About a few hours on a “speed” boat where I met the most wonderful couple from Australia:  Ted and Rowena.  About a 1/2 day excursion to Mahamuni and Wethali.  A word about food.

The tuk-tuk driver who had driven me from the airport to my hotel yesterday for a grossly inflated price had asked for the privilege of getting me to the ferry this morning.  I knew that once again I would pay more than necessary, but for the sake of reliability on a tight schedule I was willing to do it.  Indeed, 1/2 hour before the agreed upon time, the driver was there.

I had purchased a seat on a small private ferry which alternates service to Mrauk U with the much larger government-owned ferry boat.   I felt that going upstream with the speedboat and downstream with the big boat would make the most sense.  But ultimately you have little choice as a traveler and it all depends on which day you get to Sittwe and which day you want to move on.  The good news is that there is always somebody going one way and the other.

It is anyone’s guess why the ticket agency squeezed 6 people who had booked seats in the first class cabin three and three in one lane, leaving six full rows empty left and right!  We were locked up in a small front cabin with dark tinted windows full of grime (on the outside).  No amount of wiping could alleviate that.  A mounted TV monitor in the front of the cabin forced a Myanmar soap opera on us and an aging loudspeaker provided a deafening and slightly delayed sound track on us from the back.  The air-conditioning was set on high and all the windows were covered with a dark blue drapes which we were told not to open in order not to stress out the aircon.  They must be kidding!

After the boat departed every one of us occupied a three-seat lane and most of us opened the window shades, but this did little to improve the view or the situation.

I had three hours to meet Ted and Rowena.  I had spotted Rowena, first thinking that she was another woman traveling alone, and I gestured her to sit next to me at the dock as I was waiting for the boat to open boarding.  It turned out that there was Ted, shortly behind her. I felt bad as I usually try not to interfere with couples, but the two did not seem to mind. They are from Australia and if I had to put it into two sentences: they are a fun, adventurous, liberal-minded, alternative-thinking couple whom I would befriend in a heartbeat.  I could not have asked for better company on the boat.  What the view and the ambiance were lacking they made up for in full.  The three hours passed in no time.

By the end of the ride we agreed to do some of our travels together, over the next couple of days and to share costs.  As I had not yet booked a hotel I decided to lodge at the hotel of their choice for the sake of logistics.  That was a great decision.  We ended up at the Nawrat Hotel in Mrauk U which according to the Lonely Planet is nothing special, but we loved it.  Instead of rooms, the hotel is made up of individual bungalows housing two rooms each.  Each room has its own covered porch and its own bathroom.  In front of the bungalows there is a nicely kept garden with a path backing up to a local water reservoir.  The lobby up front, extends into a large dining room for breakfast and/or dinner.  Breakfast at Myanmar hotels is typically included and consists of the same three slices of cardboard toast that I had been offered at the Breeze Guest House in Mawlamyine.  Here however, you had a choice of style of egg, the butter and jam portions were bigger and breakfast also included a variety of fruits, slices of tomatoes and sausages.  Definitely a step up from the Breeze.

When I found out that “local breakfast”, meaning fried rice topped with an egg, was also available, I switched.  It has been a good belly filler and a safe choice of food for me so far.  I have ventured out into the local curry plus meat selection when I have eaten out, but I have usually regretted it.  The meat, instead of finely minced into the fried rice is usually chunks of fat with very little meat and all left on the bones — I hardly can figure out how to eat this.

As so often, I will most likely not do the local cuisine much justice.  Eating alone does not foster serving any of the many little dishes of vegetables, nuts, or soups that are served to larger groups.  I am not a cook, therefore ingredients and the art of cooking are a book with seven seals to me and I would rather be safe than sorry.   But I have taken pictures of the various things I have eaten so far and eventually will put a picture blog together of the various foods I will come across.

We followed the suggestion in the LP and arranged for a 1/2 day tour to two temples within 10 miles of Mrauk U.  If we had hired a car, this probably could have been over in 3 hours or less.  Agreeing to do this excursion in a tuk-tuk instead, put us on the road and into the dust for almost 6 hours.  But, it gave us a lot more photo ops and a good feel for the road conditions.  You do put your life into your driver’s hand when on a road that seems comfortable for 1 1/2 regular-sized vehicles when a full-sized bus comes the opposite way…  Between honking, getting off and on the road via the bumpy side strip without turning over, is an adventure in and of itself.  But who is afraid?  And who is in a hurry, right?!

The land is still dry.  Rainy season has barely begun here.  The future rice fields, which were already glistening and semi-filled with water in Mawlamyine, were still dusty and dry around here.  Water buffaloes’ heads could be seen in the few wet spots deep enough for immersion, and a few people were carrying loads from here to there in the heat of the day.

We reached our destination, Mahamuni Paya, after about two hours: a temple which by Myanmar standards was perfectly ordinary falling in line with all the required features.  In addition though, it had a very thick stone wall with small air holes most likely to protect from stormy conditions.  There was a darling line of monk devotees leading up to the gilded sanctuary, the symbolic Bodhi tree with Buddha figures, the obligatory birthday stations and the central pagoda with image hall.  This Buddha is a replica of a famous original that supposedly goes back to 554 BC (no way!).  The original is now displayed at a bigger temple in Mandalay.  People come here as everywhere, to affix small sheets of gold for merit and good karma. The men do this by climbing up on the altar to put on the gold themselves.  The women have to engage a man to do it for them.

The second temple, the Wethali, was a bit off the main road.  Its claim to fame is that it is supposedly carved from a single block of stone.  That in itself would not be that astonishing given stone sculptures of the dimensions Egyptian pharaohs’ but it would then beg the question on how it was transported.  Entirely possible is that there was a large enough boulder in place which was carved and a temple then was constructed around it.  Wethali is also the site of an early palace.

After our return to the hotel, our heads still rattling from the tuk-tuk ride, we gathered for a well-deserved beer on Ted and Rowina’s porch and after that I excused myself to do some work.  And so went the first beautiful day in Mrauk U.

Good night.