Monday, August 16
I was kind of tired and still feeling the effects of my stomach bug when I woke up, which tempted me to sleep in all day again. But, no, just for fun, I had to venture outside into the hot, hostile reality of Mandalay and its dirty, chaotic streets. Iâ€™m a glutton for punishment. I rented a bicycle and pedaled halfway around a giant moat that surrounds Mandalay Palace, which is at least one and a quarter miles long on each side. Designed with the worst geometry ever, this bike was way more inefficient and difficult to pedal than a beach cruiser. Thanks to that and the fact that it only had one gear, when I reached the foot of Mandalay Hill, I had to push it up the steep, winding road to the top--an elevation gain of roughly 700 feet above the city. It was so incredibly hot and humid, my clothes were completely saturated with sweat and I had to stop and rest two or three times!
At the tip top, high up above the obligatory souvenir, snack and drink stalls stood a nice Buddha shrine / observation deck that offered a great view of the whole city, the Ayeyarwady river, and the Shan hills to the East. That and a refreshing breezeâ€”a rare occurrence in Southeast Asiaâ€”made me want to hang around for a while, but I had to get the bike back on time. As I made my way down the tight hairpin turns, the brakes squealed with delight, I mean torture. I stared with surprise and envy at several locals who pedaled up the hill on nice mountain bikesâ€”one guy even had a shiny new Trek. I would have happily traded my gut bug to cruise around town on that thing!