The hotel I stayed in was a boutique style, with king size bed, my own private waterfall which at the flick of a switch had water cascading down the walls of my private courtyard, TV with over 100 channels, personal safe, en-suite bathroom, pool, etc etc, and most important, a delightful staff of pleasant, cheerful and helpful personnel. (http://www.hotelredcanal.com/hotel.htm)
The staff couldn't seem to do enough for me. It was a race for me to open a door, and when I swam after sunbaking, the pool attendant straightened the towels on my lounge. Dining staff wanted to talk about Australian wines. Reception staff wanted to help with all my program arrangements. Even the maintenance staff gave me big smile and wave when they passed. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact I bought a longhi, the native wrap which I wore.
The staff organised the hire of a car for me, and when I stressed that it was important that the driver be able to speak English, Eddie, a member of the staff, agreed to escort me on a tour of pagodas & other sites around Mandalay on his day off. We had a superb day which finished at his home where I met his 91 year old grandfather who teaches English.
Highlights were Pagodas, and a monastary where 20,000 monks and nuns line up each day to receive their bowl of rice for lunch. As I was leaving the monastary, it was impossible to ignore a squad of armed soldiers behind shields across the road from the main entrance. They were there to prevent the monks from leaving for another demonstration
We also travelled by rowing boat across the Irrawadi River to board a dinky little horse and cart, to carry us to see several historic pagodas including one built entirely of teak. Unfortunately, this magnificent building is in a sad state of neglect and needs extensive preservation and restoration work.
Another enjoyable experience was walking across the U Bein pedestrian bridge, the longest timber bridge in the world, providing more opportunities to chat to a number of local residents.
To celebrate my last night in Mandalay, I invited Eddie and his wife Yuzanna to dinner at a local restaurant. The evening was cut short by the need to return to the hotel before the 9pm curfew came into force. On the way back to the hotel, I could see troops deploying from trucks along the darkened streets which created a sinister atmosphere.
Next morning before my departure, the staff insisted on opening the dining room and cooking my breakfast at 4.30am so I would catch the ferry at 6am, and a member of the dining staff I'd spent time chatting with, presented me with a departing gift of a large cake.
All this help and attention was typical of the Burmese I met, wherever I went.
Previous: On the Train to Mandalay.
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