Exploring Mandalay: An Accidental Motorbike Tour

Atumashi Kyuang Monastery, Mandalay

So far Mandalay was not enjoyable.  After less than 24 hours we decided that our usual walk and explore method was unmanageable.

The frenzied motorbike traffic in Mandalay was overwhelming and I kept thinking that Shel Silverstein coined Where the Sidewalk Ends about this city.  Add to the fact that after three months in countries that drive on the left, I kept looking the wrong way to cross the street narrowly avoiding getting maimed several times.

But Todd and I are stubborn folk and didn’t see the harm in attempting to wander “just to the Grand Palace” that morning.  How wrong we were.  At this moment it was easily another mile away and we had been on the same curb for several minutes trying to navigate our way across.  At least the shopkeepers seemed amused.

Naytun appeared on the far side of the street as a mirage, arms outstretched.  He was a jolly fellow with a grin that lit up his whole face.

“Minga La Ba!”  He says in greeting.  “Where are you from?”

I tell him America.  He replies he has a friend there and whips out a tattered notebook full of handwritten testimonials, one from the USA.  He then displays pictures on his phone with faces to go with the glowing reviews.

Aha, he’s got a pitch coming.  We are not really tour people, but his passion for his hometown piqued our interest.  His friend Justin now joined him, also beaming, who held a stack of laminated post cards to specify where they wanted to take us for the day.  On the back of their motorbikes.  “Slowly, slowly” they kept saying, “no worries, very safe.”

They had us.  We were hot, grimy and nowhere near where we wanted to go.

At this rate the Golden Palace would be the one thing we saw in Mandalay.  Todd and I love motorbikes and thought it would be epic to traverse the city on the back of a local’s.  We negotiated a price and we hopped on right there.  Seemed legit enough to us.  Perhaps it was the older smiling German couple with the thumbs up in his pictures that sealed the deal.  Taking chances is why we travel anyway, is it not?

The day was glorious.

They kept asking, “Are you ok?”  I later realized this is an endearing Burmese quirk.  We sped around the major sights and devoured lunch at their neighborhood haunt, discovering Shan noodles.  Riding in the sea of traffic was enlightening to say the least.  As the sun waned and they dropped us at our hotel, they pitched a tour to the countryside for the next day.  And we didn’t refuse.  Suddenly, Mandalay was looking up.



Sometimes fate and taking a chance is the best option. A short story about going with our gut in Mandalay, Myanmar.


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