Setting Foot in Burma: Wearing a Peso (Sarong) for First Time

Here comes Part 3 of my blog entries on Burma. You may read other entries below:

Part 1 – Setting Foot in Burma: Just My 65-litre Backpack and I

Part 2 – Setting Foot in Burma: Living like a King in Heho (Inle Lake)

Well in the second entry I blogged about my experience in chilly Heho, the gateway to the famous Inle Lake. After spending a night there, I flew to Mandalay the next noon, about 20 minutes away from Heho.

Of the places I had visited in Burma, Mandalay occurred to me as the least memorable one. To me there was nothing too special about Mandalay except that it is known for its gems, jewellery, and crafts. So if you’re a fan of quality ruby, sapphire, or jade, Mandalay will definitely be the right place for you.

Here are some touristy spots I got to visit in Mandalay:

1. Mahamuni Pagoda

Unfortunately I did not get to take any picture of the Mahamuni Pagoda from the outside, as the hot weather was killing (there was a drastic difference in weather between Heho and Mandalay).

Hurried inside to find the pagoda thronged with visitors.

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The pagoda practised a strict dress codes; I was wearing a pair of knee-length pants and apparently it wasn’t okay. As such, I had to put on a peso (sarong) – for the first time in my life.

The person taking care of the entrance was nice to have lent me a peso without even charging me. After using their peso I wanted to give her some cash as a token of appreciation, but she wouldn’t accept it. May God bless her always – she was such a beautiful being.

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Well, for those who don’t know, there is actually a fine difference between a sarong and a paso. A paso is sewn into a cylindrical shape, whereas a sarong is simply a large piece of fabric wrapped around the waist.

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At the Mahamuni Museum adjacent to the Mahamuni Pagoda.

2. Mandalay Hill

A 240-menter hill located in the center of Mandalay, and sitting on the hill top is the Sutaungpyei Pagoda. From the hill top you get to see a panoramic view of the Mandalay city.

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I cannot recall much how the pagoda looked like (I remember rushing for another place), except that the exterior was very tastefully decorated. Just take a look at the glass mosaic decorations on the outer walls of the pagoda – they are crazy detailed!

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According to online sources, Sutaungpyei is literally translated as “wish-fulfilling”. I think I did pray about being able to teach in Myanmar someday. Please please please Buddha grant me the wish can onot?

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Bathing the Buddha statue at the Sutaungpyei Pagoda.

3. Kuthodaw Pagoda & the World’s Largest Book

The largest “books” are of course not literally the books that you would imagine. They are actually pieces of marble slabs each engraved with Buddhist scriptures and housed in its own stupa, situated within the premise of the Kuthodaw Pagoda.

And the amazing part – there are some 729 of them!

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Well just imagine that if you’re reading a “book” everyday – it will take you about two years to finish reading all of them!

At the back of the Kuthodaw Pagoda, I came across this stall selling an assortment of wooden statues and crafts, where I purchased a beautiful statue of monk because of the series of events associated with the statue.

Noticed the white patches on the cheeks of the lady?

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Well it’s called Thanaka (Tanaka), a yellowish-white, cooling cosmetic paste made from the Thanaka trees. Almost every Burmese woman and girl applies it on their face daily in order to have fair and smooth skin. It is also uncommon to see guys wearing it.

Maybe I shall ask my future wife to wear it everyday, haha!

4. Shwenandaw Kyaung (Golden Palace Monastery)

Made of teak wood, the monastery is still in an amazing condition after two centuries! And I read on the Internet that it is named “Golden Palace” because one of the Kings decided to move this building from his palace to where it is now, after his late father died in it.

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The wooden, carved-up monastery offers a very quiet and serene atmosphere, and is still being used by monks to date despite its old age. The carvings are so ornate that it definitely is one of a kind!

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Delicate carvings on the roof of the Shwenandaw Kyaung Monastery.

5. Kilometer-long U Bein Bridge

The longest teak bridge in the world, which spans 1.2 kilometres across the Taungthaman Lake and serves to connect people from two sides.

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I think it was a rainy season when I was there, so the risen water level had not done much justice to the otherwise beautiful scenery there. To see another facet of the U Bein Bridge, click here!

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I found out later that the scenery at the U Bein Bridge during sunset can be so mesmerising. Too bad I had missed it because I had to leave for Bagan in the same afternoon that I was there.

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Teenage monks crossing the U Bein Bridge to the other side of the Taungthaman Lake.
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Locals jumping into the Taungthaman Lake on a hot afternoon.
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Boat operator resting on his boat while waiting for customers.

In the middle of the bridge, a lady by the name of Su Wae was selling her paintings at a corner. It wasn’t uneasy for her to catch my attention – she was such a pretty lady, and her warm and approachable persona, especially when introducing her artworks, had definitely worked in her favour.

I stopped to take a look at her paintings.

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I went through all she got, on by one, but there wasn’t one that I particularly loved. Finally she took out another stack, where I managed to stumble upon a piece of her work that I was much satisfied with, and happily bought it from her.

Like I have said before, it is my aspiration to collect a painting from each country I visit, and then turn my home into a into a mini “art gallery” of paintings from all over the globe.

All in all, Mandalay in all honesty failed to impress me the same way other places I had visited did. However, Kyaw Kyaw the tour guide who took me around Mandalay, definitely did.

Kyaw Kyaw struck me as a serious but prudent individual with a very good knowledge of Buddhism. Since I am also a Buddhist, being able to exchange my thoughts on Buddhism and some of the things happening around us with Kyaw Kyaw was nothing short of an amazing feeling.

Up next: Setting Foot in Burma: Entering Ancient Bagan on Hourse Cart