And I am spent….lingering lurgy that started on the bus to Mandalay was a warning sign. As was the stiff calves and sore legs that made me walk like I’d poo’d myself for a couple of days in Bagan (definitely haven’t) – I’d put that down to the mileage I’d ramped up in Yangon. Sore throat and now a comedy cough so that I too join the phlegmy hawkers of spit coughing it up at regular intervals.
I’m recovering in Hsipaw (no I didn’t sneeze as I said it, its pronounced Sipa, or Thiba, but the Burmese do like an extra consonant or two, or just have them sound completely different to what you’d expect, thus the currency of Kyat is pronounced Chat).
It’s no wonder I’m ill, the concept of a hand over your mouth when coughing seems to me, based on experience, to stop at a point prior to India and sharing your infectious spittle is done with aplomb till you get towards Japan, South Korea etc and your hand comes back into action once more.
Due to getting my arse into gear for visiting Mandalay I had a full on itiner-inner-inary when all I wanted to do was sleep. Luckily the ‘Home’ hotel was amazing, a massive big room with a bed even bigger than the one at Campbell House Hotel, hot shower and a bath (which looked useable unlike the one at Betelnut in Bagan that looked like a large leftover slightly stained and rusting plant pot) and even more amazingly-wifi that worked, a lot of the time! Wowzers!!! I had to eat before bed and I cheated with a European bistro up the road dosing up on ginger beer and fresh lime juice to attack the lurgy and a small salad at an eye-watering £9 (Not really expensive but as a lunch spread of curry, rice, soup and salad plus veggies and a dessert will cost no more that £2 it seems a bit of a shocker).
Walking back, well hobbling, you could see that whilst a grid system was also in use in Mandalay traffic lights were less evident, so at every junction it was a case of majority wins when it came to right of way, a little cluster of vehicles would gather and edge, edge, edge their way forward till oncoming traffic stopped. Luckily most drivers seemed to cautiously edge forward rather than take a nihilistic approach to crossing but the motorbikes did have an unerring ability to cut right across corners thus being on the wrong side of the road after they turned. Still, it carried on like swans gliding across a pond and I didn’t get to see any accidents.
Drivers generally seem to help one another out, particularly on the major roads, probably because when it comes to overtaking they can see feck all as the driver is on the right side and blind to any oncoming traffic. Trucks therefore will use their indicators to advise when it’s safe to overtake, right meaning ‘stay behind’, left to mean ‘safe to overtake’. It did take some of the fear out of the shared taxi drive to Hsipaw knowing that the driver wasn’t always blindly taking a chance when pulling out behind the many trucks on the road.
Back at Home, in my supersize, super comfortable bed I was woken early to the sound of amorous pigeons using my window ledge for a bit of wooing and cooing. Meanwhile outside was pretty quiet on the roads as I headed east to the rendezvous point for the trishaw tea shop tour. People were slowly coming to, seemed a bit slower paced to Yangon. The poverty was more apparent here in Mandalay than in Yangon too, or maybe it was just in a different part of town there. Running parallel to the main road were little hovels on the pavement where families were waking up, cooking over small charcoal burners, sweeping, washing or setting up small food stalls.
Our teashop half-day was with Grasshopper tours, the same guys who I’d cycled with in Bagan. Sai was our guide and we were joined by a Dutch couple. We all wedged our arses into the teeny side car next to our trishaw drivers and set off. My driver had double bubble, with me at the front and tiny Sai at the back. If the driver was cursing under his breath for having to heft this portion around, I don’t blame him. It can be disconcerting being driven directly into oncoming traffic with only the tinkling of the driver’s bell to protect you and a man’s pedal power being the only way to keep you clear of lumps of metal hurtling hither and thither at speed. Shutting your eyes helps, alot.
First up was veggie tempura, fried corn fritters,and little savoury dumplings and samosas. The place was doing a fairly brisk trade although we were the ony ones sat down. We were going to get our lard on today. Good lard though, we would certainly die happy and fat.
We were peddled off to a teashop next for samosas, more fried donuts and the ubiquitous chai. I skipped the chai as wanted to keep the enamel on my teeth, but the Dutch guys gave it a go – one sip and one wince and they were back on the jasmine tea.
At the hastily found mohinga stall (the first one being shut) we were served up just outside the front of the family home. And family they were -2 middle aged sisters and their mum. The mohinga is noodles with with fried corn fritter broken up into it and banana stem in it, then you add your chili according to your heat preference. Doesn’t look the most appetising but is reet tasty and very filling. Not that we needed filling up much more by this point.
Sai like most Burmese guides had great English, the amount of things they’re expected to know, and the range of vocab is impressive. He was softly spoken so he had to repeat things a couple of times. What was funny was that he couldn’t help but be honest, if you asked a question, there’d be a momentary pause, he’d screw his face up as if trying to stop the words coming out, then he’d breathe out and start ‘well actually only in my opinion…’
We headed to Zegyo market for a wander around, and to taste a couple of desserts. Upstairs in the meat and fish section it was a tad smelly but completely fly free, with at least one contented cat having a wash by the fish and a couple of dogs milling around.
As usual it was nose to tail selling, chicken feet, and sheeps brains, blood, intestines, the lot. Sai confessed to not knowing how to cook, seems a common trait amongst most men here, although he did have a fair bit of knowledge of the market and the various oddities for sale, including the roasted rats that were outside.
Apparently these were country rats, a far superior meat to town rat, (wasn’t going to find out) although there had been tell of town rats being passed off as their humble country cousins, so you never can be too careful. Check you origin of rat, folks, that’s all I’m saying.
The amount of snackage we were putting away meant that every time I sat in my trishaw seat I feared for getting back out as my arse was expanding at an alarming rate. The hour long walk back would hopefully counter the effects of the food, but at the rate we were going I’d need to do a full on marathon to achieve any rebalance.
Next up was lahpet, pickled tea leaf salad, a curiosity as this is the only country where tea is eaten. Salads in Myanmar are usually mixed by the recipient so they can blend the ingredients according to personal preference but as we are sharing the dish it was pre-mixed. Pickled tea leaves are covered in sesame oil and mixed with crisp fried garlic, peas and peanuts, toasted sesame, crushed dried shrimp, preserved shredded ginger and fried shredded coconut. The taste is almost meaty (I guess it’s umami innit?), and you get the nuttiness coming through, but what really stands out is the texture, which as with all salads is a blend of oily and crunchy, and definitely a Burmese ‘thing’. Often it’s also the inclusion of chickpea flour that coats the ingredients along with oil that gives it that texture.
We thought this was the last stop but nope, two more…another teashop for Indian and noodles – big puffy puri with sambals, naan, and two types of noodles, along with pickles and some diced cabbage. More tea, this time ‘less sweet, more bitter,’ allegedly, which tasted as sweet, if not more that the standard chai affair.
I was waiting for my lime juice at our final stop, a juice stall (helpfully) which was full of kids on their school time lunch break. We were back in the residential area of south east Mandalay, extremely wealthy judging by the size of the houses tucked behind gated entrances and the general quietness of the area. We were trishawed all of 50mtrs to the top of the road where we said our goodbyes, I was pointed in the right direction and I set off for my waddle back to the hotel – it was going to be a light dinner that evening.