the owners were Muslim.
But almost next door to the Royal City I found a Korean restaurant where I got fed all alone. I ate ‘Rice Wrapped’, which turned out to be like sushi and was very good. By this time anything would have been. It was a big meal and what I couldn’t eat was packaged for me. ‘Would you like bar stool?’ I thought the waitress said, but it was really ‘parcel’.
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