Mandalay



I can usually get a taxi in two minutes whenever I arrive in a new city. I dodge the touts and get myself and my backpack to the street and hail a city bus (if possible) or a taxi in no time. In Mandalay, it wasn't so easy. It is a city of motorbikes. Like any developing Asian city, motorbikes are the way of the future-which is great, unless you don't know how to ride one yourself and prefer non-petrol forms of transportation. I entered the sunny city of Mandalay in the mid-afternoon heat, swarmed by motorbikes and no taxis to take me to the Yoe Yoe Lay Guesthouse at the other end of town. My sweat from the day-trip on the train soon became covered in new sweat from the Mandalay (almost 40 degree) heat. After almost an hour of wandering around a few blocks, and practically waking up a taxi driver from his Burmese siesta, I put myself and my backpack into a five dollar (5000 chet) taxi ride to the best guesthouse in Mandalay.

The place was a dorm-room-away-from-home. For those of y'all who understand this, there's nothing better than a good hostel. Nothing can replace the feeling of walking into a room with clean beds, white sheets and air-conditioning. Then going to use the bathroom and seeing that the shower stalls are separate from the toilet bowls. The shower stalls even have hooks and a little shelf for your stuff; there's toilet paper in the toilet stalls, and hand soap (amenities!) available at the clean sinks. After ever-so-comfortably showering and changing clothes, you sit down in the clean common room and are greeted by smiling faces, where you can plug your laptop into one of the many outlets available and proceed to use their free wi-fi. Maybe you have a cold beer, maybe there's great music playing in the background. As you check your e-mail you strike up a conversation with a lovely hostel employee, or another traveler. Or both. All is perfect at that moment. I truly believe there's a part of heaven that feels like a good hostel. At least I hope there is.

And at the Yoe Yoe Lay Guesthouse at the north end of Mandalay I got all of that, plus a plate of fresh fruit. As I sat down with my new friend Alexandra, we were served juicy Burmese watermelon, papaya and pineapple. I got a fresh plate of fruit every day, on top of my endless breakfast (they offer you seconds!!) which was included in the $10 USD charge per night. At my guesthouse in Bagan, I asked for a refill of coffee at 9:31 (breakfast was served until 9:30) and my request was rejected. I was also one of the two patrons sitting down for breakfast at the time. My first morning in Mandalay, I slept until 10:30 and they still served me breakfast. Sometimes it's better to choose your travel destinations by awesome guesthouses.

I attribute a lot of Yoe Yoe Lay's awesomeness to the fact that it's run by a woman. Referred to as “Mama”, I've heard of travellers actually returning to Mandalay just for her and to stay at her great guesthouse. In the little backpacker world of Burma, she is somewhat illustrious.

After the fruit, Alexandra and I spent the late afternoon and into the evening dodging dogs and monkeys in a temple overlooking the city. We spoke about teaching and our experiences teaching English in Korea (she currently works at one of the few international schools in Mandalay) and she drove us on her motorbike (yes, the expats have little choice but to get a motorbike) through the rice fields, followed by delicious Indian food in the middle of town. I was liking Mandalay.

What really got me in Mandalay wasn't the riverside, or the old capitals just outside, but the Moustache Brothers. And the great company.My last night in Mandalay was spent with Alex and her co-workers, having dinner at a Nepalese restaurant, then with the Moustache Brothers.

The Moustache Brothers are a family comedy troupe who can currently only perform for foreigners. The main brains behind the operation was Par Par Lay, the now deceased (R.I.P) and notorious Burmese comedian. His brother, Lu Maw and their cousin, Lu Zaw performed together and they became a significant comedy trio. It started as a vaudeville show, bringing traditional Burmese dance into the mix. Somewhere along the way they began to throw in some jabs at the government into their routine. After performing at Aung San Suu Kyi's home in 1996, Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw were sentenced to six years in hard labour camps. They were later released and they continued their comedy. Lu Zaw, Lu Maw and the rest of their family still work today and hold nightly performances in their house garage. They also sell t-shirts at the end of their show for $5 all of which goes to help support other political prisoners. The show was an hour and a half and it cost 8$. Plus $5 for the shirt. Best $13 I've ever spent.















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