Mandalay… a city of misfortune!


Mandalay... a city of misfortune!

Kuthadow Pagoda

We were on our way to Mandalay. No, not Maxim de Winter’s house in the Daphne Du Maurier novel Rebecca, but the last Royal City of Myanmar. We were coming to this most misfortunate of cities to meet our Viking River Cruise boat.

Since its founding in 1857 Mandalay, on the banks of the Irrawaddy river, has been the main commercial center of Northern Myanmar. King Minton got it in his head that he sould move his court to Mandalay to fulfill a prophecy and so he set about building a new palace and along with it a city was laid out to support the court. It has been one of the main centers of learning and religion and has survived despite a long list of misfortunes. In 1904 a plague hit the city causing a third of the population to flee. On April 3, 1942 the Japanese bombed the city killing 2,000 people and destroying three fifths of the houses.

Mandalay... a city of misfortune!

Stupa’s holding stone pages of Buddha’s writings.

During the repressive rule of  Ne Win from 1962 – 1988 the infrastructure of the city was allowed to deteriorate and it became a town of low-rise buildings and dusty streets. In 1981 a fire broke out and quickly spread…destroying 6,000 houses and rendering 36,000 people homeless. Again in 1984 fire broke out destroying 2,700 homes and leaving 23,000 people homeless. Fire continue to plague the city into the new century.

Mandalay... a city of misfortune!

Beside the road a man splits bamboo to be woven into mats to build houses

In touring the city we visited the Royal Palace. Built in the late 19th century it was used by the Japanese during the Second World War as a supply depot and was completely destroyed by allied bombing during the war.  We visited the Palace on a tour of the city and it was a pretty sad affair. The government of Myanmar reconstructed the old Palace in 1990 using a lot of modern materials and the result is very disappointing. There is no reason to make this a stop on your visit to the city…definitely a thumbs down and no stars review.

Mandalay... a city of misfortune!

At a wood carving workshop a man paints a carving

As always, no visit to a city in South East Asia is complete without a visit to a major temple or pagoda. We headed out to one of the largest in Mandalay, Kuthadow Pagoda…which houses the “world’s largest book”  King Mindon was concerned that the scrolls containing the writings of the Buddha would be lost so he decided to have them carved in stone.  There are 730 leaves…1460 pages…3.5 feet wide, 5.02 feet tall and 5.1 inches thick…each under roof being housed in separate stupas that surround a central golden Buddha. It was over the top but well worth the visit.

Mandalay... a city of misfortune!

The Bride and Groom at a wedding we stumbled upon in Mandalay

Driving around the city seemed to be a free for all with few if any traffic signals or stop signs. Intersections could easily become gridlock for trucks and cars with motor scooters zipping in and out of whatever hole was left in the traffic. So glad I was not the bus driver getting us around the city.

We continued around the city stopping at shops of wood carvers and gold leaf makers before heading over to our Viking Cruise Ship. I was anxious to get to the boat and settle in for the 7 days of cruising and stopping at the small villages along the Irrawaddy River.

Mandalay... a city of misfortune!

The Viking Mandalay

Our boat was great. Constructed of teak and mahogany it had a wonderful old world feeling. The boat could have been the setting for Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Nile”. It was not a large boat by cruise standards…sleeping only 50 people…but it was beautifully appointed and very comfortable. The deck top lounge area with its comfortable rattan chairs and teak lounges was especially inviting area to hang out and have a cool beverage while chatting with my fellow travelers and playing the “Where are you from & What do you do” game.

Mandalay... a city of misfortune!

The lounge deck of the Viking Mandaly

It was a small group so I could really get a chance to talk to my shipmates. What a varied group..cattle ranchers from Nevada, investment bankers from Manhattan, retired electrician from California, a physics professor from Ann Arbor, Michigan and a fellow who did credit investigations for Dun & Bradstreet from Boston. And don’t forget me and Barbara the two Digital Nomads with no fixed abodes. So many different sort of folk with so many different stories.  I am always amazed when I come away from these encounters, by the differences and sometimes by the similarities within the group.

So for the next 7 days our merry band will travel the Irrawaddy getting a glimpse of life along the river and hopefully we will get a better understanding of a country whose leaders shut it off from the world for 50 years.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Viking River Cruises during my Myanmar trip.  However, the receipt of complementary services will never influence the content or post in this blog.  I write the truth, even if it means biting the hand that feeds me.


About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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6 Responses to Mandalay… a city of misfortune!

  1. Claudia says:

    So much has happened to that City in such a short time. But they just keep rebuilding because if they moved they would have to move the stone Buddha writings and strip all the gold off the Pagoda!

  2. Bert Emke says:

    Is the River Kwai a tributary of the Irrawaddy?

  3. Lindarose says:

    I didn’t ‘picture’ the ship to look like that!

  4. Julie Wright says:

    Isn’t it a great name for a city. Mandalay…..on the road to Mandalay, where the flying fishes play….?

    Larry I do hope you bought yourself something to wear. I really love the groom’s clothes and can imagine you wearing them.

    The boat is amazing and I wondered where and when it was built. I have never seen anything so grand in that river.

    Great photos too.

  5. Mary Groft says:

    I would love to have been on this adventure. The cruise ship is such a beautiful nod to the past. No doubt, you dressed for dinner just as Poirot and his fellow passengers would have….

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